Today’s reading is drawn from Psalm 121:4 and Psalm 3:5.
The one activity we do more than any other is sleep. About one-third of each day and one-third of our lives is spent sleeping. Sleep is so essential to the functioning of our bodies that we will die if we go too long without it. But the importance of sleep is not limited to our physical functions — sleep is also a spiritual activity.
Sleep is a spiritual reminder — Everyone sleeps, but our heavenly Father never does (see Psalm 121:4). Sleep is therefore a daily reminder that we are not God. “Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness,” says John Piper. “The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.”*
Sleep is an act of spiritual trust — We are never more physically vulnerable than when we are sleeping. Although most of us live in relative safety, for many people throughout history —including David in his flight from Absalom — to sleep was to place oneself at the mercy of one’s enemies.
Sleep is an earthly picture of a spiritual reality — In Scripture, sleep is frequently used as a metaphor for death. For instance, Jesus confused his disciples concerning Lazarus by using the euphemism of Lazarus being asleep — which the disciples took literally (see John 11). Death is described as sleep, especially for believers (see 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4), while the resurrection is sometimes described as waking from sleep (see Job 14:12).**
Sleep as spiritual preparation —One of the most overlooked aspects of spiritual formation is simply getting enough sleep. As John Ortberg says, “I have discovered I have a very hard time thinking and feeling and acting like Jesus when I lack sleep.” Sleep is a form of spiritual preparation that equips us to follow where Christ leads.***
PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: Sleep is essential for both our physical health and our spiritual development.
* John Piper, “A Brief Theology of Sleep,” Desiring God, August 3, 1982, http://www. desiringgod.org/articles/a-brief-theology-of-sleep.
** Jason McMartin, “Sleep, Sloth, and Sanctification,” Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 6, no. 2 (2014): 255 – 72.
*** John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).