One of the things I am enjoying in retirement is the time to really dig into my Bible study lessons at Community Bible Study. This year we are doing a study called The Road to Jerusalem, the story of the Jewish exile and the restoration of Israel. Yesterday’s lesson highlighted the life of Ezekiel who was appointed by God to be a prophet and watchman to the people. His main job was to warn the people to turn from their idols. That term, “watchman” reached out and grabbed me. What was the job of a watchman?
My thoughts turned to the medieval towns in Tuscany and Provence that we have visited over the years. They were all built on a hilltop and they all had walls surrounding them. These walls provided fortification and defense against attackers and intruders. Along the walls watchtowers were erected a place for a watchman or sentry to stand guard. Strategically, the towers were erected at points where entry were more likely, and where the watchman could have a 360 degree view of the landscape, where they could spot enemies before they got too close. If an enemy approached, the watchman’s job was to alert the town of impending danger. I’m thinking sentry duty then and now is a lonely job.
So what does Ezekiel’s call to be a watchman have to do with me today? I guess I think of watchmen as those people who will be on the lookout for the things that will threaten to destroy us. Those who will sound the alarm. Modern day Paul Reveres. From a Christian perspective, watchmen are protecting our faith and defending our society from our modern day idols. In my opinion, our biggest danger comes from our secular culture. Watchmen have to be able to stand against the tsunami of a godless society. As we were discussing these ideas, I was having my own private conversation with God. “Please don’t call me to be a watchman.” I thought of some of my friends who can stand boldly in the face of criticism. I confess that is a lonely and scary place for me. I don’t like it.
I remember a day during a sociology course when the subject of abortion was discussed. I was the only person in my class of about thirty who expressed opposition to it. And the backlash against me was fierce! I looked around the room and though to myself that surely I can’t be the only one in this class who thinks abortion is wrong. Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma? The buckle of the Bible belt? After class, several people came up to me and told me they were proud of me for standing up. “Where was YOUR voice,” I thought.
I don’t want to be a watchman. I don’t like opposition. I often feel that I can’t muster a cogent defense quickly enough. I remember that day when I felt like I couldn’t get my words together. I think of my friends who speak out on different issues and I find myself like those classmates. I admire the watchmen, but I don’t want to be them. However, in these times when religious persecution is on the rise (Christians being the most targeted group), perhaps God is calling all of us to be watchmen. Because if we don’t watch, who will?
All these thoughts were going through my mind when I finally allowed God to speak to me. I realized He isn’t necessarily calling me to be a watchman to the world as much as He is to myself. “You need to be a watchman over your own heart!” Wow! As always, God is right. I have a full time job guarding against idols of my own. An idol is anything that takes my time, energy, and devotion away from God. My potential idols are more subtle than golden statues. Self-indulgence, screen time, acquisition of things, even (Gasp!) Sooner football. I could create quite a list. I guess even my family could become an idol.
So my first calling to be a watchman is a call to guard my heart from the benign or even “good” things that could take first place in my life. I think of the words from the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.”
So today I lay open my heart before the Lord, and I ask Him to remove anything that has become an idol to me, and to keep me alert to the things that could sidetrack me in the future. As I said, it’s a full time job. But I also ask God to burden my heart for the things that burden His. I want to “watch” for God, to see where He is moving and what He is doing. Being a watchman is more that keeping an eye out for evil, more than warning about the dangers of sin. A watchman also has the privilege of proclaiming the good news of the gospel. As Believers, we get to announce to the world that God has provided a remedy for sin. And we are all commanded to be on the alert, to watch for Christ’s return. The more I think about it, I don’t get to opt out of being a watchman. Nor should I want to. It is an honor.