Worry is nocturnal. It spreads its crow wings to caw and scratch. We, the night worried, toss and turn. Hollered and flapped throughout the night, we dishevel our breathing and muss our hair till dawn. What will the day bring?
Of course, many neighbors of ours also lie awake without sleep. Some, because “night life” offers a good shot at feeling happy or getting lucky. Others lie awake with grief. They sob there in hospital rooms or kidnapper cages. They weep and they wail on their own bed or in the bed of a stranger who spoke of love but didn’t. The aging lie awake with memory or its loss, and either way with more trips to the bathroom than desired.
I guess the point is this. Among crickets and tree frogs, car horns or sirens, night takes up a large part of living. This means that we need help to think about how Jesus draws near in the night, how he apprentices us in the dark. We need a theology for the night.
Sometimes this night is the last one. Yesterday’s morning was goodbye and none of us knew it or we would have begged to say it. Sometimes this night represents the start of something grand and new. Gladness keeps us up and bids us talk for a while. The dawn bounds toward us, laughing and welcoming. We start the day hugged. The night sung to us and our hearts were made glad.
Of course, most times, in the night watches, folks just sleep.
In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came to them . . .
The night is a huge house where doors torn open by terrified hands lead into endless corridors, and there’s no way out. God, every night is like that. Always there are some awake, who turn, turn, and do not find you. (Book of Hours, Rilke, II.3)
Seeing Night Ghosts and Finding the Peace of Jesus
When those disciples wore out on the waters in the watches of the night, they saw ghosts. They cried out in fear. Together doomed.
But the haunting wasn’t. Awake in the night watches Jesus was more than awake, he was awake to their cries, attentive to their plight after midnight. Jesus entered the storm dark and spoke peace. With them, he spent the waking dark. With him, the waking dark, passed. Morning came and the calm remembered her place and took courage.
“The night is no place for the Lord,” some whisper. But they’ve forgotten that the night is as light to Him (Ps. 139).
Learning to Pray after Midnight
I used to work the third shift. That was years ago. All the same, these days I seem to wake up regularly at midnight or 1:30am. I’ve fought the waker of my sleep. I’ve sent in my complaint. But slowly, grace has me thinking of these others with their eyes open in the dark too, these other neighbors of mine in the world after midnight needing grace like me.
Slowly from the night watches
candle flame rises like my whispered prayers.
Match struck for vigil light
the heat smoke lingers
on behalf of strangers and friends,
for I too am both and likewise needy.
He invites me I think to sleepless frustration.
But I am mistaken. His invitation is that I awake to the world as He is.
He finds candle and strikes flame, my life
in the night watches,
Here are three prayers and a meditation for you who find yourselves wakened in the dark seeing ghosts on the waters and needing the peace and presence of Jesus. Tonight, when you wake, know that I am probably with you, calling out in the deeps, seeing grace set ablaze or waiting it out, when every flame seems frightened and elsewhere. You are not alone. Ancient prayers given by fellow night travelers who’ve gone before us light our path.
A Prayer of Thanks (Gratitude in the Night)
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:5-8 ESV)
A Prayer for Help (Confident Intercession in the Night)
With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD!
I will keep your statutes.
I call to you; save me,
that I may observe your testimonies.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O LORD, according to your justice give me life.
They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;
they are far from your law.
But you are near, O LORD,
and all your commandments are true.
Long have I known from your testimonies
that you have founded them forever.
(Psalm 119:145-152 ESV)
A Prayer of Lament (Tearful Intercession in the Night)
“Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
at the head of every street.”
(Lamentations 2:19 ESV)
3 thoughts on “When You Are Worried in the Night Watches”
Zack, thanks (as always) for your candor. I think I know something of that fatigue. That my body is too often unable to sleep tells me there’s something within that is unwilling to sleep as well. Perhaps it’s grief. Or worry. Or confusion. Or some caffeinated combination of that and a few waking additives. The cure? To interrogate and preach to myself.
But I appreciated your observation here that in those times it is good to remember who else is awake – the One who hears and the ones who need prayer.
Richard, thanks for the phrase, “tells me that there’s something within that is unwilling to sleep as well.” I’m helped by that thought. It stirs me to offer such things to the One who can handle them.