Keeping watch; staying vigilant

Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people! He made a dry path through the Red Sea, and his people went across on foot. There we rejoiced in him. For by his great power he rules forever. He watches every movement of the nations; let no rebel rise in defiance.

Psalm 66:5-7 (NLT)

I have a vigilant dog. She constantly watches and listens and sniffs the air, and when she perceives a threat, she sounds an alarm. We’re happy that she’s so vigilant, but we’re less thrilled with her barking, especially at 5 in the morning.

Two dogs keeping watch

A coyote howls in the distance and she barks a warning. A neighbor walks by the street outside and she warns us that an enemy is approaching. I pity our UPS driver, though I suppose they’re used to it. Dogs are vigilant.

The Latin root of vigilant means to watch or watch over. A vigil is a period of wakefulness and watchfulness, often associated with prayer, but sometimes marking a tragic event where the community gathers to remember.

Dogs learned vigilance eons ago when their lives depended on keeping a watch out for predators. There are many instances in the Old Testament that refer to the practice of setting up watchmen to guard a city or an encampment from threats. Watchmen at night keep watch: they stay awake, alert, listening, observing, ready to sound an alarm.

Whereas my dog is constantly vigilant, I tend to tune things out. I’ll immerse myself in a book and won’t hear the UPS truck drive up outside. I sleep through the howling of the coyotes at night. Most of us live inside of walls, behind locked doors. Ring cameras keep vigilant so we don’t have to. We have a luxury few in history have known: we can let down our guard and tune out whatever might be happening around us, secure behind strong walls.

The Bible tells us that God is vigilant, watchful. God somehow sees all that I fail to see; he sees even more than my watchful dog sees. He watches the activities of the nations, according to the Psalmist.

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

God’s watchfulness is superior to ours. And God’s watchfulness is not that of a disinterested observer. God is not comfortably taking notes as he watches the bacteria multiply in the petri dish. Jesus watched and intervened. Jesus observed and jumped in to help.

The Gospel writer Luke writes about Jesus passing through the town of Nain (Luke 7). He and the disciples pause to watch a funeral procession. A man has died, the only son of a widow, who is walking beside his bier weeping. Jesus comes forward, reassures the woman, and commands the young man to get up, which he does, to the shock of everyone. God watches, God sees, and God rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.

Yes, this raises lots of questions. I have known two cases where men who were critically ill in a hospital and on the verge of being declared brain dead revived and live today. I believe their recovery was God’s answer to the prayers of many friends and loved ones. But I know even more stories with unhappy endings, and I can only say that God doesn’t always grant what we pray for. He watches, he intervenes, but he is sovereign and has the final say. That’s a topic for another time.

What I need to remind myself of today is that God watches over you and me with the vigilance of the best night watchman. God sees. We are not alone. God watches. We are not walking through this wild world unguarded. God knows what we are dealing with, he knows our fears, he knows our weaknesses, he knows our worries, he knows our needs.

He is a God who wants to be involved in our lives. So speak to him. He’s listening and watching, and he cares for you.

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