The Fourth Watch

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The book of Matthew, first gospel in a set of four, says that Jesus came to the disciples on the fourth watch. His disciples, fishermen by trade, had gone fishing and a storm came on what had been a calm sea. 

The Romans divided the night into four three-hour segments and the Jews had adopted these divisions. The fourth watch was the last part of the night between three and six in the morning. This was the last watch, the end of the night.

The fourth watch is that point where you wake up and it is so dark, you look at the clock beside your bed, and you sigh deeply – you can still sleep for another 2 hours. Or it’s the time when you have to be at the airport for the early morning flight, that flight that leaves at 6 am, passengers sporting only sleep-blurred eyes and coffee breath.

Or it’s the “darkest before dawn” part of the night.

It meant this storm on the sea of Galilee had raged all night long. It meant that the disciples were exhausted and defeated, that they had battled a critical weather event with every ounce of their human strength – but it was not enough. The storm was going to defeat them.

Until Jesus came and spoke words that calmed the sea.

The fourth watch. My mind fills with questions: Why did Jesus wait so long? Why did this miracle worker not intervene sooner? Why, when it was at their last bit of strength, did he suddenly appear – a ghost-like figure walking on the stormy seas?

My questions will never be answered and even as I write them I know these questions reflect my heart – a heart that finds faith hard, that sometimes thinks God waits too long to intervene. Too long to move hearts and souls, too long to change circumstances. I want him to come on the first watch, not the fourth.

The death count in Gaza, the civil war in Syria, the conflict in the Ukraine, and terrible persecution of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq — all of it feels like the fourth watch. It’s gone on too long. When will peace come? When will evil be conquered? When will God intervene?

Because the world is waiting for the fourth watch.

*The story relayed is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. It was our Gospel reading this past week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since

8 thoughts on “The Fourth Watch

  1. I know this word is more than a year old but I MUST tell you….it is on time and without boundaries!!!! I am extremely disappointed, discouraged, and now somewhat detached, but I am NOT dead!!! NOT ONE THING THAT I HAVE BASED MY LIFE AROUND PROPHETICALLY HAS COME TO PASS!!! Thank you for writing these real words without the spirit of “christian fluffery” because they truly put a smile in MY heart and NOT on MY face!! I am still very hurt but I am still HERE and I am ALIVE!!!!!

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  2. Marilyn,
    Thank you so much for writing this. I just discovered your blog last week while searching for information on Pakistan. I keep coming back to it and reading all the posts you have written. This post was so well written and reflects so much of what I feel and question about God and His timing. It is certainly heartbreaking to watch the news these days. In every direction there is pain, suffering and sorrow…. “heavy and hard” as your mom wrote. Prayer sometimes seems so inadequate and even when I am able to do it my faith wavers. I see so many people who seem to have so much unquestionable faith………me, I waver, I falter, I question. I love reading all that you write. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

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    1. Barbara- I’m so glad you came by and honored that you are going through reading! And your words on wavering are beautifully articulated. “My faith is born on a furnace of doubt” says Dostoevsky – great and encouraging words. Have you checked out Between Worlds yet? I write a lot about Pakistan :)

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  3. This is heavy and hard. Sometimes it feels as if Jesus doesn’t show up at all. And we are asked to stay faithful and believing in God’s goodness anyway. In His sovereignty He doesn’t owe us an explanation. Job’s story is a great comfort to me at those times. God never gave Job the answers he wanted – He gave Job a glimpse of Himself and His power and greatness. Job’s response in the end: “‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3,5) Someday we too will see our Lord in all His glory. Even though He likely will not explain the whys, we will be satisfied in His love.

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