Nov 2, 2023



It was the most popular sermon series in my 42 years of preaching. Likely, it’s because people identified with the “Life is Messy” theme. Family relationships are messy. Work dynamics are messy. Friendships can be messy also. Life was messy for a bishop named Anatolius (?-458).  He spent his entire ministry combating heresies in the church. We’re not talking about minor theological disputes, but nothing less than the person and work of Jesus. While Anatolius embraced Jesus’ full divinity and humanity, as expressed in the Nicene Creed, there were outspoken detractors. First, there was Nestorius, who denied Jesus could be divine and human in the same person. Next, there was a monk named Eutychus who carried Nestorius’ teaching forward. Finally, there was the bishop Dioscorus, who called a rogue church council to reinstate Eutychus and brutally depose a rival bishop. Anatolius presided over the church council in 451AD to mediate the mess. This Council of Chalcedon affirmed Jesus as “perfect in divinity and humanity, true God and true man.” They denounced Nestorius and Eutychus for denying Jesus’ two natures in one person and deposed Dioscorus for his unlawful actions. Like I said, life was messy for brother Anatolius. With so much turmoil, how could he sleep at night? His evening prayer provides a clue. He asked God for protection from his foes and petitioned God twice in short order for rest from the perils of the day. At the close of every stanza, he prayed, “O Jesus, keep us in Thy sight and guard us through the coming night.” The words were later set to music in the hymn “The Day is Past and Over.” What a great way to close the day:

The day is past and over,
All thanks. O Lord, to Thee!
We pray Thee that offenseless
The hours of dark may be.
O Jesus, keep us in Thy sight,
And guard us through the coming night.

The joys of day are over,
We lift our hearts to Thee,
And call on Thee that sinless
The hours of dark may be.
O Jesus, make their darkness light,
And guard us through the coming night.

Lord, that in death I sleep not,
And lest my foe should say,
“I have prevailed against him,”
Lighten my eyes, I pray.
O Jesus, keep me in Thy sight,
And guard me through the coming night.

The toils of day are over,
We raise our hymn to Thee,
And ask that free from peril
The hours of dark may be.
O Jesus, keep us in Thy sight,
And guard us through the coming night.

Be Thou our souls’ Preserver,
O God, for Thou dost know
How many are the perils
Through which we have to go.
Lord Jesus Christ, O hear our call
And guard and save us from them all.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.