Know Your Challenges (III): Lack of Vigilance
Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
Paul exhorts us to take up the whole armor of God (Eph
6:13–18). He gravely warns us that it is the only way to survive the onslaught
of the wicked one. Sadly, despite such warnings, some have fallen, unable to
“withstand in the evil day”. Why were they defeated?
It is important to note that such spiritual failure cannot
be blamed on the lack of access
to the complete armor. God gives every believer access to every part of the
armor. Even those who have yet to receive the Holy Spirit cannot claim to be
disadvantaged since they have the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.
In actual fact, the source of failure is the lack of
application. Protection comes not from
merely possessing but putting on the armor. Many Christians “take up” these armor parts, only to lay
them aside! This is very poor soldiering. According to the Chinese adage: “The
saddle must never leave the horse, and the armor must never leave the general.”
Good soldiers know that the enemy may appear any moment, so they must always be
prepared. Putting on armor and saddling horses only when the enemy turns up is
a recipe for sure defeat, if not a massacre!
Being well-armed and ready to fight is even more critical
for the battle of faith. We do not war against flesh and blood; instead we are
engaged in a titanic and relentless spiritual battle. So we must be constantly
and highly vigilant. In particular, there are three antitheses of vigilance
that we must guard against.
I. First Warning: SPIRITUAL SLUMBER
The Lord Himself warns those who are asleep to awake (Eph
5:14); Jesus wants us to be watchful and not to continue in our slumber. Paul
elaborates on what being awake means. We are to live “not as fools”, dazedly
muddling along in life, oblivious to what is happening around us. Instead, we
must understand and remember that the Lord’s will is for us to save sinners
today and to judge the world for their sins in the future. Hence, we must
depart from darkness to love the light; repent and leave our sins. There is no
time to waste because “the days are evil”, i.e., the judgment of the Lord is
coming soon. So we have to “redeem the time” to do our work of salvation (Eph
Today, man knows much more than his ancestors, but he also
sins much more. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, but human morality
has also degenerated just as sharply. All these signs should set alarm bells
ringing. When the entire generation is so evil, it must mean we have moved deep
into the night. Very soon, dawn will appear. The sun will rise. Darkness will
pass. At that time, will we be in the light, or stuck in darkness?
Physical sleep is useful for us to recharge and refresh.
But spiritual slumber is hazardous to health.[i] So we must—quite literally—rise and shine!
2. Watch and Pray
When Jesus went into Gethsemane to pray, He asked the
disciples to watch and pray—why? He did not need the disciples to intercede for
Him. Jesus may have had moments of weakness and sorrow, but He never succumbed
to temptation. Watchful in prayer, He overcame all of it.
However, Jesus knew that His disciples were highly
vulnerable to temptation and spiritual sleep. So, He urged them to watch and
pray. Some believers—to justify their spiritual somnolence—like to say that the
“spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. This biblical phrase was never meant
to be a license for carnal indulgence! Instead we ought to triumph over
weakness by heeding the Lord’s reminder to watch and pray.
After two wake-up calls the disciples were “still
sleeping” and had not realized that the enemy was approaching. When Jesus woke
them up for the third time, the enemy was already before them (Mt 26:45–46).
See the stark contrast between the
respective ways that Jesus and the disciples faced the enemy. Jesus was calm
and brave. The disciples “forsook Him and fled” (Mt 26: 56). This was utter,
ignominious failure. When Jesus needed them the most, they fled.[ii] It is clear why the three
disciples had no courage to stand together with Jesus. It was a lack of
vigilance—they had been asleep, they
were caught unprepared, and so they fled in terror.
But this failure was an important learning and turning
point for them, sowing the seed for their future unflinching vigilance. We see
a very different apostolic church—the apostles were constantly watchful in
their prayers; they no longer fled but faced every challenge courageously.
They were undaunted by external persecution. Brought before
officials who threatened them to stop them from preaching, Peter and John
declared, “Is it right to obey you men rather than obey God? You decide” (Acts
4:19). How bold these apostles had become. When questioned, they in turn
questioned and made the council reflect on its actions. They also said, “We
cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard.” It was a fearless
proclamation that even if they were arrested, these believers of “the Way”
would continue to preach on their release.
Internal problems were quickly confronted and effectively
resolved. One instance was the distribution of food. Those involved in the
squabble did not know how to handle the problem. However, the apostles did.
Seven deacons were appointed to manage administrative issues so that the
apostles were not distracted from prayer and the ministry of the word.
In short, regardless of whether the problems came from
outside the church or within the church, the apostles watched and prayed. They
were no longer spiritually asleep. Thus, we too must learn to watch and pray
and not allow our spiritual minds to sleep.
3. Be Willing
There may be times when we—in a moment of weakness—doze
off. Who can help us then?
Only the Lord can awake man from spiritual slumber. But we
must not take this for granted because God does not wake everyone. In
particular, He does not wake those in deep slumber because sound sleepers who
are currently enjoying sweet dreams do not react well to being woken. These
sleepers ignore or shut off the alarm clock; they tell the person who is trying
to wake them up to give them more time. Further attempts to rouse such a person
from sleep will only earn us their anger, blame or rebuke.
God wants a willing heart. Therefore, He only wakes two
kinds of people—the contrite and the humble. God dwells with him who is
contrite and humble in spirit. He will revive, i.e., awaken, the spirit of the
humble and the heart of the contrite (Isa 57:15).
God will not awaken the hard-hearted and proud; not
because He does not love them, but because of their stubbornness. The
hard-hearted will not repent. He will continue to sin. The proud will not
listen to advice and will act as they wish. In contrast, the humble listen to
advice, reflect and repent; the contrite are even more eager to repent. God
delights in such people. Since they are willing to repent, the spirit of God
will be even more willing and pleased to help and dwell in them, reviving their
Rousing from our slumber requires God’s help, as well as
our humble and contrite hearts. A good test of our readiness to awaken is our
reaction when listening to the word of God. We need to ask the Lord for mercy,
entreat His spirit to revive our hearts and prevent us from further slumber.
One who is sleeping will not know when the Lord comes, or when the enemy will
appear. And that will be downright dangerous!
II. SECOND Warning: spiritual
Our journey of faith may comprise many periods of extreme
zeal. But inevitably, there will be times of fatigue. In moments like these, we
do not particularly want to do anything or speak to anyone; we just want to lie
down, hide away and have our own quiet time. Usually, after some rest, we feel
better and are ready to proceed on our journey of faith and service.
Unfortunately, some are so weary that they do not just
feel like giving up their service—they want to give up on their lives. One such
example was Elijah. His was no mere physical exhaustion but a deep spiritual
weariness. A great prophet of faith, Elijah was neither easily frightened nor
easily exhausted. So how did he end up asking to die?
It was not an easy ministry that he had been called
to—just one man confronting 850 false prophets, a faithless king and equally
faithless people. However, by relying on God, Elijah performed two great
miracles (1 Kgs 18). First, he successfully entreated God to send fire from on
high to burn up the offerings, proving that the Lord
is God and that the 850 prophets of Baal were worshipping false gods. Second,
his prayer to God for rain ended a three-and-a-half-year drought. These two
great miracles triggered the people’s resolve to turn back to God. Together
with Elijah, they executed the 850 false prophets.
At this point, Elijah thought that Israel’s faith would be
restored. But when king Ahab told queen Jezebel about the things Elijah had
done, she issued the order to kill Elijah (1 Kgs 19:1–4). Ahab was unable to
stop his wife and protect the prophet of the Lord. The people who had
personally witnessed the miracles did not dare stand up for Elijah either. All
the miracles had not changed the heart of Ahab or the people; it had done
little to dent the power that Jezebel wielded.
Elijah cut a lonely figure. No one stood up with or for
him. From the lowest to the highest levels of society, there was no one who
dared to help protect the prophet of God against the idolatrous queen. Although
the power of God had been demonstrated so dramatically, the people still could
not turn their minds back to God.
Elijah was devastated. He had thought the miracles would
lead to a great revival of the nation’s faith but the final outcome was
completely different. What else could he do for God’s kingdom? Left with no
choice, Elijah fled. In fact, the situation appeared so bleak and his sense of
helplessness so acute that he prayed to God: “Let me die.”
We may have been in similar situations. Burning with great
aspirations for God, we put in utmost effort into His service, only to reap
somewhat disappointing outcome(s). However, our disappointment was more acute
when we realized that no one was willing to stand by our side to speak for us.
We might even feel a sense of betrayal when the very people whom we have tried
to help treat us like feared lepers. In moments like these, we are truly weary.
We give up. Sometimes we even seek death. Just like Elijah.
1. Take a Short Break
In 1 Kings 19, we see that God did not reprimand Elijah.
God understood that he was weary and knew what he needed most was rest. So God
provided Elijah with food and drink and allowed him to sleep. Similarly for us,
sometimes God wakes us when we have fallen asleep. But at other times, like the
loving parent that He is, God allows us to continue to sleep so that we can
rest and recuperate.
But we cannot continue to slumber. We have to awake at some point in time. After
gently waking Elijah (1 Kgs 19:7), God told him that a great journey was before
him; he still had much to do. Difficulties in one area of work should not
discourage us from taking up work in another area. There still is much to
accomplish in many other areas.
2. Undertake Other Ministries
God instructed Elijah to pass judgment on Ahab’s
household; to pronounce judgment on Jezebel and the false prophets; and to
restore the faith of the people of Israel. These were all future events. God
was telling Elijah to prepare for the future. Invigorated by his rest, Elijah
knew his direction and thus moved towards it.
There is an important lesson here for us when we find
ourselves weary and disappointed because our ministry does not seem to be
yielding any result. We need not confine ourselves to just one area, for there
are many other things in which we can serve. No matter where, as long as we are
doing it for God, God is pleased. Even if it is the simplest action of bringing
a cold drink to the little ones, Jesus sees and remembers. All because
we showed love and care for the little one in His name.
It is also through little things that God can see whether
we have been faithful to His word. We have heard so many sermons but how many
have we applied in our daily lives? When we are discouraged, do we really turn
our eyes upon Jesus? When we are suffering, can we draw strength and comfort
from Him whose eye is on the sparrow? Can we strengthen the tired hands and
feeble knees so that we can complete our journey of faith (Heb 12:12)?
David said, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He
makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters”
Our green pastures are the word of God. They give our hearts
strength and comfort (Ps 119:49–50). The still waters are the Holy Spirit. He
is the water of life, and will help us. Both of these—the truth and the Holy
Spirit—nourish, move and sustain us spiritually. Hence, we ought to ask the
Lord to grant us food and drink to re-energize us and help us emerge from our
III. THIRD warning: spiritual
A lack of vigilance is also manifested as
numbness towards the word of God. We simply refuse to listen to the word and
have no reaction to whatever warning there is in the Bible. Underpinning this
refusal is simple disbelief—first, disbelief that God will fulfill His warning
of destruction; and second, disbelief that God has specified a way of
1. Dull Hearts, Heavy Ears, Closed Eyes (Isa 6:9–10)
Some people consider God’s action of
destroying all humanity except for a family of eight as excessively cruel. They
question, “Could everyone in Noah’s time have
been so completely evil that all deserved death?
There must have been varying shades of evilness amongst them, so why did God
have to destroy every single one of them?”
A fact generally forgotten or glossed
over is that God had provided a very long grace period. The ark that God
instructed Noah to build was not meant for just the Noah family. The ark was
meant to save everybody. Unfortunately, not a single person outside Noah’s
Everyone could see the ark. Everyone had
heard Noah warn of the impending flood. Everyone knew that entering the ark
meant safety from death. They saw, they heard and they knew but… they simply
did not believe. God had provided decades of warning but the people’s eyes were
closed, their ears deaf and hearts dull. So should we still blame God for
heartlessness or man for recalcitrance?
The wind blowing through the trees causes
leaves to fall. Not every leaf falls, only those that are withered and
withering. In fact, lifeless leaves will still fall off even if there were no
wind. On the other hand, leaves with life may rustle in the wind but they will
stay on the tree. Ought we to blame the “cruel” wind for “making” the leaves
The second coming of the Son of Man will
be similar to the great flood in the days of Noah. Whether we enter into the
ark and be saved like Noah and his entire household depends on whether we have
become numb to the message of the judgment day (cf. Mt 24:37–42).
The Lord Jesus tells us that we have to
be ever-vigilant and never allow our spiritual senses to be numb (Mt 24:42,44).
Heed the Bible’s advice—be prepared; enter and stay in the ark of the last
days, which is the true church.
2. A Vision of Their Own Heart (Jer 23:16–17)
Some people question, “Is the True Jesus
Church (TJC) really the ark of the last days? Can you only be saved by entering
the TJC? Is it logical that only your small number of members will be saved and
everybody else will die? How can the loving God allow all the other people to
die and save a meagre few?!” These questions then generally lead to the
conclusion that the TJC is a “cult” because of our “exclusiveness”.
When we ponder on these questions, they
do not seem unreasonable. Due to this and the fact that TJC’s rate of
conversion appear lower than many other denominations, we are somewhat
reluctant to definitively proclaim that the TJC is THE ark of the last days.
Some have even started to doubt this, especially those who were not very
convinced in the first place. If we are battling such doubts, Jesus has given
us a clear answer.
The coming of the Son of Man will be like
the days of Noah. How many people were saved in those days? Only eight
entered the ark; only eight out of an entire world and generation were saved (1
Pet 3:20). Even fewer than those who are in the TJC! All who did not enter the
ark were completely wiped out.
Therefore, we must heed God’s warning to
enter into the ark of the last days, lest we be rejected and left outside to
To some, the phrase “God is love” means
we can do anything we like and still lay a claim on eternal life. However, the
Bible clearly teaches that the lack of vigilance can jeopardize our salvation.
It is not because God is cruel and unloving, but because we continually and
casually reject His word. It is not that we do not know His teaching and
warnings, but because we are unwilling to believe. It is not that God does not
want to save us, but because we have not done our work of salvation.
Before the throne of judgment, are we
going to accuse God of heartlessness? God will say, “I do not know you.” We
will then be cast outside to weep and suffer. There will be people outside
weeping and gnashing their teeth. They will cry out, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we
preach in your name? Didn’t we heal the sick and cast out demons in your name?”
Those who said these words were people who had preached the gospel and healed
the sick in the name of Jesus. Yet they were rejected.
So we must be sober and vigilant for our
adversary prowls around us. Awake from our spiritual slumber. Rely on God’s
word and Spirit to overcome our spiritual exhaustion. Re-examine our heart of
belief and repent of our spiritual numbness. Enter and stay in the ark of the
[i] DEEP DOZING DANGERS
1. Sleepers are unaware
of time. Sleeping Christians may miss the bridegroom’s arrival (cf. Mt
2. Sleepers do not
realize their sad state. Sleeping Christians may be in defiled garments when
the Lord comes again (cf. Mt 22:11–14).
3. Sleepers are oblivious to
whoever appears beside them—friend or foe. Sleeping Christians may fall prey to
the prowling lion (cf. 1 Pet 5:8).
[ii] FOOTPRINTS: WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY CRUCIFIED THE LORD?
In a well-known inspirational poem, a man looks back on the sands of his
life and sees two sets of footprints—the Lord’s and his. He notices, to his
shock, that at his times of greatest sorrow, there is only one set of
footprints. He is upset and demands to know why he was abandoned; until the
Lord gently points out that these were the Lord’s footprints—the Lord had
carried the man through these turbulent periods.
many of us accuse the Lord of ignoring or even abandoning us when we need Him
most. We question His faithfulness and audaciously grumble that He must have
been sleeping on the job! Busy blaming the Lord, we do not realize that we
ourselves have not been standing by the side of Jesus and hence cannot hear His
voice. Even more critically, were we there when the Lord had need of us?