Blaring Alarms during the Watches of Night

The alarm blared.

The raucous sound jarred me awake.

“Was this alarm ours?” was my first groggy question.

John and I rose from bed. It’s been less than a year since we had an intruder in our house. Any alarm makes us jump from our blankets. As we steadied ourselves, we realized the sound was emanating from outside. We identified the blare as our neighbor’s fence alarm. We knew they weren’t there, so John quickly dressed to go and determine if the alarm was a fault – or if heaven forbid an intruder was afoot at this late hour.

John was outside as the alarm sounded again during this first watch of the night. It was just 10 pm.

I began to pray.

I remembered these words from the Psalms:

On my bed, I remember you, I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

New International Version, Psalm 63: 5-8

In ancient Israel, night watches were regularly posted. The first watch took their position from sunset until 10 pm. The second watch followed from 10 pm to 2 am. Finally, the third watch was established from 2 am until sunrise. Each watch served as an alarm system should an enemy encroach upon their walled fortification and defense.

In our southern African life, walls, electric fences, security beams, barbed wire, and earsplitting, warning alarms serve as our home protection system and take their watch through not only the night, but during the day as well. When the house or fence alarm sounds, something is amiss. Usually, a fence alarm is an indication of some kind of fault or problem with the electric current. One never knows of course. Alas, our neighborhood is currently under siege from home burglaries, house robberies, and car jackings. We never take any alarm sound for granted. Thus, John took a preliminary look over our neighbor’s fence to ensure no intruders were there. We also called another neighbor to come out and be with John, too.

Thankfully, John identified the problem as a broken fence wire. There was nothing he could do about it in the middle of this second watch of the night. Any repair work would need to be done in the morning. And he did that the following day.

How grateful we are though, that the alarm alerted us to a faulty wire and not to a trespasser with malevolent intent.

How grateful we are though, that John, our family, and our neighbor’s home were protected during these watches of the night.

How grateful we are that we can call out to our Heavenly Father throughout the watches of the night knowing that He is our help, our protector, and our stronghold.

I would love to tell you that these alarm blasts are few and far between in our neighborhood. Alas, they are not. As I shared, we never know if they are alerting us to real trouble, are an indication of some kind of fault, or are the result of human error. Believe me, it’s very easy to trip an alarm by accident. I’ve done it – more times than I would like to admit. Regardless of why the alarm sounds, our senses heighten, our hearts quicken, and our prayers flow.

I resonate with these words:

Arise, cry out in the night as the watches of the night begin.

Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the LORD.

Lift up your hands to Him….

New International Version, Lamentations 2: 19

I understand that many cares, concerns, and issues keep us awake at night – through the first watch, then the second, and even into the long reach of the third watch of the night. As a parent, I know that I have had many wakeful, prayer-filled nights focused upon the needs of my children. Then, there are those nights when I am worried, anxious, and heart-sore about something/someone and I just can’t sleep. And then there are nights like the recent one, when an alarm trumpets and calls and we don’t know the reason.

In every situation, we pray. Our night watches attend to such cares and more.

We might cry.

Our hearts may beat with need.

Our thoughts thunder for help.

We thirst for heart- quenching relief.

We need a reply. A response. An answer.

An acknowledgement of our need and the answer we seek may not come through on the first night, or the second, or even the third. Unlike the quick answer John found from the faulty wire that night, other problems are not resolved so easily:

An unfaithful spouse who stays away at night…

A wayward, drug-dependent child who escapes into the watches of the night…

An unmet desire that grieves the heart in the middle of the watches of the night…

A cancer diagnosis that cripples and paralyzes the soul as each watch after watch after watch passes by in the night…

A financial decision that imprisons the mind and confines the watches of the night…

A parent with dementia who distresses the heart through each watch of the night…

A foolish choice and its consequences shame the soul along the watches of the night…

A recent death of a loved one and their memory keeps our body, heart, and soul kindled and alert throughout the watches of the night…

A worry, any worry has the power to grip our conscientious and blare like raucous house alarms preventing any chance of sleep during the watch of night…no matter how hard we try.

Yet, in the midst of each of these watches of the night, our Lord and Heavenly Father is at watch as well.

From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
He who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.

New International Version, Psalm 33: 13-15

Do you take comfort in this truth?

God looks down – He purposely looks down – and sees you and me. He sees our struggle. He listens to our cries. He holds us close. He brings comfort of heart and peace of mind at each watch of night. His care isn’t loud or raucous like the blaring alarm that sounded next door for John and me the other night. Our God is tender, patient, kind, and full of love.

So, the next time, we find ourselves awake during the first, the second, or even the third watch of night, may we follow the example of the Psalmist and pray:

On my bed, I remember you, I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

New International Version, Psalm 63: 5-8

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