Are you neglecting your spiritual life, even though you might be getting a lot done physically? Is your life so jam-packed with day-to-day concerns that little or no time is left for the most important parts of life? Are you figuratively pressing the spiritual snooze button over and over again?
We know that physical sleep is essential to function effectively. But did you know the Bible tells us that spiritual sleep can be seriously dangerous (Matthew 25:5-13)?
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
The apostle Paul wrote: “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 (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6, emphasis added throughout).
Yes, spiritually speaking, we all need to stop hitting the snooze button, wake up and get going.
You are a spiritual watchman
In several places the Bible uses the example of a watchman in ancient times. Watchmen guarded the agricultural fields from animals or thieves who could damage or steal the community’s food supplies.
A watchman was also posted on the top of the walls surrounding a town or city to monitor any potential threat. If danger arose, he would promptly sound a warning trumpet. The town’s gates would then be closed and the residents would prepare to defend themselves (Ezekiel 33:3-6).
It was critical that the watchman didn’t fall asleep on the job. He had to stay awake and alert at all times. Dozing off even for a few moments could allow an enemy to take advantage of the situation, with devastating results.
We can think of ourselves as watchmen in spiritual terms. Not only should we vigilantly guard our own spiritual condition, but we have the commission to spread the gospel and warn others to wake up from their spiritual slumber as danger approaches (Mark 16:15, Matthew 25:1-5).
Redeeming the time
Writing to the Christians in the city of Ephesus, Paul admonished them to wash the spiritual sleep from their eyes: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:14-16).
Likewise, the apostle Peter zealously urged worshippers to “be on your guard and stay awake . Your enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack” (1 Peter 5:8, Contemporary English Version).
The message from both apostles was that spiritual sleep can be dangerous and we must avoid it at all cost. Could you be spiritually dozing by placing other goals and interests ahead of your holy calling? (See Matthew 6:33; 1 Peter 2:21.) Let’s consider for a moment the enormous importance of this great calling from our Creator.
Fulfilling our marvelous calling
God the Father invites us to participate in the most important work in all of human history (Matthew 22:4; John 6:44). Besides having been called to proclaim His greatness, we are to participate in teaching others about the coming Kingdom of God (1 Peter 2:9; Romans 10:15). Moreover, we have the astounding personal opportunity to inherit eternal life and to serve as kings and priests with Jesus Christ for 1,000 years and beyond (1 Timothy 6:12; Revelation 20:6).
For those God has called now, this is our unique moment! This is our special time! What are we doing about it?
The illustrious Winston Churchill, Britain’s prime minister during the Second World War, wrote: “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
Is this your finest hour? Are you completely awake to your marvelous divine vocation? Are you prepared to accomplish your mission, or unprepared? (See Matthew 25:1-10.)
To be equipped and ready, you have to fully follow Jesus Christ’s example of loyal service to our Heavenly Father. We should live energetic lives of faithfulness, obedience, patience, sacrifice and endurance just as Jesus did (Matthew 7:21;Luke 22:42; 1 Peter 2:21).
Having been given this extraordinary responsibility, we have no time to take a spiritual siesta. We have to stay spiritually bright-eyed, attentive and alert. As the apostle James wrote, we need to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
The work that needed to be done
We can’t be like some people of ancient times who walked away from God’s calling when His work needed to be done. An important illustration is found in the book of Ezra.
Several decades after the nation of Judah went into captivity, God rescued a remnant of Jews and brought them back to their native land. He wanted them to have a part in the most important work of rebuilding the center of worship—the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-2). The effort began well with the renovation of the temple’s foundation, but it wasn’t long before persecution from outsiders began (Ezra 4:1-5, Ezra 4:23).
What was the result? Instead of courageously standing firm against their enemies, the people laid down their tools. They stopped doing God’s work and quickly turned their attention to their own interests. They built houses, started businesses and got married.
Of course there was nothing wrong with those things in and of themselves. But it was not supposed to be their primaryobjective. Forsaking their most important goal, the people nearly forgot why they returned to Jerusalem in the first place. But God didn’t forget! And He wasn’t going to let His work languish and fail.
He assigned the prophets Haggai and Zechariah the responsibility of reawakening the people to their mission (Ezra 5:1). Haggai rebuked the former captives over how they abandoned their God-given responsibilities. “Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” (Haggai 1:3-5).
Awake, alert and watchful
Thankfully, the people repented, and God cleared the way for them to finish the work (Ezra 6:1-14). But the question still stands for you and me: Could we be guilty of a fault like that of the people in Haggai’s day? Are we really awake to our divine calling, or are you and I so caught up in our day-to-day tasks that we are essentially saying, as the people said then in Haggai 1:2, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built”?
Make sure you’re not pressing the spiritual snooze button. Make sure you’re not just telling yourself that you’ll get busy doing God’s work tomorrow, the next day or the day after. If we’re self-absorbed and too busy with physical concerns, that day will never come.
Just as God urged the people in Haggai’s age to faithfully carry out His work, He encouraged the Church in New Testament times. The apostle Paul pressed the brethren in Rome to wake up from their listless spiritual condition. He said, “It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Paul also reproved some brethren in Corinth who became spiritually sluggish by entreating them, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin” (1 Corinthians 15:34).
Are you awake, alert and watchful? Are you attentive and listening receptively to God’s Word? Are you striving with God’s help to overcome sin? In chapters 2 and 3 of the prophetic book Revelation, Jesus Christ issued a spirited wake-up call to those grown sleepy and apathetic. Notice this paraphrase of His words:
“Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there’s life in you yet. But I wouldn’t know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God’s work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God. If you pull the covers back over your head and sleep on, oblivious to God, I’ll return when you least expect it, [and] break into your life like a thief in the night” (Revelation 3:2-3, The Message).
The alarm clock is ringing
Does Christ’s rebuke apply to you and me? Are we spiritually asleep? Are we continually pressing the spiritual snooze button? If so, what does He want us to do to shake off the cobwebs in our minds and wash the sleep from our eyes?
“Here’s what I want you to do: buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see” (Revelation 3:18, The Message).
The passage continues: “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you” (Revelation 3:19-20, The Message).
The alarm clock is ringing. Do you hear the sound? Don’t press the spiritual snooze button. Wake up! Make this your finest hour as you carry out the work God has called you to complete!
HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU SEEN A WOMAN, PROPHETESS, PRESENT IN THE SCENES OF THE NATIVITY IN THE LOCAL FRONT YARDS OF FIRE DEPARTMENTS, CHURCHES, GOVERNMENT PROPERTIES (Supreme Courthouses), SCHOOLHOUSES &/or NEIGHBORS? I’M GUESSING…NEVER! WHY NOT? SHE WAS A HUGE PART OF THE STORY OF THE BIRTHDAY OF THE LORD & VIRGIN MARY STORY
Anna is one of the Bible’s most unusual women. Introduced at the end of the Birth Narrative (Luke 1:1-2:40), Anna concludes the sextet of named, pious Israelites surrounding the miraculous births of John and Jesus. The others are Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph and Simeon. Anna arrives at the purification of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the Temple, 40 days after Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:22-38). It is a scene repeated over and over in Israelite culture, for the law required a sacrifice of a lamb or two pigeons or two doves after a son’s birth (Leviticus 12:2-8).
However, this purification is unlike any other, for Simeon and Anna arrive at the ritual independently, though both seem led by divine direction (Luke 2:22-38).
Luke’s pairing of Simeon and Anna provides an interesting comparison. Simeon arrives first, and Luke records more of his encounter. Simeon is an old man. He exclaims, “Now, Sovereign Lord, you can let your servant depart in peace” (v. 29). He prophesies that the child in his arms is God’s salvation, “prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:28, 30b-32). Notice Luke’s deft writing: Simeon praises the Lord while Anna offers thanks; he prophesies, but she is called a prophetess (Luke 2:29-32, 34-36).
Regarding Anna, Luke provides three terse verses that manage to vividly depict her as a woman deserving the honor bestowed on the elderly in the ancient Mediterranean world (v. 36-38). The appositive prophetess heads her description (Luke 2:36). In this she outranks Simeon, a man praised as righteous and devout (Luke 2:25) who may be a priest because he holds the baby Jesus. Anna is the New Testament’s only named female prophetess. Luke gives her father’s name, Phanuel, but not her husband’s. He mentions her tribe, Asher. As such, she numbers among the few New Testament characters with tribal listings. Others include Jesus, of the house and lineage of David and the tribe of Judah (Luke 2:4; Matthew 1:1-16), Saul of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5) and Barnabas, a Levite (Acts 4:36).
In the free eBook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, learn about the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul and how Jewish traditions and law extended into early Christianity through Paul’s dual roles as a Christian missionary and a Pharisee.
Luke summarizes Anna’s encounter with the little family. Unlike Simeon, her direct speech is narrated—yet it is powerful. While Simeon speaks of the larger and later context of the child to the Gentiles and Israel (vv. 30-32), Anna evangelizes immediately and selectively—to those “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). She and Simeon join others in Luke’s gospel in recognizing this child’s great significance and wide import: the angel Gabriel (1:31-33), Elizabeth and John (in uterus) (1:42-45), Zechariah (1:76-79) and the Bethlehem shepherds who also evangelize (2:11-12, 20).
As a prophetess, Anna receives insight into things that normally remain hidden to ordinary people; she recognizes who this child is and tells of his significance to selected people in Jerusalem. Her actions affirm Amos 3:7: “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plans to his servants the prophets.”
Luke dwells on Anna’s advanced age with ambiguity. Let’s simply agree with the text: she is ancient! Luke tells us she was married for seven years, then widowed. Her widowhood has either lasted 84 years or she is 84 years old when she crosses the Biblical stage (vv. 36-37). If the former, she could well be 105 years old, the same age as the apocryphal figure Judith when she died (Judith 16:28). Some scholars figure it this way: Anna married at age 14, evidently a common age, was widowed at age 21, and then meets the young family 84 years later at age 105.
I tend to see her as 105 because it is in line with the numerous miracles and unusual occurrences already surrounding the Birth Narrative, including the advanced age of Zechariah and Elizabeth when John was conceived (Luke 1:7, 13, 18, 57), and the Holy Spirit’s action of overshadowing Mary, who was able to conceive without intercourse (Luke 1:31-35). My point is this: age 105 is not out of line with Luke’s narrative replete so far with angelic visitations and miracles—especially when Luke fills in with more details about Anna. In Deuteronomy, Moses prophesies that for the tribe of Asher, Anna’s tribe, “your strength will equal your days” (Deuteronomy 33:25). Surely Anna’s life shows evidence of that.
Luke’s description of her lifestyle may be seen as eccentric today, and quite likely was considered so at the time. She never leaves the Temple (v. 37). She worships night and day, fasting and praying. She is a workaholic, available 24/7. Yet her lifestyle evidently invigorates her, for she is mobile, articulate, alert, spiritually savvy and unselfish.
Luke indicates that her habits of worship, prayer and fasting represent a routine, probably one of decades. Evidently she resides within the Temple or on its premises. A precedent in earlier centuries could have been the presence of Levite musicians and heads of families “who stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night” (1 Chronicles 9:33). So perhaps this behavior was not so unusual during the first century because of the full time work of worship the Levites undertook.
Anna, this worship workaholic, sets her own hours, schedule, route and routine. Arguably she listens to God and prays as directed. Others recognize her as a prophetess. The work of prayer indeed characterizes a prophet, for God told Abimelech that Abraham was “a prophet and he will pray for you” (Gen. 20:7). Anna knows fasting brings results. Biblical precedents include Esther’s three-day fast before courageously approaching Xerxes (Est. 4:15-16), and the abstinence of Daniel and his three friends regarding the delicacies of King Nebuchadnezzar’s table (Dan. 1:12).
Let’s consider Luke’s textual silences. Luke omits mention of her family; perhaps she had outlived her children. But if she has living family members, what do they think of her lifestyle? Do they share her devotion to constant worship? What about her finances? Is she independently wealthy, or do others provide her food? What did she look like? These questions remain unanswered, for they do not contribute toward Luke’s themes.
Who was the first person to truly recognize Jesus as the Messiah and understand the implications? In the article “Mary, Simeon or Anna: Who First Recognized Jesus as Messiah?” Ben Witherington III takes a close look at the account given in Luke, and sheds some light on what the Biblical narrative has to say about who was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
The Biblical text, however, contains clues regarding her appearance and character. Her lifestyle of fasting may indicate thinness; her ability to walk around the Temple indicates her fitness and that her eyesight and hearing are intact; her designation as a prophetess indicates her spiritual acuity; her talk of the child to those interested in the redemption of Jerusalem indicates her deep connection with a likeminded community.
With this in mind, Anna shows one model of aging in the Biblical text. Luke presents her positively, as a woman without the bitterness that may come with age and as one full of hope. As she moves throughout the Temple, no doubt she seeks to do good to those whom she encounters. Luke’s description shows her as well adjusted, engaged in Israel’s life and useful to the Lord. She may well have become the model for the righteous church widows Paul describes in 1 Timothy 5:5. Arguably the best representatives of the Old Covenant—Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and worship workaholic Anna—although all elderly, all ably serve as transitions to the New Covenant.