Monday, August 13, 2007

A Sermon About Sleeping

“This Sermon is…Yawn…Going to Sleep”
August 12, 2007
Pastor Ted Weis
Little River Congregational Church

Today you’re going to hear a sermon about a topic that I bet you’ve never before heard addressed in church. If you listen to preachers on the radio, I’ll bet you’ve never heard them talk about this topic either.

And yet, you will devote about 1/3 of your entire lifetime doing this particular activity. In fact, it’s likely that at one time, you’ve done this activity in the middle of a church service.

Today’s sermon…yawn…is about sleep.

And someone in the pews said to themselves, “Finally, a sermon about what sermons do to me!”

On Thursday I told Jean Galyon that my sermon was about sleep and she responded, “Don’t put us to sleep.”

So why talk about sleep? With all the great issues— like sin and salvation—heaven and hell—that need to be preached— and will be preached from this pulpit, why should we take a Sunday to talk about something as mundane as sleep?

Well, consider this: You will spend about 1/3 of your time on earth snoozing away. For example, if you live 75 years, you will spend about 25 of those years sound asleep. Often in church we talk about the time we are awake— the 2/3 of our life. But is God the Lord over 2/3 of our life or is He Lord over all of our life?

During my two weeks of vacation time, I slept in nearly every day. It felt great. After waking up late one morning, I got to wondering, “Does God in His Word have anything important to say about sleep?” Now that I’m back at work, I did a little study on the subject.

So as we reach the end of summer— the traditional time we carve out time for a little extra sleep— and get ready to start the school year—where we apply ourselves to a disciplined sleep routine— let’s take one Sunday to think about what God’s Word has to say about sleep— that 1/3 part of our life that rarely gets considered.

The first question I wonder about is this: “Lord, why do we need sleep? Why are we— and much of the animal world— made this way?” Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t give any explanation. My best guess is that sleep is simply part of God’s ordained rhythm and routine that God stamped into creation. In Genesis 1-2 we read that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day, God rested.

Sleep is part of the pattern God gave us. Sleep orders our time, divides our time, and gives energy to our waking time. Sleep is part of God’s created order— one aspect of creation that God declared, “Good.”

Physically, you know that sleep rests the body. But did you know that sleep also allows the body to grow and heal? For example, when the brain is idle and free from the duties of consciousness, the body's cells focus on growing, healing, and strengthening the immune system.

With school getting started this week, students should note that those who get a good night’s sleep tend to perform better on tests than those who stay up all night to cram. When your body is asleep, your brain is storing and ordering the information you’ve gathered during your waking hours— what scientists call memory processing. This is also why sometimes you go to bed with a problem and wake up with the solution.

Sleep is very much a physical activity— an earthy activity. We all need it. And even Jesus slept. In Matthew 8 and Mark 4, the Gospels tell us of that time when, after a long day of preaching to the crowds, Jesus was in a boat— deep in sleep.

Unlike some religions— that claim the body is inherently evil, utterly useless, or something to be escaped—the Judeo-Christian faith teaches great respect for the human body. The body is something God made good. At Christmas, when Jesus came down from heaven to earth, he came in human form. As the carol “Away In the Manger” says, “The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

The body is physical, but it is spiritual as well. What you do with your body and how you take care of your body matters to God. The Apostle Paul tells believers in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, whom you received from God.”

So for the remainder of this sleepy little message, let’s consider five spiritual principals surrounding the physical activity of sleep.

Here’s the first— and it has to do with everything you do leading up to bedtime. How you live in the day affects how you sleep at night. In Proverbs 3:21-24, the wise father urges his son to live according to godly wisdom. He says: “My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.” And then, the father tells his son the benefits: “Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

The story is told of a shoplifter who once wrote a department store and said, “I've just become a Christian, and I can't sleep at night because I feel guilty. So here's $100 that I owe you.” Then he cryptically signed his name. And in a little postscript at the bottom he added, “And if I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest.”

Here’s the Good News from Proverbs: Obey God in the daytime and it’ll lead to better sleep in the nighttime.

Here’s the second principal from Scripture about sleep: When it’s time for bed, take the time to pray.

When I was a child, I prayed the prayer that I now teach my children: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”

Psalm 4 is a bedtime prayer. After a long distressful day, David turns to God before he goes to bed. In verse 1, David pleads with God for relief from his problems: “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” At the end, verse 8, David has found his hope in God and so he declares, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Before you go to bed, take the time to pray.

The next truth you’ll hear about sleep is one that surprised me. It’s surprising because my bet is most people don’t think about this aspect of their sleep, yet the Bible devotes significant time to it.

It’s that time between lying down on your bed and the time you eventually fall asleep. And so here’s the principal. # 3. What you think about in bed reveals the deepest longings of your heart. When you’re lying in bed, before you sleep, your mind is thinking about many things— and Scripture reveals it’s often the things you care about most.

It’s very interesting, the Bible often stops to observe this particular moment in bed, for it is there—lying in bed, that the heart ponders, meditates, and plots.

For example in Psalm 63:6-7, the psalmist echoes the thoughts of the righteous: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings." In contrast, Psalm 36:4 says about the wicked, that, “Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.”

In Today’s Christian Woman, Marilyn Fais says, “I recently wrote to a close friend explaining that I had problems sleeping at night. When her next letter arrived, I learned that she has this problem as well, but uses her wakefulness to pray for loved ones, listing her prayer concerns alphabetically by first names. Now as I drift off, lovingly praying for Adriana, Alan, Amelia, and Amy, I feel surrounded by loved ones and I smile. I'm not just counting sheep ... I'm counting His sheep.”

What do you think about as you lay in bed, before you sleep? Tonight, do as Psalm 4:4 suggests: “When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”

Eventually, you do fall asleep. And at some point in your sleep cycle, you dream. Here’s where we find principal # 4— Sometimes, God speaks to His people in dreams.

This is a fascinating truth—one that I can’t completely understand or explain. The ancient culture of the Egyptians and Babylonians were fascinated with dreams. But the Hebrew people, who wrote our Old Testament— and Christians in the New Testament— they were not so preoccupied with dreams. Still, the Bible has many stories where God speaks to people through dreams.

Ecclesiastes 5:3
tells us that, “dreams come when there are many cares.” Within those many cares, God speaks to people.

For example, in Genesis 28, Jacob sees a ladder reaching up to heaven. And on it, angels are going up and down. And in that vision, Jacob is assured of God’s presence. In 1 Kings 3, God in a dream asks Solomon what he wants as new king of Israel. Solomon says he needs wisdom. In response, God says, “I thought you were going to ask for riches, but since you asked for wisdom, I’ll give you both wisdom and riches.” In the Christmas story, Joseph is about to divorce Mary for infidelity, but in a dream God tells Joseph, “No,” it’s not as it appears. This situation is my doing. Mary is pure and righteous. Take her as your wife.” And in Matthew 27:19, as Pilate is about to condemn Jesus to death on a cross, his wife comes to him and says, “Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” Even today, Joel Rosenberg in his best selling book Epicenter claims that many Muslims are coming to faith in Christ through dreams—being convinced that Jesus Christ is God who came in human form, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and rose again.

It’s mysterious, but dreams are simply one of the ways that God uses to break into our world and speak to people. My only word of application here is this— if God speaks to you in a dream— you’ll know it!

After a time of sleep, we eventually wake up—and so this sermon has come full circle. Here then is a final principal about sleep: God gives you sleep, so you can serve God with strength. Psalm 3:5 declares, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” Proverbs 19:15 says, “Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry.” Psalm 127:2 declares that while the unbeliever toils day and night to get what he wants, the Lord provides for his people with a regular work day, “for He grants sleep to those He loves.”

The purpose of sleep is rest, but we should not covet sleep to the point of becoming lazy. God gives you sleep so you can have strength for work. So when the daylight comes and you get out of bed, serve the Lord with gladness.

I trust this sermon about sleep has kept you awake and made you think about your sleep and your habits leading up to bedtime. You heard five principals about sleep. Let me now take those five statements and wrap them into one big idea. Here it is: God cares about your sleep.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could be due to a moral problem— an issue of sin that you need to admit to God. Confess your sin and 1 John 1:9 promises that God will “forgive your sin and cleanse you of all unrighteousness.” Maybe you’re not sleeping well because you’re worrying about something. The problem is significant and for that reason, it’s a problem best given over to God. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33-34: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Or, it’s very possible that your sleeping problem does not have a moral component. Maybe it’s a physical problem— like sleep apnea or problems due to shift work. You might consider visiting your doctor and reviewing the condition of your bed and your bedroom.

Physical rest is important. God cares about your body’s rest. In addition, God also cares about your spirit’s rest.

Worries of the soul often take a toll on the body—and especially the ability to sleep well. Does your body and soul have the rest that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? He is the God that Psalm 121:4 declares, “Never slumbers or sleeps.” You can trust in His providential care.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us to Himself: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

That promise of rest— it’s for your soul— and it’s also for your body.

There’s an old prayer that the church of old has prayed for its sleep and dreams. I invite you pray it for yourself today:

“Be off, Satan, from this floor and from these four walls. This is no place for you; there is nothing for you to do here. This is the place for Peter and Paul and the holy Gospel; and this is where I mean to sleep now that my worship is done, in the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit.

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [God] send me your Spirit; instill the wisdom of your Holy Spirit into my heart; protect my soul and body, every limb in my body, every fiber of my being, from all possible harm and all traps the Devil may set for me and every temptation to sin. Teach me to give you thanks, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” [Euchologium Sinaiticum. "Worship in the Early Church," Christian History, Issue 37]


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