The morning after a long-ago overnight road trip, one of my sons insisted he hadn’t slept in the car. We had seen him, head down, eyes closed, a small blanket over him. But we couldn’t convince him he had, indeed, been asleep. I thought perhaps he had just dreamed he was awake, or he didn’t have a sense of the length of time before he dozed off.
Recently, I had a similar experience. I woke up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom, and came back just a little too awake to fall right back to sleep. I set an album to play on my phone, laid down, closed my eyes, probably prayed and thought for a while. A few hours later, my alarm went off, and I was frustrated that I had spent all that time awake. “I have things to do today. I can’t afford to take a nap, and I don’t want to drag through the day like a zombie,” I chafed inwardly.
But then I realized—the album was a familiar one, and I didn’t remember hearing the latter half of it. And though I felt I had been awake for too long, I didn’t have the sense that it had actually been 3-4 hours. I didn’t feel rested. I didn’t feel like I had been asleep. But I must have been.
Of course, we’re not usually aware we’re asleep until we wake up. Too often I’ve embarrassed myself by jerking awake after dozing off in church. I remember studying my notes from college lectures only to find them increasingly illegible, tapering off into a squiggly line, evidence of forgotten naps. The dream world we’re in seems real until we wake up and recount how weird it all was.
This reminds me just a little of Samson’s situation with Delilah. A judge of Israel, Samson was renowned for his strength. His enemies bribed Delilah to find out how Samson could be defeated. She pleaded, begged, wept, “pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that he was a Nazarite from birth and had never cut his hair. “If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man“. So while he was asleep, Delilah had his head shaved. “And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (verse 20). The Philistines took their advantage, captured him, gouged his eyes out, and imprisoned him.
Samson’s problem was not that he had been asleep on Delilah’s lap while she sabotaged his strength. His problem was that he had been asleep spiritually for most of his life. He was called to be a leader of his people. But he was self-willed, self-indulgent, vengeful, disobedient, immoral. Maybe Samson thought he was immune from punishment since he was a judge. God had been with him and used him, and perhaps Samson mistook God’s grace and longsuffering for approval.
God does not leave believers in our day, not since the Holy Spirit was poured forth after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But believers can certainly be sleepy spiritually, drifting off when they should be fully alert. We go forth like normal, unaware that our strength is gone. That could happen because of sin that we’re harboring rather than confessing to the Lord. Or it could happen because we’ve neglected time in prayer and the Bible. Or we’ve been lulled into cozy complacency.
God gives rest to His people. Spiritually, we rest in Him all the time. Physically, he provides rest at night and on the Lord’s day.
But then there are times to be fully awake and alert.
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. Mark 13:32-37.
For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9.
Usually, if we’re asleep, we need something outside ourselves to wake us up: an alarm clock, another person, a wake-up call. God sends us wake-up calls in His Word:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14.
Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:34.
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelation 3:2.
Fleeing from God’s will, Jonah slept in a boat, not realizing he was in trouble. A “mighty tempest” threatened to break up the ship. The captain found Jonah and said, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:1-6).
We’ve all experienced sleeping through the time we should have gotten up. Then we’re late to class or work, or we’re behind all day. Some people in the Bible missed out on important things because they slept. When Jesus went to Gethsemane, just before He was arrested, he took Peter, James, and John with Him and told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). But a short while later, “he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. The same passage in Luke says they were “sleeping for sorrow.” And Jesus said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (verses 40-41). Not only did the disciples miss an opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in His lowest hour, but they weren’t fortified for the trials to come. They fled when Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied Him.
In an even worse predicament were the ten virgins in the parable of Matthew 25 (see here for more explanation and background of this parable). They were waiting for the call to go to a wedding. They all fell asleep, but five were prepared when the call came. Five others were not ready, but needed oil for their lamps. They had to go out to buy more and missed the Bridegroom’s coming. When they tried to get in to the feast, they were turned away. Jesus’ point in this parable: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (verse 13).
If you don’t know the Savior, please read what it means to know Jesus, so you’ll ready for His coming. For those who know Him, let’s be awake spiritually, doing His will, looking for His coming.
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, Happy Now, Hearth and Soul, InstaEncouragement,
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I had a scary experience like Samson’s behind the wheel of my car a couple years ago, driving home from a speaking engagement in Massachusetts. I was almost home, landing in familiar territory, and suddenly I realized I was driving with my eyes closed.
Needless to say, I jolted wide awake, and was grateful to still be on the road.
That was a cautionary moment for me on many levels!
I’ve almost fallen asleep at the wheel, too, and it’s so scary. I’m thankful God wakes us up and keeps us safe!
I can’t explain it, but I was just like your son when I was a child; I would deny that I had been asleep. I was just “resting my eyes.” ha. And I do the same thing as you as an adult: I’ll think I’ve been awake forever, but I realize that the podcast I was listening to has now advanced to two more without me hearing a word.
I’ve read that one of the greatest ills is to be spiritually. I want to be fully awake and alert to his presence. Great post, Barbara.
Thanks, Lisa. I’m glad to know we’re not alone. 🙂 It’s so easy to get drowsy–physically and spiritually.
Lots of good food for thought! You’re right, we can often feel like our nighttime wakefulness lasts longer than it really does. And we do seem to lose sight of a lot in those half-asleep times, more than we would when we’re awake and alert. Yet it’s so easy to dose off — kind of like the frog in the pot of hot water. Many parallels to Christian life, and this encourages me to pray for alertness and to try to do better in that regard.
That frog is another good illustration–it’s so easy to grow complacent and unaware of the danger.
I’ve jerked awake a time or two in church, too ;). Great food for thought, Barbara. It’s easy to get complacent in our little corners and not pay attention to wake up calls. We especially need to be alert to the wiles of the evil one. He’s sneaky.
He sure is. I’m thankful God persists in waking us up.
So many good thoughts to ponder today, and I thank you for that. I pray that I would be fully awake spiritually and sensitive to His voice each and every day. Blessings!
Thank you, Joanne. That is my prayer, too.
A great message. The late J. Vernon McGee once said that he thought the prosperity of our country had lulled Christians to sleep.
Thank you, Deb. It’s funny, everyone wants prosperity but we’re not alert to its dangers.
I love all the different biblical illustrations here and your use of Scripture! Thank you!
Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!
Thank you, Patsy!
Wow! This was such a powerful revelation (and conviction): “His problem was that he had been asleep spiritually for most of his life.” I can relate to that in seasons of my life.
Me, too, Rebecca. I’m thankful for God’s longsuffering and persistence in waking us up.
Very well written and explained! I’ve always wondered just what we were to learn from Samson, and I think this was it!
Great thoughts today. The idea of falling asleep physically is scary especially if it like Michele described above. But the thought of falling asleep spiritually is one I don’t want to entertain at all. I want to not only trust in God but believe He is everything I need.
The illustration of Samson being spiritually asleep for most of his life is so good. We can live spiritually unaware in this world and that is a dangerous thing. We desperately need to be in tune with the Lord, hearing the Spirit’s wind-words, following His lead. That takes intentionality! Thanks for sharing!
I thoroughly enjoyed your insightful exploration of sleep in the Bible. I’ve been thinking a lot about complacency and apathy lately, so this was a timely read. Thank you!
What a great post! I love a good sleep, but not in my spiritual life. It’s good to do a quick soul check and make sure we haven’t been dozing off!
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I remember a few times that I didn’t remember driving home from work at the end of a long day. I always wonder if my brain just decided to take a mental nap while also doing to bare minimum to keep me alive in the car. #GlobalBlogging
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