Roman soldiers divided guard duty into four watches, sunset – 9:00pm, 9:00pm – midnight, midnight – 3:00am, and 3:00am – sunrise. When Christ came to his disciples, it was during the four watch of the night. His disciples were battling the raging sea and the contrary winds all night. He watched as his struggled to keep their boat afloat. Just like Christ let his disciples struggle against the stormy sea, so do he let us struggle against our own personal stormy sea before he comes to lift us out of trials.
The principle of the fourth watch goes far beyond Christ just waiting until near the end of a trial before intervening.
Coming Unto Christ
In Matt 14:22, Christ tells his disciples to go before him on the other side. One of the most important parts of overcoming trials is to focus on Christ. Nowhere in these versus does it say this, but I am sure that during their battle with the sea, they did all they could to do the Lord’s will and meet him on the other side.
“As we do these things of which we have spoken [daily scripture reading, daily prayer, daily service, and the sacrament on Sunday], we will increase in our faith, our faith in Christ. There is no other way to effectively handle trial. As faith increases, so does our trust in him for all our needs” (Come Unto Christ Through Your Trials, H. Burke Peterson, Feb 6th, 1996 BYU Devotional).
Watching From On High
In Matt 14:23, Christ goes up into a mountain to pray. This is, to me, the most beautiful metaphor in this story. “And he saw them toiling in rowing” (Mark 6:48). The entire time the disciples are struggling in the sea, Christ can see their struggle, from beginning to end, from up above. Just like Christ see’s our trails from His throne in heaven, so could he see theirs.
All through-out the scriptures, temples are referred to as mountains of the Lord. Also, temples are “a place where earth and heaven meet” (Why Latter-day Saints Build Temples). I firmly believe that Christ was experiencing heaven on that mountain while praying and watching over his disciples.
Peace comes when knowing Christ sees our trails from the beginning all the way to the end.
The Fourth Watch
The Father and His Son are very deliberate with their timing. In Matt 14:25, Christ appears to the disciples in the “fourth watch”. If we are to assume the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes ended near sunset, then it would appear as if the disciples were on the boat for anywhere between 9 and 12 hours. Now I firmly believe that Christ came closer to the end of the the night, right before dawn, which would mean the disciples battled their raging sea for 12 long hours.
Christ, seeing his disciples struggle, could have calmed the sea at any time. But it wasn’t until they put in all of their effort. Just like Christ wanted them to put in all of their effort, so does he want us to put all of our effort into over-coming our trials.
“I know that [the Lord’s] tender mercies and His miracles, large and small, are real. They come in His way and on His timetable. Sometimes it is not until we have reached our extremity. Jesus’s disciples on the Sea of Galilee had to toil in rowing against a contrary wind all through the night before Jesus finally came to their aid” (My Soul Delighteth in the Things of the Lord, Ensign, May 2008).
Be of Good Cheer; It Is I; Be Not Afraid
Out of the numerous times Christ says “be of good cheer”, it is usually to his Apostles when they were in desperate or discouraging circumstances.
“as so often to us, when, amid the darknesses of life, the ocean seems so great and our little boats so small—there came the ultimate and reassuring voice of peace with this simple declaration, ‘It is I; be not afraid.’ Peter exclaimed, ‘Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.’ And Christ’s answer to him was the same as to all of us: ‘Come.’
Only when with wavering faith he removed his glance from the Master to look at the furious waves and the black gulf beneath him, only then did he begin to sink. Again, like most of us, he cried, ‘Lord, save me.’ Nor did Jesus fail him. He stretched out his hand and grasped the drowning disciple…
It is my firm belief that if as individual people, as families, communities, and nations, we could, like Peter, fix our eyes on Jesus, we too might walk triumphantly over ‘the swelling waves of disbelief’ and remain ‘unterrified amid the rising winds of doubt’” (The Beacon in the Harbor of Peace, Howard W. Hunter).
So many times in our lives, the only peace that comes to us are simple word given to use from Christ. These phrases can include: Be Not Afraid, Be Still My Soul, or I Am With Thee. Those words are sent in our most trying times, to give peace to His children. If you can’t hear those words, hold out longer, become closer with Christ, and those words will soon come.
The First Vision
For young Joseph, the principles of the fourth watch were very true for him. In JSH 1:15-17 it says:
I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound.
Joseph truly experience true struggle against Satan. He fought him with every ounce of his being. And it wasn’t until Joseph used up all of his energy did The Father and His Son deliver Joseph from that bondage.
For most of us, we will not be physically bound by Satan, but we will be spiritual or emotional bound. We need to put in our whole soul to worshipping and serving Christ for him to lift our burdens.