What Does It Mean to “Watch and Pray?”

Just after participating in the Last Supper, the Savior walked with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Telling His disciples, “Pray that ye enter not into temptation,” He walked a little further, and knelt to pray (Luke 22:40-41, Mark 14:32-36Matthew 26:36-39).

Returning a little later, He found the disciples sleeping. Speaking to Peter, He said, “What could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). Then, he added the following counsel:

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38).

A little more than 100 years earlier, on the American continent, the prophet Alma gave similar counsel to a group of people in the city of Ammonihah. After telling them to humble themselves and repent, he said, “Watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear” (Alma 13:28).

Shortly after, he was pleased to see that the people in the nearby town of Sidom were humbling themselves, “watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction” (Alma 15:17).

During the Savior’s visit to the American continent, He twice admonished the people to “watch and pray always,” to avoid falling into temptation and becoming captive to the devil (3 Nephi 18:15, 18).

Today, I’ve thought about this pairing. Why did the Savior warn us to both “watch” and “pray”?

  • Watch – Stay awake, be vigilant, pay attention. Just like a night watchman, whose job is to identify and warn of danger, each of us must be mindful of the degrading influences which surround us and of the adverse thoughts and feelings which we experience. If we are careful, we can defend ourselves against those influences while they are small and weak, before they become entrenched and difficult to extract.
  • Pray – Recognize that we cannot overcome temptation alone. Only by humbly submitting our will to God can we access his power, which can help us to become pure and spotless. (See Moroni 10:32-33.)

Elder Lynn G. Robbins explained that both watching and praying are acts of faith:

This entreaty of the Savior to avoid temptation consists of two acts of faith: to watch and to pray. The Guide to the Scriptures teaches us that to watch means “to be vigilant, to [be on] guard,” which is wise advice in defending ourselves against a very real and ever-lurking enemy. And the corollary to the Savior’s wise advice to pray to avoid temptation is that without prayer, we will not have the spiritual strength or stamina to win this battle on our own (“‘Avoid It,'” BYU Speeches, 17 Sept 2013).

Today, I will “watch and pray.” I will strive to be aware of the dangers in my life, and I will ask God to help me overcome those influences.

4 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to “Watch and Pray?”

Add yours

  1. After recently listening to the Book of Mormon, I decided to search the internet to see how others are studying the Book of Mormon and found your website. I am very impressed with your commitment to the study of this great book of scripture and plan to make your study a part of my daily efforts to get closer to God. Thank you!


    1. Thank you for the comment. I write these posts hoping that what I’m learning from the Book of Mormon may be beneficial to someone else as well. I’m glad you found my blog, and I hope that some of my thoughts enhance your gospel study.


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