I love visiting old churches and cathedrals, with their vaulted ceilings and solid stone walls infused with centuries of incense and the echoed prayers. And I love being outdoors surrounded by the glorious beauty of creation. These spaces seem infused with a special sense of the sacred. It is easy to feel close to God is such spaces.
But God is omnipresent. A crowded bus is no farther from God’s presence than a majestic mesa. The hush of a hospital ward is just as close to His heart as the swelling choir in a cathedral. In fact, when Jesus lived among us on earth, He spent much of His time walking dusty roads, talking and working miracles among the noisy “rabble” of ordinary people. He did not seek out “sacred spaces;” instead, He took the “sacred” into the dark and dirty streets where it was often ignored or dismissed.
Sometimes, Jesus would go off by Himself into the wilderness or into the hills to pray, as well. It is important to make a time or space to do this. But there is nothing especially sacred about particular spaces– even ones designed to be places of worship. It may not be easy to find a physical space for prayer and worship, but we can make a mental “space”– close off distractions, move or turn away from others for a few precious minutes–focus on God’s presence. Remember, His presence is always with us; we just need to acknowledge it!
Prayer connects us to God– wherever and whenever we pray. That doesn’t mean that we should not seek out special times and places to be alone with God. But we needn’t wait for a certain moment or location or position in which to meet with God. He is eternally, immediately available to listen. Are we?
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring-fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we,"
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe;
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew;
The little stars were the herring-fish
That lived in the beautiful sea.
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—
Never afraid are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam,—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home:
‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
As if it could not be;
And some folk thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed;
So shut your eyes while Mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:—
What does a child’s poem have to do with the Bible and prayer?
I’m not sure there is an exact answer to that..I was wistfully thinking of something to write about, and as I looked for a Bible verse for inspiration, I came upon an odd Proverb (which I’ll get to in a minute) about winking. This set me to thinking about the old child’s poem and song– one of my favorites. I wondered– if the Bible has something to say about winking, does it also address blinking and nodding? And, if so, can we draw a connection between the three and then from all three to prayer?
I think we can… bear with me. Since the poem has to do with sleeping as well, I want to start, (and come back in the end) with this passage from Mark, where Jesus is praying, and the disciples are nodding off.
Mark 14:32-42English Standard Version (ESV)
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
How often have you prayed early in the morning or late in the evening, only to find yourself nodding off? I’ve certainly done it– more embarrassingly, I’ve seen (or rather heard) it happening in a group setting! It’s not a laughing matter at any time, but in this setting, Jesus is in anguish so powerful he was sweating out blood– he even describes it as being “sorrowful even to death”–yet his disciples failed to stay awake, keep watch, or help him pray.
Hold onto that image for a minute.
When I was first thinking about what to write, I didn’t start with nodding. I found a verse about winking in Proverbs 10:10: “He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin.” (NIV) There are other verses throughout scripture that talk about the danger of winking.
Winking isn’t exactly the same as nodding or sleeping, but it involves closing ones eyes (or eye) to evil– giving it a momentary pass. Winking “maliciously” is not only turning a blind eye, but actually colluding with evil– giving it a figurative “nod” of approval. We don’t often think of winking as a sin. Winking is winsome, flirtatious perhaps, but it is passive. How can it hurt to wink? We don’t wink at war, or genocide, or injustice…do we? How often do we excuse what is clearly bad behavior because we don’t want to offend someone else, or come across as “judgmental”? How often do we fall into the false justification that “the ends justify the means”–that a small lie or bad habit can be ignored or overlooked in light of “the greater good” we expect will result from our overall actions?
God calls us to integrity– being honest with ourselves as well as with others. When we wink at so-called small sins, we begin to close our eyes (or at least one eye) to the truth. Sin disguises itself as winsome and flirtatious, but it is not passive– it eats away at truth, life, peace, and joy–it is corrosive, poisonous, and deadly.
1 Corinthians 15:52New English Translation (NET Bible)
52 in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
2 Peter 3:8New English Translation (NET Bible)
8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.
Winking at evil is especially dangerous if we lose sight of the urgency of these last days. There is a tension in the Christian view of the future–on the one hand, we expect the “soon” return of Christ. He will come in the “blink of an eye”; like a “thief in the night” with no warning, and with judgment. On the other hand, he is patient, not wanting any to perish. God is beyond and above Time– he is slow to anger, and slow to judgment–but he is also eternally aware and omnipresent.
We don’t choose to blink– and we do it often throughout the day. In fact, it is good and necessary that we do so. But, because blinking is an automatic function, we don’t think about it–even when we are tired and blinking turns into “nodding off.” If we continue to look about, or try to read, or worse, drive in this condition, we will miss important information, and we risk making mistakes and getting into accidents.
The same can be true as we walk through our days waiting for the return of Christ. Sometimes, instead of resting in Grace and looking to God for help, we get focused on all the distractions around us. In our restlessness we put much of our focus on what will happen in the “blink of an eye” and less focus on the single day or even the thousand years that God has given us to bring in a harvest.
And this leads me to the nodding…Jesus had something to say about this very tension of waiting and anticipating his return. He gave several parables, but I want to focus on just one– the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25.
Jesus pointed out that even if we are invited to have a role in the wedding feast, we need to be prepared. The virgins in the story were not punished for having fallen asleep (as all of them might have been), but the five foolish virgins had no oil when the bridegroom finally came. They didn’t just “nod off” waiting for the groom, they were winking at their own lack of preparation, blinking back their false expectation that what they had in their own lamps would be enough, and nodding off with no concern that they might be left out of the festivities.
In the same way, we can be guilty of winking at our own lack of obedience and commitment, blinking in the flashy distractions of the world around us, and nodding off unprepared for the very event we claim to hope for most. If we were with Jesus in the garden, would we be any more faithful or watchful than the disciples? Are we sending up vague and half-hearted prayers as we get sucked into the distractions around us? Are we so busy pointing fingers at others or excusing our own lack of diligence that we have nothing left to bring to God in earnest prayer? Have we given up on prayer in favor of social media or social action to “let our light shine”? Are we winkin’, blinkin’, and nodding off in our Christian walk?
Instead, Jesus asks us to “watch and pray” during these dark and dangerous times.