How often we believers in Christ easily become spiritually complacent in our walk with God. Throughout the Old Testament we find many examples of complacency where the Israelites took God for granted. As a result, God would withdraw and let them find out that they were operating on their own. Through defeat in a battle, or being taken captive by their enemies, they learned the hard way that to be victorious in God, they had to continually obey His Word and also prepare themselves for the next trial or attack of the enemy. But whenever they became complacent or self-righteous, they failed.
God expects us to do as the Israelites should have done. We are not going in battle physically with our spears, clubs, swords, and armor today, but we are still fighting an enemy, and ours is unseen. Jesus said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38 emphasis added). Jesus would not have told His disciples this if He knew that they were strong in their spirit.
It is human nature to ease off at, or after, a time of victory. Compare this to a runner or race car driver who slows down or even stops just as he is about to win a race—even though his competition is coming up fast right behind him. Yet this is the very point when we must be the most vigilant. Peter became an example of how easy it is to be complacent concerning God, even though he was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. “And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, and thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept” (Mark 14:66-72). Not once, but three times Peter denied that he was connected with Jesus. Yet this is the same person who, just a short time earlier, had said “…though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee” (Matthew 26:35).
Peter in his own wisdom thought he was strong spiritually, and probably felt that after having been with Jesus for some time, he could never stray away from Him.
This is why Jesus emphasized many times that we must watch and, as well, pray. Whenever something is mentioned in the Bible one time—it is important, two times—it is very important, and multiple times—it is extremely important. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is well aware that we tend to grow overly confident and then we stumble. Had the Israelites gone to God during and after the victories that He brought them through as much as they had prior to the battles, there would have been fewer defeats afterward. If Peter had been watching and praying prior to Jesus’ arrest, his faith would not have wavered and left him open for the devil to push him to deny Christ.
Watching doesn’t involve our physical eyesight solely; it is a spiritual matter as well. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). God wants us to be in tune with Him through the Holy Spirit. If we are not open to His Spirit trying to alert us of impending danger, we leave ourselves prone to failure when temptation arises. It is only through His Spirit that we can truly know and deal properly with spiritual matters.
Accordingly, prayer must follow when we have been made aware of any imminent peril by the Holy Spirit. We are to go to God and seek Him for direction and protection for what is to come. We need to be sensitive to the leading of His Spirit as we pray, or else we will ask amiss and be ineffectual in our petitions to Him.
If we are watching without praying, we are like a child who sees an impending attack, but just stands there, instead of crying out to a parent for help and protection.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). God expects us to continually keep watch and then pray, for we, in our own physical understanding, do not know when or where the devil may strike. Our victory only comes through Jesus and His finished work on the cross. But when we become complacent, we take our eyes off of Christ and look at ourselves. This will result in a hopeless defeat by the devil. Don’t be like the captain of a sailing ship who, upon seeing land ahead, lowered his sails prematurely hoping to come in on his momentum, while failing to look behind and see a violent storm rapidly approaching. Let’s keep our sails fully open while we watch and pray accordingly.