In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves. – Psalm 127:2
I have a copy of an article titled “Take A Nap” written by Donald Whitney. I found the article fascinating, as it points out that God created a need for sleep in humans. Whitney says, “God made us to need sleep. Pastor and author John Piper once sat wearily on the side of his bed trying to develop a theology of sleep. After all he reasoned we could do so much more for God’s kingdom if we didn’t have to sleep nearly a third of our lives away. Eventually John concluded sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God”.
We are neither omnipotent or omni-competent, and the need for sleep is a daily reminder of that. Every night we have to go to bed and leave things in the hands of God. I found that insight fascinating. We often talk about the need to care for the spiritual side of ourselves. We tend to focus on prayer, scripture reading, worshipping in church, maybe meditation or listening to music when we think of spiritual care. But I had not thought about physical sleep as spiritual care.
We believe lack of sleep is a badge of honour that we carry around. I remember in university some students would brag about “pulling an all-nighter” to prepare for an exam. They would go over the course material all night and not sleep. I personally did not understand this logic, as you would be so tired the next day writing the exam you could not possibly be thinking straight.
There is an epidemic of lack of sleep in our culture. We live in a 24/7 world and its high expectations. The issue is like the frog in the boiling water analogy. We have a society that presents poor values, temptations and pressures that go unnoticed as we sit in the water that gets hotter and hotter. To notice that toxic environment we need to withdraw from it from time to time.
Jesus throughout the scriptures made sure he and his disciples took breaks. Mark 6:31 is a good example: “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”
I have talked with many medical care workers who took on extra work shifts and reached the point of burnout. Jesus understood very well our bodies are not designed for that kind of stress. That when our body is tired, we do not have the energy to continue God’s work on earth but also the endurance to fight temptation which opens us to sin. Want to hear more about Jesus’ teachings? The churches of North Perth are open.
Ernie Naylor serves as pastor for Atwood Presbyterian Church.