Shepherd’s Care: Vigil

Paul begins our focal verse (Acts 20:28) with the words, “keep watch.”  Christian self-care is rooted in the idea of vigil.  The image is that of the watchman on the wall, who scans the horizon for any approaching enemies.  The watchman’s job is to sound the alarm at the earliest possible moment.  Charles Wesley picked up on this in his hymn, I Want A Principle Within as he wrote, “if to the right or left I stray, that moment, Lord, reprove.”  Wesley wanted an early-dection system in his soul—what he called in the same hymn “a sensibility to sin, a pain to feel it near.”  Self-care strives to put the fire out while it’s in the wastebasket; not when its running up the wall.

The watchman is posted on the wall continuously—day and night.  Vigil stays at its post.  No matter how many days the city has gone without attack, there is no assumption that “all is well.”  The saints of the ages have called this “attentiveness,” and it is not an occasional thing.  It is ongoing and never-ending.  There is no spiritual maturity that escapes vulnerability.

Finally, the watchman walks the entirety of the wall: North, South, East, West.  No direction is left unattended or unguarded.  Self-care is not just about the “religious” part of our lives; in fact, most clergy get into trouble in other areas.  Leaders know that the enemy attacks from the direction that is weakest.  Some of us need to strengthen dimensions of our lives that have more to do with healthy humanity than ecclesiastical professionalism. 

“Keep watch” is the port of entry into ministry that is authentic and vital.  When Henri Nouwen was asked to define “the spiritual life,” he rightly noted that you cannot capture it in a sentence or two.  But when pressed to try, he responded, “The spiritual life is paying atention.”  That’s what Paul is saying.  We cannot afford to live with untested assumptions or unguarded attributes.  The call to wholeness is the call to vigil.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Shepherd’s Care: Vigil

  1. Donna Bogan says:

    Well, it appears that you are reading my diary again. Thanks for these thoughts today.

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