The Two Guards Praying And Watching
“Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.”
NEHEMIAH and the Jews with him were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Sanballat and others were angry with them and tried to stop the work. They determined to pounce upon the people on a sudden and slay them–and so put an end to what they were doing. Our text tells us what Nehemiah and his companions did in this emergency–“Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.”
These people had not only to build the wall of Jerusalem, but to watch against their enemies at the same time. Their case is ours. We have to work for Christ. I hope that all of us who love Him are trying to do what we can to build up His Kingdom–but we also need to watch against deadly foes. If they can destroy us, of course they will also destroy our work. They will do both if they can. The powers of evil are mad against the people of God. If they can in any way injure or annoy us, you may rest assured that they will do so. They will leave no stone unturned if it can serve their purpose. No arrows will be left in the quivers of Hell while there are godly men and women at whom they can be aimed. Satan and his allies aim at our hearts every poisoned dart they have!
Nehemiah had been warned of the attack that was to be made upon the city. The Jews who lived near these Samaritans had heard their talk of what they meant to do and they came and told Nehemiah of the plotting of the adversaries. We also have been warned. As our Lord said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat,” so has He, in His Word, told us that there is a great and terrible evil power which is seeking our destruction. If Satan can do it, he will not only sift us as wheat, but he will cast us into the fire that we may be destroyed! Brothers and Sisters, “we are not ignorant of his devices.” You are not left in a fool’s paradise to dream of security from trial and to fancy that you are past temptation!
It was well for these people, also, that, being in danger and being aware of the malice of their enemies, they had a noble leader to incite them to the right course to be pursued. Nehemiah was well qualified for his work. He gave the Jews very shrewd, sensible and yet spiritual advice–and this was a great help to them in their hour of need. Beloved, we have a better Leader than Nehemiah! We have our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, and we have His Holy Spirit who dwells in us and shall abide with us. I beg you to listen to His wise and good advice. I think that He will give it to you through our explanation of the text. He will say to you what Nehemiah, in effect, said to these people, “Watch and pray.” Although the adversaries of the Jews conspired together–and came to fight against Jerusalem and to hinder the work of rebuilding the wall–Nehemiah says, “Nevertheless, we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.”
In the text, I see two guards. First, prayer–“We made our prayer unto our God.” The second guard is watchfulness–“We set a watch.” When I have spoken on these two subjects, I shall take, as my third topic, the two guards together. “We prayed and we set a watch.” We must have them both if we would defeat the enemy!
- First, then, dear Friends, think of THE FIRST GUARD–“We made our prayer unto our God.”
Speaking of this prayer, I would hold it up as a pattern for our prayers in a like condition. It was a prayer that meant business. Sometimes when we pray, I am afraid that we are not transacting business at the Throne of Grace. But Nehemiah was as practical in his prayer as he was in the setting of the watch. Some Brethren get up in our Prayer Meetings and say some very good things–but what they really ask for, I am sure I do not know! I have heard prayers of which I have said, when they were over, “Well, if God answers that prayer, I have not the least idea of what He will give us.” It was a very beautiful prayer and there was a great deal of explanation of doctrine and experience in it, but I do not think that God needs to have doctrine or experience explained to Him! The fault about the prayer was that there was not anything asked for in it. I like, when Brethren are praying, that they should be as business-like as a good carpenter at his work. It is of no use to have a hammer with an ivory handle unless you aim it at the nail you mean to drive in up to the head! And if that is your objective, an ordinary hammer will do as well as a fine one–perhaps better.
Now, the prayers of Nehemiah and the Jews were petitions for Divine protection. They knew what they needed and they asked for it definitely. Oh, for more definiteness in prayer! I am afraid that our prayers are often clouds and we get mists for answers. Nehemiah’s prayer meant business. I wish we could always pray in this way. When I pray, I like to go to God just as I go to a banker when I have a check to be cashed. I walk in, put the check down on the counter, the clerk gives me my money, I take it up and go about my business. I do not know that I ever stopped in a bank five minutes to talk with the clerks–when I have received my change, I go away and attend to other matters. That is how I like to pray. But there is a way of praying that seems like lounging near the Mercy Seat, as though one had no particular reason for being found there. Let it not be so with you, Brothers and Sisters. Plead the promise, believe it, receive the blessing God is ready to give and go about your business. The prayer of Nehemiah and his companions meant business.
In the next place, it was a prayer that overcame difficulties. The text begins with a long word, “nevertheless.” If we pull it to pieces, we get three words–never the less–when certain things happen, we will pray never the less. On the contrary, we will cry to our God all the more! Sanballat sneered, but we prayed, never the less, but all the more because of his sneers! Tobiah uttered a cutting jest, but we prayed, never the less, but all the more because of his mocking taunt. If men make a jest of your religion, pray none the less. If they even become cruel and violent to you, pray none the less–never the less, not a word less, not a syllable less, not a desire less and not any faith less! What are your difficulties, dear Friend, in coming to the Mercy Seat? What hindrance lies in your way? Let nothing obstruct your approach to the Throne of Grace. Turn all stumbling stones into steppingstones and come, with holy boldness, and say, notwithstanding all opposition, “never the less, we made our prayer unto our God.” Nehemiah’s prayer meant business and overcame difficulties.
Notice, next, that it was a prayer that came before anything else. It does not say that Nehemiah set a watch and then prayed, but, “nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch.” Prayer must always be the fore horse of the team! Do whatever else is wise, but not until you have prayed! Send for the physician if you are sick, but first pray. Take the medicine if you have a belief that it will do you good, but first pray. Go and talk to the man who has slandered you, if you think you ought to do so, but first pray. “Well, I am going to do so and so,” says one, “and I shall pray for a blessing on it afterwards.” Do not begin it until you have prayed! Begin, continue and end everything with prayer, but especially begin with prayer. Some people would never begin what they are going to do if they prayed about it first, for they could not ask God’s blessing upon it. Is there anybody here who is going out of this Tabernacle to a place where he should not go? Will he pray first? He knows that he cannot ask a blessing on it and, therefore, he ought not to go there! Go nowhere where you cannot go after prayer! This would often be a good guide in your choice of where you should go. Nehemiah first prayed and then set a watch.
Once more, it was a prayer that was continued. If I read the passage aright, “we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night,” it means that, as long as they watched, they prayed. They did not pray their prayer and then leave off and go away, as naughty boys do when they give runaway knocks at a door. Having begun to pray, they continued praying. So long as there were any enemies about, the prayer and the watching were never parted. They still continued to cry to Him who keeps Israel as long as they set the watchman of the night to warn them of the foe.
When shall we leave off praying, Brothers and Sisters? Well, they say that we shall do so when we get to Heaven. I am not clear about that. I do not believe in the intercession of saints for us, but I remember that it is written in the Book of Revelation that the souls under the altar cried, “How long, O Lord?” Those souls were waiting for the Resurrection, waiting for the coming of Christ, waiting for the triumph of His Kingdom, and I cannot conceive of their waiting there without often crying, “O Lord, how long? Remember Your Son, glorify His name, accomplish the number of Your elect.”
But certainly, as long as we are here, we must pray! One lady, who professed that she had long been perfect, said that her mind was in such complete conformity with the mind of God that she need not pray any longer. Poor creature! What did she know about the matter? She needed to begin at the first letter of the alphabet of salvation and pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” When people imagine they need not to pray, the Lord have mercy upon them!–
“Long as they live, let Christians pray,
For only while they pray they live.”
The prayer which Nehemiah offered was, next, a prayer that was homemade. There may be some of you who like prayers made for you and it may be that, if all the congregation are to join in the supplication, and every voice is to speak, the prayer must be prepared even as a hymn is. But ready-made prayers always seem to me very much like readymade clothes–they are meant to fit everybody and it is very seldom that they fit anybody. For real business at the Mercy Seat, give me a homemade prayer, a prayer that comes out of the deeps of my heart, not because I invented it, but because God the Holy Spirit put it there and gave it such a living force that I could not help letting it come out! Though your words are broken and your sentences are disconnected, if your desires are earnest, if they are like coals of juniper, burning with a vehement flame, God will not mind how they find expression! If you have no words, perhaps you will pray better without them. There are prayers that break the backs of words–they are too heavy for any human language to carry. This prayer, then, whatever it may have been as to its words, was one the pleaders made–“We made our prayersunto our God.”
It is very important to notice that it was a prayer that went to the home of prayer–“We made our prayer unto our God.” You have heard of the man who prayed at Boston, “the hub of the universe,” and the report in the paper the next morning was, that “The Rev. Dr. So-and-So prayed the finest prayer that was ever addressed to a Boston audience.” I am afraid that there are some prayers of that sort, that are prayed to the congregation! That is not the kind of prayer that God loves. Forget that there is anybody present! Forget that a human ear is listening to your accents and let it be said of your prayer, “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God.”
It is a very commonplace remark to make that prayer must go to God if it is to be of any use, but it is very necessary to make it. When prayer does not go to God, what is the good of it? When you come out of your closet and feel that you have only gone through a form, how much are you benefited? Make your prayers unto your God! Speak in His ear, knowing that He is there, and come away knowing that He has replied to you, that He has lifted up the Light of His Countenance upon you! That is the kind of prayer we need for our protection against our enemies both day and night.
Only once more upon this first point. I gather from the words before me that it was a prayer saturated with faith. “We made our prayer unto–"God”? No, “unto our God.” They had taken Jehovah to be their God and they prayed to Him as their God. They had a full assurance that, though He was the God of the whole earth, yet He was especially their God–and so they made their prayer unto the God who had given Himself to them and to whom they belonged by Covenant relationship! “We made our prayers unto our God.” Those two little words carry a vast weight of meaning. The door of prayer seems to turn on those two golden hinges–“our God.” If you and I are to be delivered from the evil that is in the world–if we are to be kept building the Church of God–we must have for our first guard, mighty, believing prayer such as Nehemiah and his Jewish friends presented unto the Lord.
II. I have now to speak to you about THE SECOND GUARD–“We set a watch against them day and night, because of them.”
This setting of the watch was a work appointed. “We set a watch.” Nehemiah did not say, “Now, some of you fellows go and watch,” leaving the post of watchmen open to any who chose to take it. But they, “set a watch.” A certain number of men had to go on duty at a certain point, at a certain hour, remain for a certain length of time and be on guard against the adversary. “We set a watch.” Brothers and Sisters, if we are to watch over ourselves–and we must do so–we must do it with a definite purpose. We must not say, “I must try to be watchful.” No, no! You must be watchful and your watchfulness must be as distinct and definite an act as your prayer. “We set a watch.” Some of you have seen the guards changed in the barracks–there is a special time for each company to mount guard. When you go to bed at night, pray the Lord to guard you during the darkness. In the morning, set a watch when you go to your business. Set a watch when you go to the dinner table. Set a watch when you return home. Oh, how soon we may be betrayed into evil unless we set a watch!
It was a work carefully done, for Nehemiah says, “We set a watch against them day and night, because of them.” Those three last words would be better rendered, “over against them,” that is, wherever there was an enemy, there he set a watch. They are likely to come up this way. Very well, set a watch there. Perhaps they may shift about and come up this way. Very well, set a watch there. Possibly they may come climbing over the wall in front here. Well, set a watch there. “We set a watch over against them.” One brother has a very hot temper. Brother, set a watch there! Another is very morose at home, critical, picking holes in other people’s coats. Brother, set a watch there! One friend has a tendency to pride, another to unbelief. Set a watch wherever the foe is likely to come! “We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch over against them.”
It was a work continued. Nehemiah says, “we set a watch against them day and night.” What? Is there to be someone sitting up all night? Of course there is! If Sanballat had told them when he meant to attack them, they might have gone to sleep at other times, but as he did not give them that information, they had to set a watch “day and night.” The devil will not give you notice when he is going to tempt you–he likes to take men by surprise–therefore, set a watch day and night.
It was a work quickened by knowledge. They knew that Sanballat would come if he could, so they set a watch. The more you know of the plague of your own heart, the more you will set a watch against it. The more you know of the temptations that are in the world through lust, the more you should set a watch. The older you are, the more you should watch. “Oh!” says an aged friend, “you should not say that–it is the young people who go wrong.” Is it? In the Old Testament or in the New, have you an instance of a young Believer who went astray? The Bible tells us of many old men who were tripped up by Satan when they were not watching. So you have need to set a watch even when your hair turns gray, for you will not be out of gunshot of the devil until you have passed through the gate of pearl into the golden streets of the New Jerusalem!
You and I, dear Friends, have need to set a watch against the enemies of our holy faith. Some people ask me, “Why do you talk so much about the ‘Down-Grade?’ Let men believe what they like. Go on with your work for God and pray to Him to set them right.” I believe in praying and setting a watch. We have to guard with jealous care “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” When you find, as you find now, professing Christians and professing Christian ministers denying every article of the faith, or putting another meaning upon all the words that they must have been understood to bear, and preaching lies in the name of the Most High, it is time that somebody set a watch against them! A nightwatchman’s place is not an easy berth, but I am willing to take that post for my blessed Master’s sake. Those professed servants of Christ who enter into an unholy alliance with men who deny the faith will have to answer for it at the Last Great Day. As for us, Brothers and Sisters, when our Lord comes, let Him find us watching as well as praying!
But, dear Friends, to come home to ourselves, we must set a watch against our own personal adversaries. I hope that, in one sense, you have no personal enemies, that you owe nobody a grudge, but that you live in peace and love towards all mankind. But there are Christian people here who will go to homes where everybody in the house is against them. Many a godly woman goes from the sanctuary to a drunken husband. Many children, converted to God, see anything but what they like to see in their homes. What are they to do in such circumstances? Set a watch!
Dear Woman, how do you know but that you shall be the means of saving your unconverted husband? If so, you must set a watch–do not give him a bit of your mind–you will not convert him that way. And you, dear Children, who have come to Christ and joined the Church, mind that you are dutiful and obedient, for otherwise you will destroy all hope of bringing your parents to the Savior. Set a watch. “Oh!” you say, “if I do a little wrong, they magnify it.” I know they do and, therefore, set a watch–be more careful. Set a watch over your temper, set a watch over your tongue, set a watch over your actions. Be patient, be gentle, be loving. May the Spirit of God work all this in you!
But there is another set of enemies much more dreadful than these adversaries that are outside us–the foes within–the evil tendencies of our corrupt nature, against which we must always set a watch! Perhaps you say, “How can I do this?” Well, first, know what they are. People who are beginning the Christian life should seek to know where their weak points are. I should not wonder, dear Friend, if your weak point lies where you think that you are strong. Where you think, “Oh, I shall never go wrong there”–that is the very place where you are likely to fall! Set a watch wherever any weakness has appeared and, if you have, in the past in your Christian life, grieved the Holy Spirit by anything wrong, set a double watch there! Where you have tripped once, you may trip again, for you are the same man.
Set a watch, also, dear Friend, whenever you feel quite secure. Whenever you feel certain that you cannot be tempted in a particular direction, that proves that you are already as proud as Lucifer! Set a watch, set a watch, set a watch! Avoid every occasion of sin. If any course of conduct would lead you into sin, do not go in that direction. I heard a man say, as an excuse for drinking, “You see, if ever I take a glass of beer, I seem to lose myself and I must have two or three more.” Well, then, if that is the case with you, do not take a glass of beer. “But,” one says, “if I get into company, I forget myself.” Then, do not go into company! Better go to Heaven as a hermit, than go to Hell with the multitude! Pluck out your right eye and cut off your right hand sooner than that these should cause you to fall into sin! Do not go where you are likely to be tempted.
“Well,” says one, “but my business calls me into the midst of temptation.” I grant you that your business may compel you to go where there are ungodly men, for how could some live at all if they had not to come into contact with the ungodly?–they would have to go out of the world! Well, then, if that is your case, put on the whole armor of God and do not go without being prepared to fight the good fight of faith. Set a watch, set a watch, set a watch!
Watch against the beginnings of sin. Remember, Satan never begins where he leaves off–he begins with a little sin and he goes on to a greater one. When he first tempts men, he does not aim at all he hopes to accomplish–he tries to draw them aside little by little–and he works up by degrees to the greater sin he wants you to commit. I do not believe that, at the present time, a Christian man can be too precise. We serve a very precise God–“the Lord your God is a jealous God.” Keep out of many things in which professing Christians now indulge themselves. The question is whether they are Christians at all! If we must not judge them–at any rate, let us judge ourselves and settle it, once and for all, that we dare not go where they go–indeed, we have no wish to do so!
Watch for what God has to say to you. In your reading of the Bible, if the Holy Spirit applies a text of Scripture to you with special force, regard it as a hint from your heavenly Father that there is a lesson in it for you. I am often surprised at the way in which the morning text will often instruct me through the whole day. Persons who come to hear the Word of God preached often find that, within two or three days, there is a reason why the preacher delivered that particular sermon–and a reason why they were led to hear it.
Whenever you see a professing Christian going astray from the way of holiness, do not talk about it and so increase the mischief. “It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest.” Instead of speaking of another’s fall, set a watch for yourself and say, “That is where he slipped and that is where I may stumble if the Grace of God does not keep me.” Remember our Savior’s words to the three disciples with Him in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.”
III. I finish by putting THE TWO GUARDS TOGETHER. “We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them.”
Dear Friends, neither of these two guards is sufficient by itself. Prayer alone will not avail. To pray and not to watch is presumption. You pretend to trust in God and yet you are throwing yourself into danger, as the devil would have had Christ do, when he tempted Him to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple! If you pray to be kept, then be watchful.
Prayer without watchfulness is hypocrisy. A man prays to be kept from sin and then goes into temptation–his prayer is evidently a mere piece of mockery, for he does not carry it out in practice.
Sometimes, however, ignorance may lead to prayer without watching. There are other things which ought not to be omitted. Let me tell you a simple story. There was a little schoolgirl who did not often know her lessons. And there was another girl who sat near her, who always said her lessons correctly. Her companions said to her, “Jane, how is it that you always know your lessons?” Jane replied, “I pray to God to help me and so I know them.” The next day, the other little girl stood up, but she did not know her lesson–and afterward she said to her friend, “I prayed to God about my lesson, but I did not know it any better than I did yesterday.” Jane said, “But did you try to learn the lesson?” “No,” she said, “I prayed about it, and I thought that was sufficient.” Of course she did not know her lesson without learning it! In the same manner, you must watch as well as pray. There must be the daily guard put upon tongue, thought and hands–otherwise prayer will be in vain.
I have known some people run great risks and yet say that they have prayed to the Lord to preserve them. I have heard, dozens of times, these words, “I made it a matter of prayer,” and I have been ready to grow angry with the man who has uttered them! He has done a wrong thing and he has excused himself because he says that he made it a matter of prayer! A young man married an ungodly young woman and yet he said that he made it a matter of prayer! A Christian woman married an ungodly man and when someone blamed her for disobeying the Word of God, she said that she made it a matter of prayer! If you had really sought Divine guidance, you would not have dared to do what the Scriptures expressly forbid a child of God! Prayer without watching is not sufficient to preserve us from evil.
On the other hand, dear Friends, watching without praying is equally futile. To say, “I will keep myself right,” and never pray to God to keep you, is self-confidence which must lead to evil. If you try to watch and do not pray, you will go to sleep and there will be an end to your watching. It is only by praying and watching that you will be able to keep on your guard. Besides, watching grows wearisome without prayer, and we soon give it up unless we have a sweet interlude of prayer to give us rest and to help us to continue watching.
I will not keep you longer when I have said this, put the two together, “Watch and pray,” or, as my text has it, “Pray and watch.” One will help the other. Prayer will call out the watchman, prayer will incite him to keep his eyes open. Prayer will be the food to sustain him during the night, prayer will be the fire to warn him. On the other hand, watching will help prayer, for watching proves prayer to be true. Watching excites prayer, for every enemy we see will move us to pray more earnestly. Moreover, watching is prayer. If there is true watching, the watching, itself, is prayer. The two blend the one into the other. Beloved Friends, I send you away with my text ringing in your ears, “We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night.”
But I have not been speaking to all who are here. Some of you do not pray. Some of you cannot set a watch. The message for you is, “You must be born again.” You cannot attempt Christian duties till first you have the Christian life. And the only way to get the Christian life is to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Come to the Fountain which He has filled with His precious blood! Wash there and be clean! And then, quickened by His Spirit, set a watch. I am looking to see some people brought to Christ at this service, for although I have been preaching to God’s people, if they will watch for you and pray for you, there will come a blessing to you through their watching and praying!
The Lord grant that it may come to many of you! “Seek you the Lord while He may be found, call you upon Him when He is near.” May many seek and find the Lord tonight–and may many call upon Him in truth! “Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” God grant that it may be so to everybody here, for Jesus' sake! Amen. Portion of Scripture Read before Sermon–Nehemiah 4.HYMNS FROM “OUR OWN HYMN BOOK”–994, 999, 668.