Monday, April 18, 2016

the fourth watch of the night

24th April: Brinkmanship

About the fourth watch of the night he came to them... Mark 6:48
We all have a touch of the 'brinkman' about us, some more than others! Out of bed at the last possible moment -- toast munched, as we scurry down the corridor -- wet towel and black coffee as we swot in the all-too-short months before an exam -- midnight oil burnt for the report due yesterday -- the results not obtained, the X-rays not fetched, the investigations not done, that send everybody else, quite unfairly, into a panic-stricken fever of activity! O the misery to ourselves and the nail-biting anxiety of others of the vicious circle of 'never doing today what we can possibly leave till tomorrow!'.
Have you ever noticed how often God seems to act right at the last moment? Yet his brinkmanship is of a totally different order. He is never in a hurry, yet, in spite of our impatient apprehension, he is never late. His seeming delays are never because of a lack of care for us. It was because he saw their heavy going against a head wind that he came to them about the fourth watch of the night, walking on the sea (Mk 6:48). (Would we have left it until the morning?). How typical of us that they were surprised and frightened by his coming and nearly let him pass by without inviting him into the ship! It was the very night before Herod's proposed execution of Peter that the angel rescued him from prison. All honour to Peter's faith that he could spend his last night on earth asleep, chained to two soldiers (Acts 12:6).
Why does God seem to leave it so late before he intervenes? Is it that he can only act when we have exhausted our puny resources? Or that he will not share his glory with anyone else, and we and the world have got to see how he alone did it (1 Cor 1:28-29)? Is it to strengthen our faith in his unslumbering care (Ps 121:4)? Or perhaps to bless us more than we had ever thought possible (Jn 11:5-6, 15, 40)?
'In the fullness of time' -- his time -- 'God sent forth his son...' (Gal 4:4 AV). If he could do that at the right time, can we not trust him with the events of our lives?
Lord, teach me that sometimes you have to wait
until I have come to the end of myself
before you can bless me,
until I have finished trying my own plans
before you can show me yours.
Help me to recognise your perfect timing,
and to know that you will never let me down.


The Jews, as well as the Romans, usually divided the night into four watches of three hours each. The first watch began at six, the second at nine, the third at twelve, the fourth at three. During these many tedious and distressing hours of storm and tempest, of darkness and danger, Jesus saw his disciples, though they saw not him: he beheld their perplexity and fear, while they were conflicting with the winds and waves, and observed how they toiled in rowing: Mark 6:48; yet he delayed all this time to go to their relief; seeing it proper so long to try their faith and patience. But in the fourth watch — When, it is probable, as the storm was not at all abated, they had begun to despair of deliverance; Jesus went unto them, walking on the water — agitated, stormy, and tumultuous as its billows were. Thus God often lengthens out the troubles of his people, and defers the time of their deliverance. But when things are come to an extremity, and they are ready to think he hath forgotten them, he unexpectedly appears for their relief and rescue; of a sudden the storm becomes a calm, and they are happily brought into a safe port. Thus, in the morning watch he appeared for Israel in the Red sea, troubled and dismayed their pursuing enemies, and delivered his people: and in all ages the extremity of his church has been his opportunity to visit and appear for her. He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps, but has constantly his eye upon them, and, when there is need, walks in darkness for their succour, support, and comfort. What a wonderful proof have we here of Christ’s sovereign power over the creatures, which are all under his feet, and at his command, forgetting their natures, and changing their most essential qualities at his word! 

The Romans divided the night into watches of three hours each, and there were four watches to the night. During the first watch of the night they began with great intensity. They kept rowing and rowing and getting nowhere. They began to get discouraged. In the second watch of the night, I’m sure just as they were tempted to quit, some of the disciples said, “Come on, we can do this! We’ve done this before. This is nothing new. We’ve done it, let’s do it again.” They continued to struggle. In the third watch of the night they still had gone nowhere and more were tempted to despair. But maybe there was a lone voice, one or two perhaps, who said, “Come on, we can do this! We can do it, we’ve done it before. Don’t give up now, keep struggling.” In the fourth watch of the night there was utter despair. I imagine the disciples said to one another, “We’re doomed. We can’t do it. We’ve lost. The sea is too great for us.
If things are difficult we might be tempted to think God must be against us. If things are difficult we might sometimes think that we have done something wrong and we are being punished. If I find myself in pain, in distress, in suffering, am I far from God? Jesus comes to His disciples in the fourth watch of the night. He comes when it is darkest. He comes after they have struggled for nine or ten hours. He comes to them not at the beginning of their struggle, but He comes to them at the end of their struggle.
Why does He wait until the 4th watch of the night?
There are many answers to a question like this. One answer is certain, God lets us struggle so that we might be humbled by our struggle. It is then that our Lord came to the disciples. He lets us struggle so that we might see that we have nothing.
He lets us struggle so that we might have faith; and God lets us struggle so that we might see the reality of who He is. What is it that the disciples said after this took place? They fell down on their knees before Christ and said, “Truly Thou art the Son of God.” We know the truth when we have struggled to believe.
The revelation of divine truth does not often come to us when life is comfortable. The revelation which is existentially real to our hearts does not come when everything is going right, when our refrigerators are full and our bank accounts have extra and everybody is treating us the way we want to be treated and everything is explainable, and we’re happy as clams. It doesn’t come then. The revelation of divine truth comes when we struggle and in our struggle we believe.

When we’ve struggled, and not quit; when we’ve struggled through the first watch of the night into the second watch of the night, and through the second watch of the night into the third watch of the night, through the third watch of the night into that watch of despair, the fourth watch; it’s when we’ve suffered the agony of loneliness and the agony of despair and the agony of facing our own helplessness and the agony of life’s futility, and the agony of the fact that life does not make sense-it’s then, when we struggle to believe, that we are granted the knowledge that is salvation. 
“Come on, we can do this! We’ve done this before. This is nothing new. We’ve done it, let’s do it again. Don’t give up now, keep struggling.”
this has a very dory feel to it haha. keep swimming, keep swimming
the third watch of the night has come & gone. while it's true that potentially there is a lot of other stuff i could do with my life other than continuing on with this sea-swim, i realized that i want to do THIS with my life. unfortunately, it's also not really my decision to make. i mean i can do SOME things to help this come to fruition but there is also a point at which if i have to give up trying, i have to give up trying. 
i think the problem is that each time that time of yr comes around, i get to thinking "God is going to work a miracle for me! now! i'm finally going to get it!" but it just never was the time. the problem, or blessing, goodness knows which, is that the door is not closed with FINALITY. there is always the soft option of trying again, and again, as the years tick by. the problem is that my childish faith just believed that after the loooong struggle to get to this point, i would get it easily and quickly. there was always some justification to be made - oh, more experience is good, oh i'm still junior. and internally to myself, i could justify that i wasn't ready yet. the problem is that when i was ready, or when the justifications  run out, the door still remains firmly glued shut. 
the problem, or the good thing, not sure which, is that after all these years, i still want it. somehow i have managed to keep afloat through the storms, thanks to God's grace. to be honest for the past 2.5 months that's all i've been doing. just keeping afloat, hoping that i won't sink in the storm. occasionally a mermaid sings in the the storm, or i hear frozen refrains on replay outside the door (the kid clearly did not have a sore throat, at any rate), but it's not me singing, that's for sure. i guess you could say i've given up hoping that he would come during my fourth watch of the night. because waiting thru the first three were tiring enough as it was. 
well. if He does, thanks to my day job (or night job rather), i'm quite sure at the very least, i will be awake during the fourth watch of the night. and i would be very very very grateful for it, not to say the least. a tiny light in the distance to surrepititiously hope for, through the interminable night shifts

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