Mom Prays in the Night

by Mary Stephens
March 2017

Pray without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5:17

Years ago a friend of my mother's had the privilege of caring for Ethel Waters in the last days of her life on this earth. Julie, my mom's friend, lived with her family in a large house somewhere in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. Miss Waters, a famous actress and singer in the worldly sense at one time, was a well-known Christian singer at the time of her death. She had cancer and needed care during the final stages of her life. I am not sure how long Julie actually cared for her in their home but I believe it was somewhat over a year.

During part of that time, my family lived in the area for a few months, fellowshipping at the same church that Julie and her family attended. My mother had known Julie for years, but they were able to renew their old friendship during that time. I also became friends with Julie's daughter who was about my age.

I don't remember if it was before or after we had moved out to the Mojave Desert, but at some point I spent the night at Julie's home while Miss Waters was still living. I did not see her, of course. She was very ill and received almost no visitors at the time. I do remember seeing the doors to the room where she was and it looked to me like it was a quite large room. Although, I was too young to really know who Ethel Waters was in the big scheme of things, I did have some knowledge that my parents thought highly of her. I was also impressed with the carefulness of the family in maintaining peace and quiet on Miss Waters' behalf.

As I said, my family moved out to the desert during that time where my dad was pastoring a small church in a very small town. My mom was kept very busy in those days. She had two small children, she volunteered at the school we attended, and there was a fairly steady stream of people coming and going from the parsonage which was centrally located. The church had not had a pastor for some time and one who, with his wife, was "given to hospitality" (1 Tim. 3:2), was a novelty and much loved. My mom slept "the sleep of the just" in those days, I'm sure. She certainly must have been very tired at the end of each day, especially in the very hot summer months.

One night, though, the Lord woke her up suddenly from her sound sleep. She did not have a revelation or anything of that sort, but she was strongly impressed with the thought of Julie and a need to pray for her. Of course, she knew the situation with Miss Waters and why Julie might need prayer, but she was not in the habit of thinking of her often, so it was definitely out of the norm.

Being in the habit of following the leading of the Lord in such things, she prayed for Julie that night. I don't know how long. She probably didn't know how long. But, she prayed.

Sometime later, when she talked to Julie she asked her about that, and she learned that, as you probably expected, that was the very night that Ethel Waters died (September 1, 1977). Dying is not always easy, even for a believer. I don't know the depth of suffering that Miss Waters may have experienced that night as she laid aside "the body of this death" (Rom. 7:24) and stepped into the presence of her Savior. Among those who assisted Miss Waters that night was my mom's friend, Julie, and she told my mom that it had been a very difficult night for her. Naturally, she had grown to love Ethel very much, and cancer can be a very painful way to leave this earth.

My mother, in her humanly humble place, was called upon by the Lord to help that night through the mighty ministry of prayer. It was her privilege to participate, even though she was far from the scene and did not know the full meaning of the work she was doing. Of course, it was in part because she was a personal friend of Julie and she knew what trials might be facing her in the care of the Miss Waters. But, more importantly, it was because God knew she would obey; she would do what she was told to do when she was told to do it.

The Prayer in the Night

Sometimes I wake with dark and quiet around me,
And swift across my vision, like a light,
Flashes the face of one I know who suffers,
Or one whom sorrow newly toughed last night.

Perhaps, for just that moment and that purpose,
There lacks a link in God's great chain of prayer;
So, lest the chain be weakened by my silence,
Or break because I fail to do my share,
I shape the link, and know the Spirit's fire
Will forge it into place and weld it there.

Annie Johnson Flint

Now, I don't believe that God is limited by our failures because He is all powerful whether we pray or not. But, He has commanded us to pray. He has given us the ministry of prayer, and in some mysterious way, it is important in His plan for getting His will done in many ways.

I remember a situation once years back when a man was complaining about having had a horrible night and not being able to sleep and what an awful time he'd had. He was feeling very sorry for himself when someone else spoke up and said something to this effect, "You were supposed to be praying for me. I was having a terrible struggled last night and was fighting a great battle." The brother who had been complaining of his sleep troubles was silent and the other person pointed out that when we can't sleep at night it may be because someone we know needs prayer. That incident arrested my attention.

Acts 16:25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed,
and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

What if when we are laying awake at night and cannot sleep, instead of fretting about our lack of sleep, we would ask God whom we should be praying for? Do you ever just pray for people as they come to mind - day or night, but especially at night? There have been quite a few times when I've remembered to do this, that I have prayed for a number of people - many or few - and eventually gone back to sleep without much effort. Sometimes I ask the Lord, sometimes they come to mind instantly. Sometimes it has been one or two people. Other times I've prayed for a rather long list of people and situations.

I know that praying is not a cure-all to insomnia. I also know that insomnia is a terrible thing. But, I really believe that sometimes God lets us be wakeful in the night because He wants us to pray. Or to praise Him. I know there are people who have chronic insomnia who spend a lot of time praying while they are awake in the night. This is tremendous ministry, and I believe they will see the reward of the labors someday, because, let's face it, laying awake in the night praying for people when you "should" be sleeping is hard work!


How handicapped, how bound are we
When Christ was bound on Calvary?
He could not move a hand nor foot,
And He was wracked with anguish, but
He gave Himself to earnest prayer
For those whose weight of sins He bare.
"Father, forgive, they know not what they do."

O child of God, say not,
"I am too handicapped, too bound,
Too busy, and I have not found
A service I can do for Him."
O Shame! Let us, with eyes grown dim,
Look back to Calvary.
Bound helpless there,
The suffering Saviour gave Himself to prayer!

Martha Snell Nicholson
(Mrs. Nicholson suffered from several incurable diseases and was disabled for years.)

1 Thessalonians 5:25 Brethren, pray for us.

Even in the night watches we can be about our Father's business - the business of prayer. And, it may be that at times He will waken us and tell us to pray for someone specifically, because often it is easier to get our undivided attention in the middle of the night than when we are rushing through our noisy days. But, it may be that that person who is impressed upon your mind or mine is in need that hour, that very moment, and the Lord has chosen us for that special supporting ministry of prayer.

Let's be faithful to "Pray without ceasing." Let's be attentive when we're called upon to minister to someone through prayer, even in the middle of the night when we "should be sleeping." Let's remember to ask the Lord who it is we should be praying for instead of quickly becoming distressed or annoyed with our lack of sleep. It may be that He has work for us to do in those night watches.



graphics and background by mary vannattan
Vintage art work unknown source
March 2017.