There are few things in life that sleep cannot fix. In my opinion, sleep is more effective than any medicine, more reviving than any hot shower, and more delicious than the most succulent roast chicken. When sleep evades me, I simply cannot function. It is a grace that I need every day to walk, talk, and blink.
But a good sleep enables far beyond the basic functions of life. When I have slept, I find it easier to be in a cheerful mood,allowing me to fight sin consciously, joyfully serve others, and be thankful for what God has done. Even so, I cannot help but question why God created us to desperately need sleep. Why could he not have made us to be awake 24 hours a day, when surely we could do so much with those 8 hours, that extra third of our life?
The greater purpose of sleep
It is incredible that God conceived the idea of sleep, when he never "slumbers nor sleeps" (Psalm 121). The God of the universe has never needed an afternoon nap, but has been awake for all eternity. In this respect, we are not made in his likeness at all. I think that is entirely the point. God created sleep to show us that we are not God.
John Piper articulately describes our condition, whereby God sends us to bed each day like a sick patient. Our sickness is not a bodily ailment (though God uses sleep to graciously heal those too). Rather, this sickness is "a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable". So once a day, we become a babbling, yawning mess who can manage nothing more than placing the kitchen knife in the fridge and the block of cheese in the knife drawer.
Through this mysterious parable of sleep we learn that we are not God. We are mere men who literally die without sleep, and God is the God who sovereignly governs the whole world, day and night, northern and southern hemisphere. He doesn't call us to work every hour of our days, he calls us to fall upon him in our weakness and rest in the trust we gain from knowing he is working round the clock as the perfectly discerning Father.
Psalm 127 flawlessly conveys what sleep teaches us:
"Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he (God) gives to his beloved sleep."
The gift of sleep
Sleep is a gift of love from God that keeps us from our vanity and anxious toil. Sleep is a gift of God to continually humble and point us to our need to rest in God, the one who never slumbers nor sleeps. He is not impressed by our early mornings and late nights striving to achieve our own purposes, but loves those who peacefully rest in his finished work on the cross for them.
The feeling of waking up after a dreamily tranquil sleep is unpatrolled, but what makes it exponentially better is realizing that even the waking up from your slumber is a grace of God. This is particularly true when going through a time of suffering in any form. David wrote in Psalm 3, "I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me".
In a particularly hard time in David's life, he humbled himself to sleep which could have physically left him at the mercy of his enemies. But the Lord sustained David, providing sleep and allowing him to overcome the fear of his enemies.
So take heart when you are exhausted beyond all physical, emotional and spiritual limits. God has given you sleep as a precious gift to show your weakness. Your possible lack of sleep is also a gracious gift, though a much more painful one, that shows your utter need for God to be your rock and your redeemer when the world feels as though it is crashing down in overtired waves.
As you slip into those hours of unconsciousness, do not take for granted that without the sustenance of the Lord, you would not awake. When we neglect to rest in God, we doubt his infallible character. Trust Him the night before your big exam, important interview, or wedding day. He will give you grace through sleep, and He will show you the most important lesson of all: you are mere man, and He is the ever-alert God.
Harriet Campbell has almost finished her Commerce and Arts degrees, and works for the New Zealand government. She volunteers at Wellington Zoo, where she most enjoys watching the lions laze about and the tarantulas devour their prey.
Harriet Campbell's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/harriet-campbell.html