And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12 NKJV)
You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 NKJV)
“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” (Mark 13:33 NKJV)
Scripture uses the term “watchfulness”often when speaking of our Christian living. In Greek, two terms are used primarily, nepsis and agrupneo. Nepsis is the favored term of the Church Fathers.
What does it mean to be neptic? Certainly not “to not go to sleep at all,” though at times this was done. Keeping vigil was common practice in the early Church (and in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism to this day). A vigil meant hours of standing in prayer through the night–sometimes all night, sometimes for a few hours.
Being neptic–watchful–is a characteristic of living moment by moment, the opposite of drunkenness and stupor, as Bp. Kallistos Ware defines it. Being watchful means paying close attention to the thoughts that you suffer, in order to “bring… every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Watchfulness heeds the condition of your heart, where your trust is, where your hope is, how you are responding to the grace of God (or not). It means paying attention to the moment you are in, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, for “sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). A watchful spirit asks, “How may I serve God in this moment,” or rather, “how am I serving God in this moment?” It pays attention to how God is giving out of His loving abundance at this moment, at this juncture.
In many ways watchfulness is the opposite not only of drunkenness, but of multi-tasking. It is the opposite practice of eating while reading a trade journal, of emailing in the middle of writing a report, of washing dishes and helping with homework and breaking up fights. Thus it is counter to modern life, as our enemy has no doubt engineered.
It is tiring work, to be watchful. It is exhausting, and we are quickly distracted.
We also face the objection: “That’s all very spiritual of you, Pastor Hall, but I have a job, I have many things to do. It doesn’t even sound very Lutheran.”
Watchfulness is not optional. Reread those passages at the beginning. These are not “evangelical counsels” as the Roman Catholics define them. Watchfulness is an exhortation of the Lord and His Apostles for all people.
It is possible to be watchful even in the midst of work and obligations. Instead of refuting this, simply try it. In the midst of what you are doing in your vocation, pay attention to what your hands are doing, to what your mind is doing, to what is happening around you. Think on those things that are good, giving thanks to God. Pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17). It will be difficult because we are not used to paying that much attention to what is around us. Our flesh and our enemy so barrage us with distractions to stupefy us, and our souls are not used to being awake.
Finally, if this is “not Lutheran” then my only response is that it ought to be, if we are actually interested in what the Word has to say to us.