Saturday, July 7, 1993
Location - FNCA 1993
One of the parts of the Assembly program that I have come to value particularly is the
Sunday evening service. At home, I doubt that I would heave myself out to attend one, but
here there is no special effort involved, and there seems to be something special about
evening worship. There is a particular feel about coming together when things are winding
down. In morning worship, there is often the sense of challenge for tasks that lie ahead.
The emphasis falls most naturally on our obligations, our efforts. In the evening, the
task, if we may call it that, is to let go and give ourselves into the Lord's care for the
"Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." When this was first written, war was an
annual event. Those lines about beating swords into plowshares and spears into
pruninghooks (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3) tell only one side of the story. The prophet Joel
tells the other--"Proclaim this among the gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men,
let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and
your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong" (Joel 3:9f.). In other
words, the Psalmist was well aware of matters of personal and national security.
He also knew, though, that while we can and must take reasonable precautions, we can never
be in control of everything that affects our safety. Ultimately, our lives are in the
Lord's hand, and in a sense, the whole purpose of this life is that we discover and accept
this. The longer we pretend we are in charge, the bleaker our prospects are. Especially as
the aging process proves itself irresistible, we force ourselves into increasingly
difficult and fruitless denial.
This need to be in control can be insidious. It can show itself it any number of little
ways. We find ourselves sure that we have the answers and have a personal investment in
having things turn out the way we know they should. We want everything to be planned with
precision, and have a feeling that circumstances have no right to interfere. We are
generally intolerant of interruptions. We are restless with any sense of loose ends.
It is this restlessness that is addressed most directly by our text, for it is this
restlessness that makes us incapable of laying ourselves down in peace. Our minds won't
turn off, even though it is perfectly clear than nothing more can be done until the
An evening service, then, is a little chance to practice letting go. We do not have to
have all the answers before we close our eyes. If there is a worrisome problem, we do not
need to worry it through. If we lie awake and struggle with it, yes, we may make some
mental progress and gain a clearer idea of what we should do tomorrow. However, it is
equally true that our subconscious minds are at work while we sleep, and that they are in
touch with a deeper wisdom than our conscious minds know. If we can manage to let go, it
is surprising how many times "things are clearer in the morning."
It is wholly appropriate that during the daylight hours we focus our attention on our own
responsibilities. Sometimes it may seem, in fact, as though everything depends on us, and
this may help energize us to do our very best. But our strength is limited, and the time
comes when our energies flag. Our bodies and our minds tell us that it is time to rest.
It is then, when our ability to care for ourselves has declined, that we particularly need
to know that we are cared for. We could go outside and look at the stars if necessary to
remind ourselves that the universe is a great deal larger than we are and that its powers
dwarf our own. That tells us one side of the story. That should convince us that
everything does not depend on us.
The other side of the story is that the immense power of the universe, the whole energy
than maintains it, is benevolent. We can let go not with grudging resignation to the
inevitable, but with trust. The Lord is in charge, and the Lord is infinitely loving and
wise. For some odd reason I am reminded of the fairy tale of the shoemaker whose business
is rescued by little elves who come and do exquisite work while he is asleep. They can't
do it while he is watching.
This is a nice image of a kind of spiritual pragmatism. There are processes within and
around us that will not take place while we are watching. We have to provide them with the
raw material, so to speak, by our conscious observations and decisions, but we see only
the surface of events. The deeper levels of our being are sensitive to what is going on
under the surface, and need to be given the freedom, the space, to process what we are
This is not the end of the story, of course. Tomorrow will come, and we will need to
shoulder our responsibilities again. There will be a morning chapel, a wake-up call. But
that is tomorrow, and we cannot live there. We can live only now, and now it is
appropriate to be letting go. What have we done and experienced today? What people have we
shared the day with? What are the loose ends? Perhaps we can bring them to consciousness
in order to lay them down neatly, where they can be picked up again in the morning.
Perhaps, if we do lay them down with care, when we look at them in the morning light we
will see something that eludes us now.
For the brief time between now and then, we can heed the Psalmist and cast our burdens on
the Lord with a full trust that he will sustain us. We must indeed do our part in the care
of our bodies while we are awake, giving them nourishment, exercise, and protection. Yet
we know that recovery from fatigue and many processes of healing take place far better
during sleep. So with our souls, we may do our part with better cheer if we recognize that
it is only a part, and give ourselves gladly into the Lord's hands at close of day.