Sleeping Your Way to Sound Theology
How would you like to learn theology while you sleep? Or, at least, from your sleep? It’s quite remarkable how much God actually teaches us through sleep. For example:
1. God reminds us we are merely creatures
God created us with a need for sleep, a need as great as our need for oxygen and food. As such, sleep is part of the God-ordained creator/creature distinction. It reminds us that God is God and we are not. It also warns us that if we rebel against God’s created order by depriving ourselves of sleep, we are effectively uncreating ourselves.
2. God gifts us with sleep
Sleep is not a necessary evil to be barely tolerated but a gracious gift of God. God doesn’t need it (Ps. 121:4) but He gives it to us (Ps. 127:2). As John Baillie pointed out in his essay “The Theology of Sleep” this verse “He gives to His beloved sleep” might also be translated, “He gives unto his beloved in sleep.” This translation “speaks not only of the blessedness of sleep itself but of the blessed things that are given us through its agency.”
3. God reminds us we are unnecessary
By sleeping we are relinquishing control and reminding ourselves that God actually doesn’t need us, at least for the next few hours. When we close our eyes each night we are saying, “I don't run the world, not even my own little life.” Even President Obama has to get into his pajamas every night, effectively confessing that God doesn't need him, that there is a greater Superpower.
4. God Calls us To Trust Him
The Psalmist connects sleep to trusting God (Ps. 3:5-6; 4:8). Sleep is a test of trust: will we entrust ourselves and everything to God’s care, or will we continue to worry and vex ourselves all through the hours of darkness.
The Christian’s sleep should be different to the non-Christian’s. When and how long we sleep makes a huge statement about who we are and what we believe. As someone said, “unconsciousness is a pretty strong sign of dependence.” Sleep is intrinsically a humble thing to do.
5. God will chastise us if we refuse sleep
Science is increasingly discovering the damaging consequences of sleep deprivation. Yet millions are habitually choosing to reject this gift of God and depriving themselves of the sleep God has designed for their good. Research reveals the serious and severe physical, intellectual, emotional, relational and even moral consequences of this rebellion against God. But we shouldn't need research to convince us of this – if we rebel against God’s order and refuse His gifts we can expect his fatherly chastisement. In John Piper’s 1995 lecture on Charles Spurgeon, he said:
I am emotionally less resilient when I lose sleep. There were early days when I would work without regard to sleep and feel energized and motivated. In the last seven or eight years my threshold for despondency is much lower. For me, adequate sleep is not a mater of staying healthy. It is a matter of staying in the ministry. It is irrational that my future should look bleaker when I get four or five hours sleep several nights in a row. But that is irrelevant. Those are the facts. And I must live within the limits of facts. I commend sufficient sleep to you, for the sake of your proper assessment of God and his promises.
6. God reminds us of death
For the believer, death is often described as a “falling asleep.” Our nightly sleep is a daily reminder of, and good practice for, death. Each night we are reminded of the time when we will close our eyes for the last time on this earth and open them in another place.
7. God reminds us of hell
I hate nightmares and have often wondered why God allows Christians to have such awful images, sounds, and horrors pass through their minds. Then, one day, I thought, “This is like a glimpse of hell – its darkness, its disorder, its terrors and torments.” Now I use these brief nightmares to remind me of the eternal hell I’ve been saved from and also to quicken and impassion my preaching to those who are still heading there.
8. God teaches us about the Savior.
“Jesus slept” is as profound as “Jesus wept” (Mark 4:38). It reminds us of Christ’s full humanity, that the Son of God became so frail, so weak, so human, that He needed to sleep. What humility! What love!
9. God teaches us about salvation
How much are you doing when you sleep? Nothing!
That’s why Jesus used rest as an illustration of His salvation.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).
10. God teaches us about heaven
There remains a rest for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). That doesn’t mean heaven is going to be one long lie-in. It means it will be a place of renewal, refreshment, comfort, and of perfect peace.
Hope this helps you sleep more soundly – and have a sounder theology.
William Still Rhythms of Work and Rest