The Four Portions of Each DayVigorous Work depends upon Strategic Rest. Missional Engagement relies upon Monastic Practices. To love one's neighbor we must lean into our prior love for God. Epic Vision cannot long stand without Mundane Routines. Great efforts are fueled by Quiet Rhythms. Large purposes are carried out by small mostly overlooked moments of grace. To make an ultimate difference, we seek Jesus moment by daily moment. What does it profit a pastor to gain the whole world but forfeit his first love and lose his soul? Morning and AfternoonEvening and the Night Watches
The Four Portions Introduction
Jesus gives us this gift of one-day-at-a-time portions to bear the burdens that find us. The psalmist gets us started in how to relearn that each day has enough of its own worry in it.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and [God] hears my voice. (Ps. 55:17)
Sometimes, the psalmist gets more specific about what “evening” can encompass, and, like other places in the Bible (e.g., Lam. 2:19), he refers to the night watches (Ps. 63:6).The psalmist identifies four parts of a twenty-four-hour day. I’ve come to think of these four parts as portions. God is our portion, which means that at any given moment of our day he there and is enough for us.
Morning: sunrise or 6:00 a.m. to noon
Afternoon: noon to 6:00 p.m.
Evening: sunset or 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (sometimes known as the “first night watch”)
The Night Watches: 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
For reasons like these, Christians who’ve gone before us have urged stated times of prayer and meditation throughout each day. John Calvin, for example that morning and evening and times for eating could anchor us in prayer. He said:
“It is fitting each one of us should set apart certain hours for this exercise. Those hours should not pass without prayer, and during them all the devotion of the heart should be completely engaged in it. These are: when we arise in the morning, before we begin daily work, when we sit down to a meal, when by God’s blessing we have eaten, when we are getting ready to retire.” (Calvin, Institutes, 3:20.50, 917-918)
Similarly, Richard Baxter counseled that we take note of our weekly responsibilities and choose times which would best fit the season of life we are in. Without setting such times beforehand we are likely to pass by attentiveness to God altogether.
“Ordinarily set times will prove the fittest times, and to leave the time unfitted and uncertain will put all out of order, multiply impediments and hinder duty. But yet when extraordinary cases make the ordinary time unfit, a fitter time must be taken.” (Richard Baxter, Question XVI in General Directions for Prayer)
Often, Christians have chosen morning and evening as fit times for prayer and reflection. At the Pastor’s Abbey we commend also “the afternoon” and “the night watches.” In this short booklet, we’ve provided a way to set aside a few moments during these portions of the day during your stay with us.
How do these four portions work?
First, think of morning, noon, evening, and night as portions large enough for your attention and small enough to manage each day. No longer seek to blur them together or rush past them.
Second, as that portion of the day draws to a close, pause and look back before you start the new portion and rush forward. Give thanks to God for the tokens of his grace that you experienced. Or cry at the pains and lament. Or recognize your agitated moods and petition him about what originates them. Ask him to show you your errors, sins, and faults from that portion that he can lead you to confess and gratefully turn from. Or intercede for any situation or purpose that stuck out to you during that time. Then, out of this pause, praise him and ask him to lead you by the hand into the next portion of the day.
In this regard, let’s say it’s 11:47 a.m. The morning is about to rest. We look back and give thanks for what the morning brought to us. We pay attention to our moods too. Any foul mood, we trace back to what caused it. We locate that foul morning scene and cast it upon the Lord. Now, with his grace we await noon’s arrival. We do not want to take unmeditated morning moods into the afternoon. Afternoon has enough of its own. Jesus carries our mornings.
Or the evening is coming. It’s 5:30 p.m. or so (or 6:30 because we are behind). Food is simmering on the stove. Traffic awaits our commute home. We pause and reflect. We ask forgiveness; we seek his courage to make things right where we need to as much as it is possible with us; we give thanks for the strength he gave and for the morning prayers he answered; and we celebrate the virtue of his Spirit that, by his grace, lasted. We notice our aching muscles or tired brain. We seek his rest. We wrestle to believe our unfinished work will be there tomorrow waiting for us. The morning will give us time to take it to the Lord before it comes back around. It will all get done. For now, there are kids to play with, spouses to come alongside of, or family, friends, or neighbors to encourage. Leave the noon for now. Take its moods to Jesus so as not to unduly take them with you and hoist them upon others at the dinner table.
Or maybe, it’s 9:45 p.m. Our table is cleared. The TV is turned off. Our kids are in bed (unless we have teenagers). Our friends are heading home. We pause to give thanks for the good food and company with which he has blessed us. We seek forgiveness for the foul moods we spilled upon others. We take heart that the morning will give us a new moment to take such things to him and hopefully sing and find praise again. We take our fears, our sickness, and our oppressions felt from the evening community to him. He stays with us and speaks peace. We brush our teeth. The time for bed approaches for some of us. For others, the time for quiet and prayer arrives. Third-shift jobs, hospital stays, seasonal parties, last-minute homework—each of these realities informs the night. But the second and third watches of the night are not normatively made for our TV watching, our leftover work from the day, or our after-party carousing, not as a norm anyway. The night is coming. The late night was made for our solitude with God. He waits with love to carry you.
When one portion ends and the other begins, it is as if we look back to gather up everything beautiful from the previous portion before moving on. These are like flowers scattered throughout that we gather up, put in our watered vases, and give thanks to God. We also gather up anything hard, painful, frightening, or sinful, like pieces of a shattered vase that we or someone else knocked off our tables. We broom these into a box and bring them before God. Setting our flowers and broken pieces before God in this way, we give thanks and cast our cares. He holds these now, and we can move on into the next portion of the day.
At the end of each portion think of three C’s.
- Cares: Are there any worries or anxieties from this previous portion still harassing my thoughts and emotions? Cast them upon the Lord because he cares for you.
- Carnalities: Are there any temptations from the previous portion still loitering in my being where they don’t belong? Seek the Lord’s provision to resist and overcome these tempters before heading into the next portion of the day or night.
- Consolations: Are there good gifts God has given in the previous portion? Give thanks and take hold of promises in order to derive the intended pleasures of his love for you.
Adapted from Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor