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The Paradox of Spiritual Sleepiness

By July 14, 2016April 23rd, 2022Discipleship5 min read

There is something within us that knows we need sleep (I rub my red eyes and yawn as I write this), but we seem to be living in a time when sleep evades us. (Now I’m looking for my coffee!) Sometimes it’s due to overworking, stress, insomnia, incredibly captivating TV or even social media. There can be other factors too like jet lag or having a newborn baby in a small apartment. It takes time to master the unreasonable demands of most lifestyles today. Time that many would prefer spent sleeping.

Lack of sleep can slow us down, distort our thinking or make us less efficient at work.

Yet, organizing our schedules to include sleep is not so easy. Recently, this idea became real to me, as I was working on a Bible study for a memorial service, while going through jet lag! That’s when I realized what lack of sleep does in our physical lives; spiritual sleep does in our walk with Jesus. Spiritual sleepiness, however, isn’t always a sign of lacking motivation or laziness, actually it’s possible to be physically active, even stressed out busy, all the while experiencing spiritual slumber.

Here is a verse that I believe sheds some light on the subject. Romans 13:11, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” The phrase “and this do” is referring to the context talking about love. We owe a debt of love to one another because of the infinite love God poured out on us in sending Jesus to die in our place. So we should be loving in the way the Gospel leads us, knowing as the apostle says what time it is, or as Wuest wrote, “knowing this is the strategic time.”

This says to me that it’s the strategic time to love my neighbor as myself and to pray for my enemies, because its time to awake out of sleep in view of the coming end.

Paul was speaking to a known active church. Rome was the center of the world, people were busy, and still Paul speaks about waking up. It’s a paradox. One can be busy and yet be called to spiritual alertness. Why? Because in the view of love, but also in view of the fact that the day of redemption is closer than ever. We are one day closer to Jesus’ return. We are one day closer to our last day on earth.

I believe we can feel the tension in the air that the world is on the edge of something. For my friends in the US, we see it in this election year, on the news, in the weather and even in sports like the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA championship! Something is happening. In Europe, we see it with immigration, political and social upheaval like the Brexit and extreme weather conditions. This strategic time seems like a palpable feeling even for non-believers as if we are, again, on the edge of something. Yet it’s that very same feeling that can push us into the paradoxical spiritual slumber we mentioned earlier. Worry, busyness, activity, goals and leisure can fill our time and thoughts to the point where we can’t think. They can fill our dreams until we can’t sleep or fill our hearts until we can’t feel. It’s at times like these we can become susceptible to temptations that on any other day might not have bothered us. A little look here, a little bite there, just another little payment… Before long, we can find ourselves physically worn out from activity and spiritually asleep.

The difficulty for me is that remaining spiritually awake often requires times of stillness.

Quite honestly, when I’m in a stressed out state of mind, times of stillness puts me right back to sleep. Sometimes taking a nap is exactly what’s needed, a sort of reboot for my mind. I’ve also learned to take a walk, read my Bible and pray out loud but fight my body and my schedule to be still. I think of Elijah learning to listen to the still small voice on Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19:12. It would be easier to hear God in the fire or the earthquake; sometimes He does speak that way, but not always. Maybe that’s why sometimes we mistake His voice. One thing is sure for the listener; He always seems to know the right way to speak to our hearts. The quiet times of deep devotion bring new spiritual insight that helps to see the bigger picture. It takes training, and staying awake takes time.

In the end, how do I know if I’m asleep, because if I am, the question is: Would I be awake enough to even ask the question? I think of a verse in Isaiah that speaks about a rebellious people stopping their running from God and returning to Him. Isaiah 30:15, “For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’” Maybe if we are always running physically but never resting spiritually, we may just be asleep. Having written all of this, I’ve really got to get back to that coffee.

Mike Dente is the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Paris located in Paris, France. He received a Master of Theology from Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence, France and is continuing his studies as a doctoral student (D.Min.) at Western Seminary.