Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 9: Watchfulness
We have now concluded our discussion on baptism and have come to the final discourse of our Spiritual Formation programme. In this discourse we are going to look at the spiritual practice of Watchfulness. This is very important topic because getting into the practice of Watchfulness can help us to avoid many pitfalls both in our ‘ordinary’ life as well as in our spiritual life. A good place to start is with the following text:
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5:15-17)
Here the Apostle gives three pieces of advice:
1. To walk circumspectly.
2. To understand what the will of the Lord is.
3. To redeem the time, because that the days are evil.
The Greek word translated here as ‘circumspectly’ also means ‘exactly’, ‘diligently’, or ‘accurately.’ So the first thing he is saying is to exercise care, diligence, perfection of effort, a careful watchfulness and prudent behaviour in our attitude towards others. Then he says we need to understand the will of the Lord, in other words we need to know and understand the wisdom of God, which comes from knowledge of spiritual things.
So these two commands refer to the outer life and the inner one and it is apparent that if we are not strong in the inner, we will be weak in the outer. The first injunction relates to the world about us and our relationship with others, while the second relates to what is hidden in our hearts, the inner wisdom which we cannot come to know unless we seek it out:
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory. (1 Cor. 2:4-7)
And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom. 12:2)
So these first two commands indicate the life of Martha and of Mary, that is, combining works and faith, activity and contemplation, so that they are blended in one life of wisdom and active work. Paul offers this same advice to the Colossians, although in a slightly different way:
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man. (Col. 4:5-6)
This leads us on to the third command which is ‘to redeem the time, because the days are evil’. Now ‘to redeem’ usually means ‘to buy off’ or ‘to ransom’ although in this context it is better explained as ‘to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good’. So we can understand this command saying that we should ‘buy up all the articles in the market so as to leave nothing for another customer’. In other words we should have the spiritual insight, and the enthusiasm, and make the active effort to use each occasion according to God’s will and not according to the will of the world or the will of the flesh. Pure, thankful, holy living is to have God’s will so written in our hearts that we cannot fail to see its beckoning hand and hear its warning voice, among the shadows and the dreams, the din and the noise, the glitter and the grief of this fleeting world.
Here we see the two opposing currents of good and evil which are always present in the world, one leads towards regeneration and the other to destruction. This can be seen on a global level and a national level, as well as in daily events in our own lives. However it must be admitted that it is not always easy to see what the result of particular actions will be. Therefore, always seek to do the good and correct thing and, if evil results, seek to learn from the error.
Now the Greek word translated here as ‘redeem’ also has the metaphorical meaning of Christ freeing the elect from the dominion of the Mosaic Law at the price of his death and when the Apostle uses it he is relating what he is saying to the crucifixion, as we can see from these texts:
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree. (Gal. 3:13)
To redeem those that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal. 4:5)
This can be more clearly understood by considering that ‘death’ is frequently used to refer to being in a state of sin and new life comes to the extent that we have put sin aside because we come into a state of spiritual freshness and freedom. The parallel to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is clear in that he ‘overcame death and gained the victory.’ This, as we have seen, is the theme of baptism. Our following the Cross, if we are being true to it, must involve self-denial and self-sacrifice.
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
Yet what is gained from doing this, even in this present life, is worth far more than the price paid, as Paul expresses to the Galatians:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
This is a very important point because as we ‘crucify’ ourselves and make progress on the path of regeneration so does Christ come to ever greater dominance in our hearts and we become increasingly aware of his light and love in our hearts. This is the way of the heart and the path to peace:
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)
How often this is heard at the conclusion of Eucharistic worship. Indeed, the Eucharistic liturgy itself plays a significant role in assisting the process of regeneration, but that is another topic for another discussion.
The cross which is signed on the brow at baptism and which remains there, etched in memory throughout our lives, speaks of the deep spiritual connection which exists between all efforts for good, all our conquests over evil, and that blessed Sacrifice ‘once offered for us men and for our salvation’.
Guidelines for Practicing Watchfulness
Now, having gained an understanding of the value of the watchfulness how do we put it into practice? This is done by a person watching or observing everything they think, say or do in order to determine whether such actions are good or not. However this is not simply about being conscious of external actions towards others, those external actions need to become expressions of what is felt in the heart, as Paul said in his letter to Timothy:
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of un-pretended faith. (1 Tim. 1:5)
Here are some more maxims which can act as guidelines:
Rushing along with one’s thoughts or actions leaves little time to evaluate actions and this can easily lead to falling into evil without realizing it. As the Prophet said, Give heed to your ways. (Hag. 1:7)
Solomon in his wisdom counselled, Give neither sleep to your eyes nor slumber to your eyelids. Rescue yourself as a deer from the hand... (Prov. 6:4)
If you would practice watchfulness first decide what comprises the true good you would choose and what the evils are that should be avoided. Consider this both in general terms and also in relation to particular situations.
What are the bad habits you wish to overcome?
Are your thoughts, words and actions in harmony with God’s laws?
There are many teachings in the Bible that can guide you in these things.
One who cannot see their evil ways is like a person stumbling around in the dark: The path of the wicked is like pitch darkness; they do not know upon what they stumble, (Prov. 4:19),
The wise man sees the evil and hides, and the fools pass on and are punished, (Prov. 22:3)
A wise man fears, and departs from evil: but the fool rages, and is confident. (Prov. 14:16)
Even worse than such blindness is to have distorted sight where evil is seen as being goodness. This encourages a person’s resolve to cling to their evil ways and to seek out evidence which would support their false ideas.
Consider the path of your feet and all of your paths will be established. (Prov. 4:26)
Let us seek out our ways and examine them, and we will return to God. (Lam. 3:40)
If you seek perfection fear to do wrong for, Happy is the man who always fears. (Prov. 28:14)
Remember also that, God will bring every deed into judgment. (Eccl. 12:14)
If you have done evil endeavour to make amends for these actions and seek the forgiveness of God.
It is only those who walk in the paths of evil that fear God in their hearts. If you walk on the righteous path, seeking always to do good, to be honest and fair in your dealings, to love your neighbour and to bind your heart to the bounteous love of God fear will not be found in your heart and peace will come to you
The Way Ahead
It is sincerely hoped that you have found benefit in our Spiritual Foundation programme. If you would like to continue these studies you are invited to join us on a spiritual pilgrimage,
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 9