Do we, as human beings, sometimes find ourselves tempted to be critical of the way God is having our lives play out? I think we can all relate to looking heavenward and wondering where Divine Intervention was, as loved ones are seemingly denied righteous longings or suffer beyond reason. Hard things happen to good people, and we could spend all day dissecting whether each trial is a “blessing in disguise” or just one of those difficult things that don’t make sense.
Inquisitive minds may find comfort in a principle found several times in the Bible known as The Fourth Watch. The Hebrew day started at 6:00 in the morning, and ended twelve hours later at 6:00 in the evening. Stemming from Roman Imperial tradition, their night was divided into four periods to determine when guards would be on or off their shifts. The first watch was from 6-9:00 pm. The second was 9:00-midnight, the third was midnight-3:00 am, and the fourth was from 3:00-6:00 am, or until sunrise.
As told in several New Testament accounts, the Savior had just fed five thousand people. He instructed His disciples to get in a boat and pick him up later. They obeyed and sailed out into the Sea of Galilee. Jesus sent the multitude home and proceeded to go climb a mountain, where He prayed to the Father for much of the night. Meanwhile, the disciples were caught up in a great storm. We read that they “toil[ed] in rowing” (Mark 6:48), were “tossed with waves” (Matthew 14:24), and struggled amidst “a great wind that blew” (John 6:18). I imagine they were both terrified and exhausted.
Mark relates, however, that Jesus stood on the shore and watched them. At the time, the disciples didn’t know that Christ was aware of their troubles. They didn’t know that He was watching them. All they knew was that they were tired, their situation wasn’t getting any better, and they needed help.
If your eyes on the storm You'll wonder if I love you still But if your eyes are on the cross You'll know I always have and I always will -Casting Crowns
Finally, the Savior comes to their aid. Mark said, “and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea.” Remember that the fourth watch began at 3:00 am, meaning that the apostles had been at sea for at least nine hours before Jesus came to them. As He walked upon the water towards them, He immediately said, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50). He got into the ship and the wind ceased.
Surely the disciples felt relieved, but were they wondering why the Savior couldn’t have come in the first watch, or even the second or third? We wonder for ourselves all the time why burdens are not removed from us when we’d like them to be. However, we worship a fourth-watch God. As Joseph Smith wrote, “At the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair—. . . just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head” (JS—H 1:16). At the very moment when he was ready to sink into despair! Christ might’ve saved the disciples at the very moment they were about to sink!
If the figuratively cold winds in your life do not seem to be ceasing, if the waves crashing upon the boat of your testimony do not seem to ever be still, and if the fatigue of rowing through life’s endless challenges is bringing you to a point of near hopelessness, I beg of you to keep your trust in the boat that your Redeemer sent you to. He has not forgotten you. You may not see Him, but He is watching on the shore, waiting for when He sees fit to come to your rescue. He is on the mountain praying for you, praying that you will have the courage to do all you can do. Generally, when it seems too late, that is when He comes.
In the meantime, keep rowing. I can’t imagine that the disciples kicked back during those nine hours and just waited. They must have needed to strategically direct their vessel and maybe even make necessary changes to their boat just so they could survive. Fear not; be of good cheer, and do what is spiritually pertinent to make sure that your ship is still afloat when the fourth watch arrives, bringing with it Jesus Christ and all the blessings promised to those who endure.