1 Peter is packed with practical instruction for living out the story of Jesus. One thing he gives quite a bit of attention to is our mindset and attitude. In 1:13 we are told to have “minds that are alert and fully sober.” In 5:8 it is “Be alert and of sober mind.” And in 4:7 it is “be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”
There’s more to all of these passages of course, but I’m interested here in developing the teaching of 4:7. The entire verse reads, “The end of all things is near. Thererfore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” I’ve discussed my understanding that “the end of all things” is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus and the Romans in AD 70 in another piece. It’s hard for us to imagine how impacting this must have been for Jewish people everywhere (disciples and non-disciples). They would have known people or perhaps had family who perished. The destruction of Jerusalem brought an end to the temple, the priesthood and the city as people of Peter’s day knew it. It was a sad and ominous time for Jewish people as more conflict with Rome was on the horizon. (There would be two more rebellions before the conflict would finally “cease” in AD 135 when the revolt led by Simon bar Kokhba was put down and Jewish people were barred from Jerusalem). For disciples, it was a fulfillment of what Malachi had spoken of (chapters 3-4) and what Jesus had promised would happen within a generation (Luke 21:2-32).
With this in mind, Peter’s words to “be alert and of sober mind” take on a new dimension. They were to recognize they were living in perilous, difficult times. Those who have lived through such times can attest that they call for an attitude of alertness and clear mindedness. If you live in a part of the country that that routinely experiences tornadoes, you learn to be on the alert when conditions that are favorable to producing one develop. You think differently because conditions warrant it.
But this instruction should also track in our lives at a deeper level because of the spiritual warfare disciples are engaged in. In 5:8 Peter tells them to “Be alert and of sober mind” because “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” In 1:13 it is “with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to you at His coming.” Whether it’s focusing on grace or recognizing Satan’s threat, disciples need to be alert and clear minded.
And it’s exactly in this vein that Peter tells us in 4:17 to be this way “so that you may pray.” There’s prayer and then there’s PRAYER, isn’t there? There’s quick prayers before meals, before the day starts or whatever the occasion might be. We will take all of these we can get because they are God-honoring moments (and who wouldn’t be for that?). That being said, it’s also true that they tend not to dive down deeply. But there are prayer that do. Prayers like Jesus’ in Gethsemane or the prayers in Paul’s letters (Ephesians 1 and 3 will get you started). These prayers are part of our spiritual weaponry (Ephesians 6:18). They can protect and empower us. But they don’t come from froth and bubbles. They arise out of deep waters that have been stilled by God. If we want to pray these kind of prayers, it begins with becoming alert and clear minded.*
Peter wants us to know that’s how we prepare for PRAYER.
*I think texts such as this also provide some insight into the practice of fasting and explain why it is so often linked with prayer. Fasting is a way of dealing with a distracted mindset and helping us to focus on God. The exercise of self-control in regard to the body when fasting extends to our mind and spirit. It narrows our focus and expands our capacity for prayer.