Watchfulness: Vigilance; the condition of being alert, attentive, and careful; being cautious or wary. One of the things nurses assess with their patients on an ongoing basis is the level of "alertness" they exhibit - especially when they suspect medications, disease process, or factors unknown are impacting their patient's overall status. We assess the level of alertness by a number of factors, but if we say your name, you immediately respond, we'd say you were alert. If we have to rub out knuckles over your breastbone to elicit any type of response from you, we'd indicate your level of alertness as sedated or unresponsive. One level of "alertness" suggests readiness to interact - the other indicates you are far from being able to do things or even participate.
Good people stay away from evil. By watching what they do, they protect their lives. (Proverbs 16:17 NCV)
Our passage today deals with "watching what we do" in order to be in a position of living "protected lives". What does our level of "alertness" have to do with living "protected lives"? I think it has to do with our ability to interact. If we are watchful, we have an alertness which suggests we are both attentive and careful with our interactions with others and things around us. For example - if we are fully alert, we are less likely to stub our toes on the end table as we journey to the bathroom in the middle of the night than if we stumble there in a stupor. We interact differently depending on our level of alertness. I think we interact differently with God depending on our level of alertness, as well.
When we are alert to God's movement in our lives, we often find ourselves making course adjustments as necessary in order to avoid "interactions" which will give us grief, pain, or regret. When we are not paying close attention (have an altered level of alertness), we find ourselves involved in things which bring regret, shame, unnecessary grief, and a whole lot of turmoil into our lives.
Why do anesthesiologists put us to sleep for surgery? Isn't it because they want to affect our ability to "interact" with the surgeon's scalpel? As the surgeon is cutting away on whatever needs the work, the purpose of the anesthesia is to alter our level of "alertness" (consciousness) so that we don't squirm, jerk, pull away, etc. If we were awake and alert for the surgery, how many of us would actually sit still long enough to have the surgery completed? In fact, we'd be more likely to cause further injury because by jerking or pulling away, the surgeon would nick things which weren't even need of repair before he began the surgery! By keeping us "still", the anesthesiologist is assisting the surgeon to complete the task at hand and minimizing the risks to us.
The anesthesiologist and surgeon have a symbiotic relationship - one assists the other to complete the necessary work. They are interdependent. The anesthesiologist really has no purpose without the surgeon. I think the same might be true in our spiritual lives. Christ's words are recorded for us in this book we refer to as the Bible. Without the symbiotic relationship of the Holy Spirit bringing us into a place of grasping the context of the words shared there, we'd just be reading words. They work together to bring revelation and to accomplish the work of "spiritual surgery" in our lives - the Word is the surgeon's scalpel, the Holy Spirit is like the anesthesiologist - getting us to a place of where the surgeon can do his work.
Our writer reminds us that the way to avoid evil is by being watchful. It is like "preventative medicine". When we do whatever we can to be in a place of health physically, we are more likely to catch things when they are "small" than when we neglect our health. We might notice a change in our skin, alerting us to the need to have it checked out for the possibility of skin cancer. We might see a change in our visual acuity, alerting us to the need for corrective lenses. Our watchfulness "alerts" us to the need for intervention. God places the Holy Spirit in our lives to help us keep watch over our spirit. Our part is to be "alert" - watchful. His part is to keep us safe. As the "little stuff" creeps in, "alert" individuals will respond by having it "checked out" because they don't want to let it "grow" in their lives if it will bring them harm in the end. Together, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will do the work of helping us to avoid those things which will only bring us harm in the end. They are symbiotic - one interdependent on the other. In reality, we rely upon the interdependence of the Word and the Holy Spirit to keep us safe. What God asks from us is to stay alert to the interaction of these two in our lives - so we avoid harm. Just sayin!