It would not be an exaggeration to say that for the whole of human history, mankind’s activities have centered around sleep.
We humans become mentally unhealthy, unstable and unfocused when we don’t get enough sleep. College students, those all-nighters are about the worst thing you could do before a final. Lack of sleep also has an adverse effect on hormone release throughout our bodies.
When you sleep, your body repairs itself, your mind pauses to process everything that happened that day and even your heart gets to rest. Sleep affects our entire being: mentally, physically and spiritually. God made it so.
This has been both a personal and pastoral revelation for me: When a fellow believer tells me his clarity of thought and desire for God are not what they ought to be, I have three diagnostic questions for him:
- Are you walking in unconfessed sin?
- What are your eating habits?
- Are you getting enough sleep?
I have observed over time that mental and spiritual listlessness may often be a result of one or any combination of these. We are holistic beings, and God made our biology to point us back to His sufficiency and away from our attempts at autonomy.
Think about it: In sleep you are utterly defenseless, utterly unconscious, utterly dependent. God made our bodies to go dormant for 6-8 hours a day to remind us that He is God and we are not.
Sleep then is a gift, not only in its physical and mental benefits, but as an act of worshipful dependence. Every time your head hits the pillow, let your heart praise God that He can and you can’t.
But like all good gifts this side of Genesis 3, even something as necessary and ordinary as sleep may be abused and idolized as an escape from God’s calling.
A confession: If you can’t tell already, I like my sleep. A lot. While I love it for the worshipful reasons listed above, I also have to be careful not to use sleep as a medication or an escape from responsibility.
When I feel stressed, tired, alone, bored or even after a spiritual high, I want nothing more than to kick back and feel the cool side of the pillow. I want to be unconscious after stress or celebration, and sleep is a respectable enough drug to get me there. Few people question you when you say, “I’m just tired.” They’ll usually respond with an oh-you-poor-thing look, accompanied by a sympathetic, “You need to get some rest.”
Sometimes they’re right; I’ve run hard, and it’s time to stop and declare by my sleeping that I can’t. God can. Other times, I know in my deceitful heart that I prefer unconsciousness to dealing with anger or anxiety. I’m saying in these sinful instances, “No, God. I will take control here by knocking myself out with sleep.”
We must be always on guard against loving a gift over the Giver, even a gift as common as sleep. Let us pray and work toward resting well in God, not just unconsciousness. If we would worship God and know Him fully, we must sleep to the glory of God.
Some of us need to stop running to sleep as medication and avoidance of godly responsibility. Remember that “sweet is the sleep of a laborer” who spends and is spent for the souls Christ died for.
Some of us need to rest more. We need to recognize that we are trying to play God in our blatant, intentional lack of sleep (and I’m not just talking to the college students). Not to rest is to rebel against God’s command of Sabbath and is an argument for your own sovereignty against His. Sleep requires a surrender to God’s sufficiency. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.