Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lord of the night (Bonhoeffer)

Reading Psalm 74 just now reminded me of a striking passage from Life Together. This comes at the end of a section on the daily corporate prayer life of a Christian family fellowship.

. . . in all the ancient evening prayers we are struck by the frequency with which we encounter the prayer for preservation during the night from the devil, from terror, and from an evil, sudden death. The ancients had a persistent sense of man's helplessness while sleeping, of the kinship of sleep with death, of the devil's cunning in making a man fall when he is defenseless. So they prayed for the protection of the holy angels and their golden weapons, for the heavenly hosts, at the time when Satan would gain power over them. Most remarkable and profound is the ancient church's prayer that when our eyes are closed in sleep God may nevertheless keep our hearts awake. . . . Even in sleep we are in the hands of God or in the power of evil. Even in sleep God can perform His wonders upon us or evil bring us to destruction. So we pray at evening:

When our eyes with sleep are girt,
Be our hearts to Thee alert;
Shield us, Lord, with Thy right arm,
Save us from sin's dreadful harm.

But over the night and over the day stands the word of the Psalter: "The day is thine, the night also is thine" (Ps. 74:16)

Praying that way seems strange to us moderns, unaccustomed as we are to absolute darkness of night (thanks to electricity) and prone as we are to dismissing talk of Satan and evil spirits. It might be good to let those ancient prayers against the powers of darkness shape our own perspective on prayer. It's a gift to go to bed knowing my sins are forgiven and that I'm in the hands of the God confessed in Psalm 74: "God my King. . . working salvation in the midst of the earth."

Working salvation while I sleep.

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