Why do our 40 day prayer vigils continue throughout the late nights and early mornings? Why don’t we just stop praying each evening and start again the next morning?
To begin understanding our goals, consider some basic definitions of the word “vigil” from various online dictionaries:
“a period of sleeplessness”
“a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray”
“a period of staying awake to be with someone who is ill or to call public attention to something”
“A vigil is when you stay alert to guard something, as when you keep vigil over your hen house when the foxes are out. A vigil can also be solemn, as when a candlelight vigil is held for victims of a tragedy.”
“Vigil comes from the Latin word for ‘awake,’ and all its meanings include the idea of watchfulness. If you’re attending a vigil or keeping vigil, you shouldn’t expect to take a nap. The vigil is an apt kind of demonstration for peace movements, as it’s calm, non-violent, and solemn, with participants standing quietly — sometimes holding candles.”
“a period of time at night when you stay awake to pray”
As should be obvious from these various definitions, late night prayer hours actually correspond more with the definition of “vigil” than daytime prayer hours. In relation to our 40 day LifeVigils, another essential point to consider is that our goal for each 40 day campaign has always been one continuous vigil, not a series of 40 individual partial-day vigils. To achieve the goal of one continuous vigil, it is necessary to cover all of the late night and early morning hours.
As Christians, the scriptural definition of “vigil” is more significant than any dictionary. One of the primary Bible passages relating to the concept of a “vigil” is found in Matthew 26:36-45, where Jesus asked His disciples to “watch and pray” in the Garden of Gethsemane as He agonized over His impending “cup” of suffering (just before He was betrayed and captured). While pouring out His heart in prayer to the Father, Jesus wanted His friends to have the same mindset.
“Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'” (Matthew 26:40-41)
We too often fail to “watch and pray” as we should, because (like the disciples) our flesh is also weak. Striving to pray outside an abortion chamber is a strenuous spiritual battle not unlike what the disciples faced. Jesus, who shed His innocent blood for us, identifies Himself with the innocent blood of the “least of these” children who are murdered in this abortion chamber. Yet in the weakness of our flesh, we too often find ourselves fighting sleep instead of fighting the enemy.
“Watching” and “praying” are two distinct tasks which can be difficult to do simultaneously. Yet Jesus calls us to do both, just as we are called to “speak the truth in love,” to uphold justice and mercy, and to focus simultaneously on both mothers and babies. In the midst of the spiritual battle we must not fail to “watch,” keeping our eyes open to observe what is happening in the physical realm.
Even in the middle of the night, we can experience divine appointments if we remain watchful. For example, on one dark early morning outside the abortion chamber, a homeless woman who was walking by began talking with Tim as he was watching and praying.
Eventually she began talking about her daughter and granddaughter, who live in Bishop (almost four hours away from Bakersfield). Tim then mentioned one of the Bishop women who had traveled to the Bakersfield abortion chamber many years earlier, but who had decided against aborting her baby after talking to Tim’s wife Terri outside the abortion chamber.
When Tim mentioned that this Bishop woman was a nurse, the homeless woman interjected that her daughter was also a nurse. Soon it became obvious that this homeless woman was the mother of the Bishop woman whose little girl was saved from abortion here. Through this divine appointment on the dark sidewalks, God used Tim to reunite this homeless woman with her granddaughter and daughter, who had been in the midst of deep distress, wondering if her mother had died.
Other divine appointments may be less dramatic, but just as significant. Often men or women passing by talk to us about their spiritual concerns and ask us to pray for them. Many times, their prayer concerns relate to their own personal abortion history.
Whether it is 2 am or 2 in the afternoon, we need to place ourselves in God’s hands, telling Him that we are available for whatever He wants to do. Typically, His primary goal seems to be to change our own hearts, helping us to focus on surrendering to His will as the only ultimate solution to abortion. The quiet hours in the middle of the night are ideal for such encounters.
Preferably, men should cover the late night and early morning hours. Men are often too busy during the daytime, but any man who is serious about ending abortion should be able to give up some sleep once a week during the 40 days of the vigil. Sadly, a significant majority of our vigil volunteers are women, so to reach our goal of maintaining a continuous vigil throughout the late nights and early mornings, we need to reach more men who care about the moms and babies whose lives are at risk.
On a practical level, maintaining a continuous vigil throughout the late nights and early mornings enables us to maintain a more visible vigil, keeping more vigil signs and other resources on site at all times. (A more visible vigil attracts more new volunteers, thus easing the burden on other vigil volunteers.) If the vigil needed to be taken down at the end of every day and put back up on the next morning, it would become necessary to minimize the amount of vigil resources on site. Because vigil leaders are committed to facilitating an uninterrupted vigil, these leaders find themselves needing to cover vigil gaps if other volunteers cannot be found. When the leaders cover an excessive number of vigil hours, the leaders become unable to fulfill their other responsibilities, thus making the vigil less effective for everyone. So even if someone may feel that they don’t accomplish anything by filling one desolate hour of darkness at the vigil, such volunteers help maximize the effectiveness of vigil leadership.
In some other communities where 40 day prayer campaigns are held, the vigil organizers have compromised by not seeking to cover all 24 hours in each day. Often that compromise leads to further compromises, such as discontinuing the vigils on weekends. When visiting such vigils, even during abortion business hours, it often seems that no vigil is happening. Soon even the concept of “40 days” becomes a pretense, just a hypothetical goal which remains out of reach. The devil advances his agenda one compromise at a time, but Jesus calls us to watch and pray so that we will not give in to such temptations.
We don’t call this a “40 day” campaign just because it sounds good: we say it because it is the truth.
We don’t call this a “vigil” just because it sounds good: we say it because it is the truth.
We intend to keep it that way!
Rise up, men of God! Please do your part in helping us to continue these 40 day “vigils” with integrity.