"But let us be alert..." So says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. This is another key step we need to take to prepare for judgment. We need to remain alert. A spiritually alert life involves prayer. Paul uses the same word translated "alert" in 1 Thessalonians 5 in another passage in Colossians 4:2 where he says: "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."
For a number of years I met with a Catholic priest for spiritual direction. Every time we met together, once per month, he would ask me about my prayer life. I would respond by telling him what I was doing with the few minutes per day I spent reading Scripture and consciously praying. After we met together a few times I suddenly realised that what my priest meant by "prayer life" and what I meant were two different things. When he said "prayer life" I thought of my "quiet time" or devotional practice. But what he meant by "prayer life" was my whole life. He helped me to see that while having a quiet time was important, the real business of life was the on-going conversation with the Lord that this "quiet time" would spark throughout the day. Talking to God throughout the day, every day, is how we remain alert until Christ comes again.
Some versions of the Bible translate the word "alert" as "watch". There is a difference between waiting for Christ's return and watching for him to return.
Donald Grey Barnhouse aptly illustrated this point by telling the story of a Scottish fishing vessel returning home after many days at sea. As they neared the shore the sailors gazed eagerly toward the dock where a group of their loved ones had gathered. The skipper looked through his binoculars and identified some of them: "I see Bill's Mary, and there is Tom's Margaret and David's Anne." One man became concerned because his wife was not there. Later, he left the boat with a heavy heart and hurried up the hill to his cottage. As he opened the door, his wife ran to meet him, saying: "I have been waiting for you!" He replied, "Yes, but the other men's wives were watching for them."
I wonder: when Jesus comes back, will he find me waiting for him but doing my own thing, or will he find me watching for him in a life of prayerful alertness?