Exploring Watchnight Service

Jeremy Williams

Picture it: the church is packed, the music is loud, the congregants’ hands are lifted to heaven, and the preacher has sweated through his suit already. Sounds like a great time worshiping God our Father, right? However, in some instances, this service is not about God in any way. It’s called a watchnight service, commonly held on New Year’s Eve. If you grew up in the African-American church, you may remember your own experiences with watchnight services.

Same Song, Different Year

When I was growing up, the watchnight service was the night I dreaded. My heart never resonated with the speakers’ messages. I didn’t know then what the problem was, but I knew something was wrong. The speakers for that night would say the same thing every year: “This has been the worst year of your life,” they would say. “You’ve been lied to, cheated, and friends and family have betrayed you.” Then they would add, “But it’s your time now—it’s your season—it’s time for your breakthrough!” The crowd would react with joy to think that blessing and a higher level of happiness were coming their way.

The problem with this was that God was never exalted. Our needs and problems took precedent over the faithfulness and love of God. Instead of giving thanks for the year that had passed, we complained about what God didn’t do for us and then demanded a blessing in return for our complaints.

The Lost Art of Contentment

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines contentment as “the state of being happy and satisfied; the state of being contented”. In Philippians, Paul says: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” Phil. 4:11–13. He writes in his first letter to Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” 1 Tim. 6:6–8.

Remember that Paul was in prison and near death when writing these words. It might be true that this was the worst year of your life for whatever reason, but your bad year does not change God’s greatness.  We must remember that no matter the circumstances, God has given us the strength to make it through. The end of each year shouldn’t be littered with complaints and bitterness towards God or others who we blame for our situations, but thanksgiving to God for getting us through it. Sometimes God uses the worst of situations to bring the greatest moments: for your growth; for the edification of the body; and to give glory to our Father in heaven. We must remember, whether we have tears of sorrow or tears of joy, that God is still the same.

God is in Control

Although you may not feel like it during a watchnight service, God is in control, not you. Just because we’ve had a bad year doesn’t mean we can strong-arm God for a new season. Since God the Creator sovereignly controls all of creation, he is the cause and we are the effect. Paul puts it like this: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” Rom. 9:16. So you can shout, sing, and dance all night long until the clock strikes midnight, but if God is not ready to move you to a new season, then January 1 will be no different than December 31. We cannot hold God hostage with our misinterpretation of his Word. We must rejoice in the greatness of God and his control in our lives. We must have faith that he has the best in store for us, no matter the circumstances. Not to discredit struggles, because we all go through something every year. But instead of complaining about your situation, let’s spend each new year giving thanks to God, knowing that he has given us all that we need in him.

I love these verses in Ephesians: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” Eph. 1:11–14. Wow! What a God we serve. He has given us so much to be grateful for no matter what’s happening in our lives. Let’s not be disillusioned by some preachers’ false promises, but let’s rejoice in the true promise of our Father in heaven.

Question: Are you willing to trust in God’s sovereignty and rejoice in what he has already given you?

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