We often hear in church the importance of relying on God’s strength to find rest through quiet time, prayer, reading the Bible and worship. But we never hear anything about finding physical rest through sleep.
When we think of God’s viewpoint on sleep, we tend to remember Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while his disciples are supposed to stay up and keep watch. Under the stress of his forthcoming crucifixion, Jesus returns to his disciples only to find them sleeping and remarks, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). We translate this scene to mean that if we fully rely on God, we’d never need sleep, and that spending time in prayer and solitude with God is more important than gaining physical rest.
One of my friends has been falling asleep during her morning quiet time with God. She’s really frustrated with herself because she thinks that she should be able to find the strength to stay awake as she’s praying. She’s certainly not the only person who falls asleep while praying. So, through thoughtful conversation we considered either she wasn’t fully focused on God, allowing Satan to distract her OR she really just needs rest. It is possible that God wants to give her the gift of a little more sleep.
We’re human and need sleep. But, we live in a society that pulls us away from sleep. Satan is trying to convince us that we can operate on our own strength and not need the strength of God to go about our day. He persuades us into believing that we can handle late nights and multiple tasks without proper rest.
So, maybe a more appropriate scripture on requiring sleep can be found in the Old Testament. With his life being threatened, Elijah runs until he can’t run anymore. Out of pure exhaustion, he lay under a tree and told God, “I have had enough.” 1 Kings 19: 5-8 reads, “Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” After the exhaustion of life overpowered Elijah, the only times he woke up was when an angel touched him to feed him.
Elijah had been running from evil and taking a stand for God, so he needed rest and time to recuperate. He also needed this time of physical rest to prepare for another major trial in his life.
It’s easy to think a good night of sleep is enough to build up the strength we need to move forward in life. Or, we think sleeping in on Saturday mornings is enough extra slumber to help us recuperate from the pressures of this world. But, if experiencing a heavy burden in life, one that is too significant to bear on our own, physical sleep should be a requirement. When God is preparing us to face a major battle, we will need to rest in order to build up strength for the journey ahead. We can’t live life without it, and we certainly can’t perform our best for the Lord without proper rest and care for our bodies. God will give us the time we need to care for ourselves as we face hardship.
Now, a lot of people sleep too much because they’re lazy. And people do sleep more than necessary because they’re operating on their own strength rather than Gods. Relying on human strength instead of God’s strength requires more physical rest because we use more energy as opposed to tapping into the energy of the Spirit. There are certainly some teenagers who sleep more than they should for the sake of “growing.” Realistically sleep is imperative to our spiritual life and ability to serve God.
While you have the extra time this summer, evaluate your own sleep patterns. Develop an awareness of how you utilize the Spirit and find the proper rest, whether through sleep or during quality time with God. We feel our best when we have a strong, healthy body that is closely in tune with God. Work toward making this a daily reality of your life, not just when you have time for proper rest.