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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

To go without sleep, like Jesus

“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night,’ reflected William Blake. Clearly the author of the English national anthem would have been totally unsuited as a negotiator in the current EU Council meeting. It seemed that discussions continued to 5.30 local time this morning. I assume that our Prime Minister (if he is lucky) will be allowed two or three hours sleep and is being woken up around about now for another day of intense bargaining. Hardly my style. As vicar I have always had the News at Ten rule. That is, to be home for News at Ten, which gives me 30 minutes to wind down before thinking of bed. No PCC, church council, is a fit state anyway to make decisions after 10.00 pm. People just want to go home to bed. Winston Churchill knew this. He had developed a sleep pattern which meant he went to bed as everyone else was getting up. This meant he could get his own way in committees simply by keeping them going until the small hours. His opponents simply wilted. Winston would have been great at Brussels. . In contrast Jesus was up early, very early in fact, before everyone else. Mark tells us, for example, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” It always helped that he was able to catch some sleep during the day, even in a boat tossed by a storm. This ability to sleep soundly is presented as an expression of trust in his heavenly Father, who, in the words of the Psalmist, “gives to his beloved sleep.” But there was one occasion when Jesus decided to go without sleep in true Brussels style. “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (Luke 6:12) Clearly prayer for Jesus was of the highest priority. But why through the night? He could have set an afternoon aside. That would have been my advice. But no, Jesus decided to go through the night. Okay, it’s quiet and there are no interruptions. No mobile signal on the mountain.1 But why give up sleep? One fascinating detail: Luke uses a Greek word here that is used only once in the whole of the New Testament, dianuktereuo, "spend the whole night." A special word for a significant event: Jesus is about to choose which twelve men he will send out as his apostles. (That’s what the word apostles means, those who are sent.) And it will take a whole night in prayer. Presumably it was not going to be easy. A whole host of factors, many not obvious to us, are at play, as Jesus chooses his team. So his choice of Judas, for example, is seen by the Gospel writers as a deliberate choice rather than a mistake. Jesus knew what he was doing. He had prayed it through. For this is going to be the most important decision Jesus is to make for his entire ministry. At no other time, not even before his arrest and trial, does he spend the whole night in prayer. His team selection is crucial. For it was going to be through these men, people like us in all our frailties and foolishness, that his ministry was to extend into the future and into all the world. And Jesus didn't have a plan B. He was going to invest his entire ministry through them. And now all these generations later, through us. Remember the Church is always a generation away from extinction. To be chosen by Jesus to bring his Kingdom is both a high calling and an awesome responsibility. In the words of Teresa of Avila, Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now.

And sometimes that means going without sleep. 1 Joke

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