I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Many a road and track
That, since the dawn’s first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.
Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.
The tall forest towers;
– “Lights Out” by Edward Thomas
In life, the activities one may participate in are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Such being the case, an activity that is familiar to me may be quite foreign to you, and vice versa. I have never participated in an organized sport, hiked up a mountain, or sang in front of a crowd. On the other hand, I have played croquet in my front yard, climbed to the top of an ancient ruin, and played “Pomp & Circumstance” on the piano at a high school graduation. We’re all different; we each come with different interests and different opportunities afforded to us. However, one activity (or inactivity, rather?) that every one of us participates in is sleeping.
From the laziest sloth to the most industrious workhorse, sleep overtakes all of us at one point or another. Some seem to need very little sleep to function, while others can never seem to get enough sleep (I fall into this category)…but everybody and every body must have some sleep in order to operate. Physical sleep is a blessing from the Lord to refresh our weary bodies and prepare us for the new day ahead. Like any blessing, we might overuse it and abuse it…but that is not our topic for today. In fact, today’s lesson is not about physical sleep at all; but rather, spiritual sleep. A siesta from the Spirit. A respite from religion. A break from the Book.
Edward Thomas typifies spiritual sleep well in his poem. He speaks of a sleep so inviting that many give up all that is significant to enter therein – in the end, one loses his way and loses himself. This thought should be sobering. Is it indeed possible that you or I are in a spiritual state of slumber? Let us consider four signs of sleep. If we are exhibiting any of the telltale signs, it’s time to wake up!
The first telltale sign of sleep is:
As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed. – Proverbs 26:14
Sleeping, in the physical sense, is a time of rest and relaxation for our mind and body. We put all tasks aside and leave them lay at least until we resume wakefulness. Before we fall asleep at night, our mind may wander to all the duties that still need to be done…but once the sandman comes along, all thoughts of work are put on hold until we rise. Moderate rest is healthful and needful; but if one were to sleep incessantly (to the neglect of the morning’s duties) they would quickly find themselves with no motivation, no money, and a strained family life.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man. – Proverbs 24:33-34
Consider the implications of a prolonged rest from spiritual responsibilities. We can likewise lose our motivation (our sense of belonging and purpose in God’s kingdom), our money (the increase in our spirit and the spirits of others we influence), and a strained family life (being at odds with the brethren for our lack of faithful participation in the work of the church).
What would it look like to be awake to our responsibilities, as opposed to sleeping on the job? Does being wakeful mean that one must never cozy up on the couch with a good book, play a game with their family, or take a trip to the mall with a friend? That every moment must be spent either a) being in worship service, b) praying and reading God’s word, or c) seeking and saving the lost? Not so; even Jesus had need of a breather from time to time (see Luke 6:31FF). However, even during His downtime He was always “on call” for the needs of others, and His spiritual outlook never wavered. For us, being wakeful may look like…
Giving our undivided attention to our spouse and/or children even though we have busied ourselves with something else presently. It may look like staying up a little late Saturday night because we want to fine tune our bible class for the following morning. It may look like sending a verse and a word of encouragement to that one Facebook friend that always seems depressed. It may look like going above and beyond to serve your cranky coworker. None of these things are huge spiritual feats by any means, but it’s all these little things that make up one worthwhile life. Let us be awake and alert for the cause of Christ, and not rest from our responsibilities.
Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread. – Proverbs 20:13
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls. – Proverbs 25:28
When our physical selves are sleeping, we often do things that are out of character for us, and yet completely out of our control. We may sleepwalk, sleep talk, snore, flail about, change positions, and hit the snooze button on our alarm clock without any awareness of having done such. When a loved one brings our strange sleep behavior to our attention, we may be shocked. “I did what?!”
What if we act out accidentally in our spirit? If we allow ourselves to lose control of our actions, who knows what kind of strange and sinful behavior we might display next. We might walk to places we shouldn’t, talk in a manner unfit for a Christian, flail about when angry, change our doctrinal positions, and hit the snooze button on God!
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. – Romans 6:12
It seems ludicrous to think of “acting out accidentally”, but it happens easily when we are filled with self rather than His spirit. I’ve often heard the example of a sponge…when squeezed it simply reveals whatever was inside; and it’s the same way with humans. When we are “squeezed” whatever is inside of us will assuredly make its way to the surface.
When someone offends you, do you burst out with sudden rage? When you find someone attractive, do you gawk at them with lust? When you hurt yourself, does a swear word fly out of your mouth? When the preacher is preaching, do your thoughts wander? These are telltale signs that you have fallen asleep. A Christian ought to be in control of their flesh, but too often the flesh is in control of the Christian! Often this is the result of not enough time in God’s word. Scripture has the power to transform our mind, and the more we fill our thoughts with that which is good and true, the less susceptible we will be to sudden outbursts of sin. Let us take control of our actions so we never act out accidentally.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. – John 1:4-5
Physically speaking, when one is sleeping; there is little more obnoxious and intrusive than light shining into the eyes. The darker the room, the worse the light hurts our eyes and the more we want to crawl under the covers and shoo away the culprit who flipped on the light switch.
It is the same way spiritually. When our soul is in deep darkness, we hate for light to shine upon it. It is our nature to “cover” up what is wrong in us, rather than to ‘fess up. We tend to get angry and defensive when someone puts the spotlight on our faults, when what should be doing is opening our eyes and making a change.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, they are wrought in God. – John 3:19-21
If we are of a truthful spirit, we will push through the initial pain of the light shining in our eyes, and adjust our eyes out of the darkness. Just as it is with sleeping in the flesh, it may take a bit to get accustomed to the light after being in darkness for a while, but it won’t be long until the pain is replaced with total acceptance and adjustment. Don’t let a few temporary moments of discomfort keep you from the eternal light of Christ’s love. Humble yourself to see when you are in the wrong, and make a change. True believers do not loathe the light, they love it.
Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. – Ephesians 5:14
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas
For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. – Ecclesiastes 5:7 (NASB)
We all know the feeling of waking up after an invigorating dream…just before it ends. So disappointing. No matter how hard we try to fall asleep to finish the scene, the dream will not return. What’s more, as we go on with our day; the dream that was so vivid when we first awoke fades from our senses until it is little more than a fuzzy memory. How we wish we could fall back asleep to relive it, but it slips from our grasp.
Spiritually speaking, it can likewise be tempting to chase after dreams as opposed to reality. Perhaps we stumble across a Bible truth that was foreign to us before, and it rubs us the wrong way. What is our reaction? Do we align ourselves with God’s word anyway? Or do we shun reality in favor of falling back into our more agreeable dream? There are many dreamers out there, who form their beliefs on dreams instead of the truth of God’s word. We must not be grouped among them. Dreams leave us empty and unsatisfied.
It shall even be as when a hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetitite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion. – Isaiah 29:8
We must be very careful with the teachings we allow to enter our hearts; whether they be by way of religious writings such as tracts and devotionals, or televangelists, preachers, friends, family, or any other means. Measure all you take in by the standard of God’s word. If it doesn’t match up, then out it goes. Let us live in the reality of God’s truth, not in a dream of man’s making.
I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. – Jeremiah 23:25-28
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come – Shakespeare, Hamlet
Do you rest from responsibilities? Do you act out accidentally? Do you loathe the light? Do you desire to dream? If so, I’m afraid that you may have fallen asleep on the Christian’s job. It’s time to wake up! Consider this your call, my friend.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. – 1 Thessalonians 4:5-6
For God’s Glory,
Chelsea Bolks is a church of Christ minister’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.