The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
- 1 Samuel 3:10
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
- Ephesians 4:26-27
The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
- Psalm 74:16-17
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
- Luke 24:28-32
“The community of Christians living together gathers together again. The evening breaking of bread together and the final, daily worship service bring them together. With the disciples in Emmaus they ask: ‘Lord, stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ It is a good thing if the daily evening worship can really be held at the end of the day, thus becoming the last word before the night’s rest. When night falls, the true light of God’s Word shines brighter for the community of faith. The prayer of the Psalms, a Scripture reading, a hymn, and a prayer together close the day as they opened it. We still need to say a few words on the subject of evening prayer. This is the special place for intercession together. After the day’s work has been completed, we ask for God’s blessing, peace, and preservation for the whole of Christianity, for our congregation, for pastors in their ministries, for the poor, the wretched and lonely, for the sick and dying, for our neighbors, for our family at home, and for our community. When could we ever have a deeper awareness of God’s power and working than in the hour when we lay aside our own work and entrust ourselves to God’s faithful hands? When are we more prepared to pray for blessing, peace, and preservation than the time when our activity is at an end? When we grow tired, God works. ‘The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.’ Our request for the forgiveness of every wrong we have done to God and to one another, for God’s forgiveness and that of our brothers, and for the willingness gladly to forgive any wrong done to us, belongs then, too, especially in the evening prayers of a community of Christians living together. It is an old custom of the monasteries that by set practice in the daily evening worship the abbot asks his brothers to forgive him for all the sins of omission and wrongdoings committed against them. After the brothers assure him of their forgiveness, they likewise ask the abbot to forgive them for their sins of omission and wrongdoings and receive his forgiveness. ‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger’ (Eph. 4:26). It is a decisive rule of every Christian community that every division that the day has caused must be healed in the evening. It is perilous for the Christian to go to bed with an unreconciled heart. Therefore, it is a good idea especially to include the request for mutual forgiveness in every evening’s prayers, so that reconciliation can be achieved and renewal of the community established. Finally, in all the old evening prayers, it is striking how frequently we encounter their plea for preservation during the night from the devil, from terror and from an evil, sudden death. The ancients were keenly aware of human helplessness while sleeping. the kinship of sleep with death, and the devil’s cunning in causing our downfall when we are defenseless. That is why they prayed for the assistance of the holy angels and their golden weapons, for the presence of the heavenly hosts at the time when Satan would gain power over us. Most remarkable and profound is the ancient church’s request that, when our eyes are closed in sleep, God may nevertheless keep our hearts alert to god. It is a prayer that God may dwell with us and in us, even when we feel and know nothing, that God may keep our hearts pure and holy in spite of all the worries and temptations of the night, that God may prepare our hearts to hear the call at any time and, like the boy Samuel, answer even in the night, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ (1 Sam. 3:10). Even while sleeping we are in the hands of God or in the power of the evil one. Even while we sleep, God can perform miracles upon us or the evil one can cause devastation in us. So we pray in the evening: ‘Though our eyes in sleep will close, / May our hearts in you repose, / Protect us, God, with your right arm, / And shield our souls from sin’s cruel harm’ (Luther). But the word of the Psalter stands over the morning and the evening: ‘Yours is the day, yours also the night’ (Ps. 74:16).”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Oddly since Halloween, which was on a Sunday in 2021, I have had these lessons from Bonhoeffer’s book about a worshipful day every Sunday. He suggested every day begin in worship, prayer throughout the day, and the day end in worship. Not just a nod and say, “Okay, God, You and me all the way,” but a worship service with praying the psalms, singing, Bible study. Just like a Sunday morning worship service. He again makes the same admonition for the evening.
In a Christian community, we could do that. In a Christian family we could do that more effectively. But as individuals we should do that. We start the day right to set our minds on the task at hand. Not the work that we are about to do, but the fact that we are glorifying God as we do that task. Everything throughout the day goes better when we place God at the forefront.
But notice the elements that Bonhoeffer discusses in the evening. We are to not let the sun set on our anger. We are to forgive, and we are to confess and ask for forgiveness, both what we did and what we failed to do. We are to intercede for others in our prayers. In the morning, the focus may be on a lot of people, but we are preparing for the day and the focus is to have the day go smoothly for us and for all whom we encounter. But in the evening, there are other intercessions that may not fit that morning preparation prayer, the long-term illnesses, the poor, those without employment, those without shelter, etc.
And we are to prepare for rest by preparing for battle. When the lights go out and darkness comes, are we prepared to face the attacks of the evil one? Can we keep our eyes on Jesus? Again, while we have just prayed for others, we pray for ourselves, for God is the victor in daylight and at night. We need to prepare ourselves, yet again.
You know yourself. You know when you are most vulnerable. You may have a great devotional life in the early morning or just before bed. But why not at either end, and maybe in the middle, just something to redirect the focus onto Jesus.
The day will go so much more smoothly if we do.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.