I am a lark, and not an owl. I am often up-by five thirty in the morning, listening to news briefing on BBC Radio 4 while having my breakfast. By contrast Caroline is an owl. She would never dream of having breakfast so early in the morning. She loves a ‘lie in’ and tends to emerge from bed gradually. Whereas of an evening, while I am getting ready for bed, she is busy on a project or watching a late-night programme on the television.
As an owl, not surprisingly, I am no good at praying at night. Half-nights of prayer are definitely not for me, and as for a night of prayer, that is beyond me. I sympathize with Peter, John and James who could not stay awake with Jesus in Gethsemane. In spite of the special circumstances, dare I say it, I do feel Jesus was a little hard on Peter and his ‘weakness of flesh’ (see Mark 14.37-38: similarly Matt 26.40-41; Luke 22.46).
Certainly by the time I am ready to go to bed, I am normally good for nothing but sleep. However, even when I am too exhausted to put together a prayer of any length, I always pray a short albeit heartfelt prayer, which begins with the words of the Psalmist: “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31.5). Or as the GNB renders the verse: “I place myself into your care”. The Psalmist goes on “You will save me. Lord, you are a faithful God” .
To speak of the hands of God is to engage in what theologians call anthropomorphic language. God is ‘Spirit’ (John 4.24). However, because we are human and our minds are limited by human concepts, we find it easier to speak of God in human terms. For us this metaphor becomes a way of expressing God’s care for us.
Before I sleep, I entrust myself afresh into God’s loving care. In so doing I am entrusting the immediate concerns I may have for myself or for my loved ones.
I then go on to entrust into God’s hands whatever is left to me of life. For everybody life is inevitably provisional- none of us can be certain that as we cross the road we will not be killed by some speed hog who fails to see us; but for those of us who have retired life is all the more provisional and the time left for us is increasingly uncertain. Along with the Psalmist I declare “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’. My times are in your hand” (31.5,6b NRSV), I am reminded that my times are also in God’s hands and that in turn sparks off the thought that for me my days may well be limited. However, that thought does not make me anxious. For, as the GNB renders those words: “My trust is in you, O Lord, you are my God. I am always in your care”. Although in the original context the Psalmist was asking for God’s protection against his enemies, in my praying my focus is not on anybody who is out to get me – fortunately for me the heady days of church or college life are past! – but rather on whatever challenges the remaining days of my life will bring. I recognise that every stage of life can be tough. In the words of William Blake, “Life was made for joy and woe and when this we rightly know, through the world we safely go” (Auguries of Innocence). Even although as we grow older, many of us have to take all kinds of pills and potions, there is no need for anxiety, for our “times are in God’s hands”. It is with this in mind, albeit not exclusively, that, I am essentially saying to God: ‘Lord, whatever the future holds, I entrust myself to you’.
This then leads me to add a further prayer: ‘Lord, I entrust myself into your care for eternity’. Each night I remind myself of the truth that there is nothing in this world or the next that will ever separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (see Rom 8.38-39). However difficult the circumstances of this life may prove to be for me, I know that my ultimate future is in safe hands. Heaven is where those who have gone through the ‘ordeals’ (NRSV) or ‘tribulations’ (NIV) of life now stand before the throne of God (Rev 7.14), when “God will wipe away every tear” from our eyes (Rev 7.17). So, in my final prayer I praise God for the sure and certain hope which is mine, of the future glory in which I and all God’s people will share, and entrust myself yet again to his mercy and grace. On that note, I fall asleep.