Excerpts: ‘He who watches over Israel will not slumber or sleep.’ Ps 121 My head knows God watches over me. Why can’t my heart rest in that? Why these anxious thoughts? As if finding the 'solution' will let me rest. Yet my head hasn’t offered any solution that my heart is willing to trust.
Even God offers no ‘solutions’. He offers Himself. And His watchful care. He knows what keeps me up. And if it matters to me, it matters to Him. His eyes are on me. Are mine on Him? He notices me. Do I notice Him?
We're all told ‘use your common sense’ as if we all have it to use. To me, it’s not common sense unless it makes sense. Which it does once I learn it the hard way.
Example: It’s 11 hours from my Wisconsin home to my dorm in Ohio. I had to be at work by 9am. Forecast: Snow all the way. Common sense says ‘Give yourself more than 13 hours lead time. And don’t drive all night if you didn’t rest all day.’
Did I listen? No. Trusting black coffee to make up for lack of sleep, I left at 8pm. It was a foolish decision. Yet one that I made over and over. By refusing to stop.
Somewhere in Ohio at 4AM, I fell asleep. Crossing the oncoming lane, I hit the opposite shoulder and woke to find myself flying broadside at 65 mph. I could not get control of the car. Panicked and terrified, all I could do is scream ‘Jesus!’ I flew sideways until I dropped abruptly into a culvert, turning my car on its side.
A semi driver directly behind me saw it all. He stopped, ran over and helped me get out. Though shaken up, I wasn’t injured! Even my car ended up drivable. It was cold, so he offered his warm cab and said he'd wait with me for a tow truck.
Having some stereotype notions about semi-drivers, I wasn’t anxious to jump in. Yet it was too cold not to. As He talked, I worried. Until I heard the name ‘Jesus’.
He was witnessing to me! After misjudging him, I thought 'I am a needy sinner!' As I listened, I realized how God answered prayer. Both his and mine. He saw me swerve and cried out to God as I did. He didn't think I'd be alive, much less OK. And based on whatever he saw ahead, he told me the culvert saved my life.
It’s sobering to think of how this night could have gone. I could have taken a life. Or lost mine. Been injured. Stranded in the cold, 30 miles from town. My car in a ditch. And who’s going to be up at this time much less out here in nowhere?
He was still 'up'. Making sure the right man was just behind me when I needed him. At 4AM with no traffic, I knew it was no coincidence. God was watching me. And yet, like other ‘close call’ stories, I gradually forgot about it and ‘moved on’.
But as I read Psalm 121 recently, I thought of this night from God’s point of view. I saw what I missed that night 40 years earlier. I saw the heart of a loving Father.
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Psalm 121:3,4
The point of this psalm is not that God doesn’t need sleep. The author's point is that God 'stays up' deliberately. Because of how much He cares for his children.
I used to tell my kids stories before bed. I’d lay by them or sit in a chair nearby. I often thought of Psalm121 and told them "Did you know your Heavenly Father never sleeps? He doesn't leave when I do. He sits right here all night. Just so He can watch over you." Sometimes, I'd leave my chair by the bed as a reminder.
But I must confess. I’ve often walked out of their room only to lay awake in mine. I'm still a kid. I rest better if I know my Father's up. But some nights I'm not sure.
So if my head knows He's watching over me, why is my heart not resting in that? Why all these anxious thoughts? Bouncing around inside like a pinball machine. As if my mind must find the 'solution' to all my 'issues' before my heart can rest.
I want a solution! But my mind doesn’t have any that my heart is willing to trust. The only way my heart will ever rest in any truth about God or in God Himself is if God Himself shows me. I have this itch to ‘see truth for myself’. Yet I never will until He opens the ‘eyes of my heart’ to see His truth as He reveals it in His Word.
“There is always more to see in what I see.” John Piper
The heart can’t rest in what it doesn’t see. And it can’t see unless God reveals it. In Scripture, God not only shows us what He’s up to at night. He shows us why. In Scripture, God is often found on the night shift. Watching. Here's 2 examples.
“If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” Exodus 22: 26,27
Most Hebrews wore a large woolen shawl as a cloak. It also served as a blanket. For the poor, it was often their only possession. And their only collateral if they wanted a loan. Creditors could hold a cloak as a pledge. But it must be returned by sunset. For as He said ‘what else can they sleep in?’ How can they stay warm?
Imagine the Lord coming up with this law. He envisions the possibility that the poor might not have any collateral to obtain a loan except their cloak + blanket. The loving Father that God is, He can’t bear the thought of any of His kids being cold. So He makes a law to ensure that no one will ever spend a night without a blanket.
And then He says ‘When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.’ Why would they cry out to Him? Because they’re cold! So cold they can’t sleep. His words make it clear that He’ll not only hear their cry, but act on their behalf. Why? “For I am compassionate” His heart is concerned by what concerns ours.
What I never saw that night is the concern in His eyes for my safety. I never look in His eyes. But they were on me. All night. Nor did I ever hear His whispers. Firm nudges to caution me. The check I felt when leaving. A pull to stop at each motel I passed. I knew my boss would give me grace if I called. Yet I pushed on.
Yet He still watched out for me. He not only spared my life. He gave me a friend to help me. A way to call a tow truck. A place to wait. I realize He doesn’t always answer every prayer every time. Yet I can’t let the pain of unanswered prayer stifle my thanks when He answers. Nor let it stifle my cry for help when I need it.
Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lamentations 2:19
One thing God does at night is hear the cry of His children, whatever the cause. If it matters to you, it matters to Him. Kinda like my Mom. She knew my needs and would meet them before I knew I had them. If it affected me, it affected her. Ask Mom or God why this law matters. They’ll both say “People need blankets!”
There's another reason I think God me sent that semi driver. He wasn't there to save my life. I was uninjured. But had he not come, it would have been a long cold miserable night. And He's not the kind to leave his children out in the cold. If He made an axe head float for a man who needed it, He cares about little stuff.
God cares about what keeps you up. So trust Him with it tonight and go to bed.
Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the LORD for the generations to come. Exodus 12: 40-42
A ‘vigil’ is ‘a watch or period of watchful attention, usually carried out at night’. As when a mother ‘keeps watch’ through the night by the bed of her sick child. Or a father who stays by his children lest they get too close to traffic or danger.
God kept watch over His people as He brought them out of Egypt. And He kept ‘keeping watch’. And He hasn’t stopped. He still watches over Israel, His chosen people and will continue to. Until He fulfills every promise He ever made them.
Just as God kept watch over His people, He called them to keep watch. I am not a scholar and won’t try to explain how God wanted His people to carry out this vigil. But I'll offer one admittedly subjective thought on this vigil that's ‘kept me up’ lately. Not about the vigil. But the intentions of the heart in observing it.
So why call Israel to ‘keep watch’? Most of God's ordinances have a deeper meaning behind the obvious. Passover is a time to recall what God did for Israel that night. But also, what He did that night gives us a glimpse into who He is. In remembering what God did for us, we're reminded of who He is. What He's like.
I also wonder if this call to 'watch' is an invitation to a deeper intimacy with Him. A heart to heart connection requires mutual devotion. Know. Be known. Love. Be loved. I can’t connect with your heart unless I give you mine. And the way I give you my heart is by first giving you my attention. Is it any different with God?
His attention is on me. Is my attention on Him? He notices me. Do I notice Him?
ESV calls it ‘a night of watching kept to the Lord’. As if all the attention is on God. To ‘watch’ is to look intently. Fully focused. Acutely aware of what I'm looking at. There are many things in life that we need to ‘watch’ and pay close attention to. But I can’t think of anything more important to fix my eyes on than God Himself.
Yet I'm usually fixated on what God might do for me more than on God Himself. Nevertheless, it never fails that if I'lI just look His way. I'll find Him looking mine.
Reflection Question: Has God watched over you lately? Are you watching Him?