My mother always taught us to pray like everything depended on the Lord and then to get up and work like everything depended on us. Until recently, I never connected that thought with the idea of "to watch and pray always." Mostly, I had thought of "watch" as simply to pay attention to, see or be aware of. But, in fact, embedded in the word "watch" is a very strong sense of personal responsibility and action that imposes significant demands upon us.
The Greek and Hebrew words for watch have essentially the same definition, which is "sleeplessness; keeping awake; spiritual alertness; to be vigilant. ..." The Hebrew word includes "the primary idea of inclining or bending forward in order to behold" ("Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies"). Indeed, the most common use of the word watch in scripture has to do with guarding and protecting. For example, "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem" (Isaiah 62:6).
The Oxford English Dictionary defines watch as wakefulness or vigil. The words "watch" and "vigil" are often used interchangeably in the sense we are speaking of here. Both have the meaning of "an occasion of devotional watching or religious observance; an occasion or period of keeping awake for some special reason." Closely related but somewhat different is the sense of "watchfulness against danger or any action on the part of others; alertness or closeness of observation."
In scripture, the word watch is used in these two senses. First, continuous, sleepless, attention for the purpose of attending, guarding or observing. Second, as a devotional exercise or religious observance.
In this first sense, Peter admonishes us to "Be sober, be vigilant (watchful); because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Similarly, the Lord instructs us that "the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am. Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:45-46).While the word watch most often implies vigilance in connection with external enemies, King Benjamin teaches us "that if ye do not watch yourselves, and (watch) your thoughts, and (watch) your words, and (watch) your deeds and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of the Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not" (Mosiah 4:30).
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.