Thursday, December 25, 2014

We Worship a Fourth Watch God

On this Christmas afternoon in Pine Valley, the snow is piling up, the trees are adorned in a covering of white, and I'm listening to Christmas carols in the quietude of the scene spread before me. I'm in a reflective mood, and cleaning up some old files on the computer. I found an entry I had written during a bleak time of doubt and fear about the future. All these years later things did work out for us. I wrote these words when the hour was the darkest, just before the dawn's light began to shine. The answers that had seemed so elusive eventually emerged, and yielded themselves after persistence, faith, hard work and consistency. This was "self talk" back then, now I share it with those who may be toiling in the darkest time of their lives:

Several years ago I was given a Christmas gift that endures. It was a talk on CD given by Michael Wilcox titled “The Fourth Watch.” It was right on point for us. Echoing back to me in my ears was the advice and counsel I have given to so many over the years. But looking back, it’s always different when you’re the one in the barrel going over the falls. It’s so much easier to be the dispenser than the recipient. I am grateful to Julie for giving us this gift of inestimable worth to remind us that even when it seems we are receiving no answers that there is still hope to be found in the journey!

A useful bit of historical trivia to help you understand the New Testament scriptures: Brother Wilcox explains that the Hebrew day was divided into four three-hour segments beginning at 6:00 a.m. The third hour is 9:00 a.m., the sixth hour is noon, and the ninth hour (when the scriptures say the Savior was crucified) is 3:00 p.m.

At night, the three-hour segments are divided into “watches.” The first watch is 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., the second watch is 9:00 p.m. to midnight, the third watch is midnight to 3:00 a.m., and the fourth watch – the object lesson of his talk – is 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.

He teaches some powerful principles to those of us who have toiled in faith, seemingly with no answers coming our way. He gives the example of the Savior’s walk on the water as the illustration. Many of you, perhaps, have not come to realize yet that His coming to the troubled and weary disciples who had rowed all night on the Sea of Galilee was in the darkest and most foreboding time of the night – just before dawn.

He had fed the multitudes earlier in the day (five thousand men plus the women and children), sent them away, and told the disciples to get into a ship and row to the other side. Then the scriptures say (Matthew 14:23) he “went up into a mountain apart to pray,” and he must have prayed into the evening and well into the night all alone.

Meanwhile, the ship “was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.” Mark in his record (Mark 6:48) adds the detail that “he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them.” John says “it was now dark, and the Jesus was not come to them. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs (a “furlong" is about 220 yards, so you do the math – they were no doubt tired and exhausted by now), they see Jesus walking on the sea.” (John 6:17-19).

Well, what are the lessons to be learned by this extreme example from the scriptures? 1) He sees us toiling in our discipleship from a vantage point far higher and more superior to ours; 2) He knows we are often exhausted and apt to grumble about our circumstances, yet loves us anyway; 3) He has power over all the elements that conspire to create the waves of adversity and has the power to calm them; 4) He tells us not to be afraid. I would add one more – when He does come to us in the fourth watch “immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” (John 6:21).  In other words, the timetable of when He comes to us is His not ours, and when the time is fully ripe in the fourth watch it seems the miracle is immediate.

Brother Wilcox suggests that we worship a “fourth watch” God. I used to say, “God loves a cliffhanger.” It seems when all help is seemingly spent, when the last extremity has been reached, then and only then – in the fourth watch – does He respond in mercy and kindness. I suppose that fact is mandated in discipleship to determine whether or not we will really – REALLY – learn to trust Him.

Brother Wilcox cites the example of Hagar with Ishmael in the wilderness, when the “water was spent in the bottle.” (Genesis 21:15). He gently chides her with “What aileth thee, Hagar?” Oh, I don’t know, she had just been cast out of Abraham’s household, was at the point of starvation and dehydration, near death, and she could not have had much to complain about, could she?  He told her (and all of us) that someday, “I will make him a great nation” (verse 18). God “opened her eyes” when all hope was lost and “she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (verse 19). He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

Another example was the widow in Zarephath who was commanded to sustain Elijah in the moment of his extremity, when all she had was “a little water in a vessel,” and "a morsel of bread,” “a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse,” just enough to make her last meal for herself and her son in preparation of their death. (1 Kings 17:8-16). The promise was once again fulfilled, and “the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.” He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

I’ve also wondered about Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac (see Genesis 22).  In that example I have learned not to fear the long hike up the mountain of preparation. I’ve learned to embrace the tests that come along the way. And I’ve learned that by accepting the invitation to join the church of the Firstborn, consecration defies (and is in direct contradiction) to the natural man within us. There is no evidence that Isaac resisted even a little bit. He went forward in his uncertainty trusting his father. “Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called upon him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (verses 10-12). Again, He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

Extreme examples? Yes, each one. But are our lives any less dramatic? When all seems to be lost in our lives, we can paint ourselves into these stories and learn to trust God at all costs. That’s what the path of discipleship is all about, and yes, it is a dangerous doctrine.

What is coming up ahead of us on the path of discipleship as we live our lives on borrowed time well into the sixth seal is a darker night and more fierce winds on the sea. It will take fourth watch faith if we are to successfully navigate our dark night of stormy seas up ahead. But remember, He WILL come even in our fourth watches!

We really do worship a Fourth Watch God! He hears your desperate pleas for help. He will succor you in your afflictions. He will be merciful and kind.

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