In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I’d begun reading The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. One of entries I read most recently caught my attention:
BLESSED CREATOR, Thou hast promised thy beloved sleep; Give me restoring rest needful for tomorrow’s toil; If dreams be mine, let them be tinged not with evil. Let thy Spirit make my time of repose a blessed temple of his holy presence.
May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death, the bed I approach remind me of the grave, the eyes I now close picture to me their final closing. Keep me always ready, waiting for admittance into thy presence. Weaken my attachment to earthly things. May I hold my life loosely in my hand, knowing that I receive it on condition of its surrender; As pain and suffering betoken transitory health, may I not shrink back from a death that introduces me to the freshness of eternal youth. I retire this night in full assurance of one day awaking with thee. All glory for this precious hope, for the gospel of grace, for thine unspeakable gift of Jesus, for the fellowship of the Trinity. Withhold not thy mercies in the night season; thy hand never wearies, thy power needs no repose, thine eye never sleeps.
Help me when I helpless lie; when my conscience accuses me of sin, when my mind is harassed by foreboding thoughts, when my eyes are held awake by personal anxieties.
Show thyself to me as the God of all grace, love and power; thou hast a balm for every wound, a solace for all anguish, a remedy for every pain, a peace for all disquietude. Permit me to commit myself to thee awake or asleep.
We’re often told how important a healthy sleep pattern is to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. I remember hearing that the average human needs eight hours of sleep per night to function to his full potential. But in reality, it seems as though each person is different – some need more, or less sleep than others. I try to get seven hours of sleep per night – and now that we have a child in school, we’ve been more disciplined about making sure the kids get plenty of sleep as well.
After reading this entry, I also found myself thinking of all the stories in the Bible that feature sleep. When God created Eve from Adam’s rib, God put Adam to sleep before the operation. After he drinks too much and falls asleep, Noah is shamed by one of his sons (a somewhat similar instance of sin occurs when Lot falls asleep after drinking too much as well). Passages in the Book of Proverbs warn us against the love of sleep, to the point of laziness and poverty. David had the opportunity to get revenge on Saul while he slept, but showed mercy. When Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal, he mocks their unresponsive “god” by suggesting that he might just be taking a nap. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us “not to let the sun go down” (i.e., go to sleep) while we are still angry. Much to his disciples’ dismay, Jesus peacefully sleeps in the stern of a boat while they fear for their lives in a storm. He warns his disciples to “stay awake” as they wait for his second coming after his death and resurrection. Ironically, not long after he issues that teaching, Jesus finds these same disciples asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest. Sleep is featured repeatedly in Scripture.
But as we think about the entry above from The Valley of Vision, we see four main observations about sleep:
- Sleep is a gift from God. Be thankful for the opportunities God gives you to rest – including the bed you sleep on, the walls around you, and the roof over your head. Not everyone gets to sleep as well (or as much) as you do.
- Our need for sleep reminds us of our weakness and mortality. It’s good, healthy, and humbling to remember that we are finite human beings who need rest. It’s no coincidence that sleep deprivation is commonly used as a form of torture, and can eventually lead to death. We are not God; we need to sleep. And that’s OK.
- Sleep is an exercise in trust. Bad things certainly can happen to us while we sleep – so when we lie down and close our eyes, we are placing our security in God’s hands.
- Believers in Jesus know that when our eyes close for good in this life, we will awake in God’s presence. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul addresses a church concerned about the fate of fellow believers who have already died. Paul reassures the living believers that “those who have fallen asleep” (i.e., believers who have died before Christ’s return) will experience the joys of salvation in all their fullness. Because of Christ, we too can be confident that our final sleep in this life is only the beginning of our eternal rest.
Thanks be to God that even though we need sleep, he doesn’t. He’s the all-powerful, eternal King of the universe – the one who sees everything when we close our eyes.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.