Here’s an obvious statement: you’re probably not getting enough sleep. If the statistics are correct, a whopping one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, and a shocking 75% report sleep problems. Among pastors, church volunteers, and religious workers, these numbers may be higher. Thom Rainer reports that many pastors only sleep around six hours per night. This is a big problem, and one which we must seriously address.
God Needs You?
There is a mistaken notion among many Christians, especially leaders, that God needs us. In fact, without us, we tend to think that the Kingdom work might crumble and fall. Although we may not explicitly say it, we act as if the more work we do for God, the more we please Him. The more diligent we are during our ever-increasing waking hours, the better things will be in eternity. There are souls to win to Jesus. There are hungry people to feed. There are worship songs to be rehearsed. There are Bible studies to plan for. There are a million things that Christians must do! However, we should serve God out of love and gratitude, not slavish self-imposed legalism.
Should you really skimp on sleep in order to “do more” for God?
God is for Sleep
When Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary…I will give you rest,” He really meant it (Matthew 11:28). When God rested after creating the universe, He did it for our example, not because He was tired out. When God instituted a regimented series of rests for the Israel nation, He did it for their own good. God protects us so we can sleep (Psalm 4:8). And in order to make it clear, He said: ”In vain you rise early and stay up late…[God] grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2). It’s pretty safe to say that God is for sleep.
Then why are we often so against it? Why do we reject it, deny it, and basically not get enough of it? Why do we deprive ourselves of a gift and a necessity that God graciously gives?
Why We’re Against Sleep
Some of us don’t get enough sleep because we simply cannot due to our life circumstances. Whether because of medical conditions, kids, jobs, or other factors, some people can’t get their necessary sleep because of these outside constraints. Others of us, who have control over when we go to bed and when we get up, should consider these factors:
- The Desire for Control. Lynn Casteel Harper, in an article on sleep, wrote “The need for sleep challenges our obsession with control. Sleep forces us to let go. So much is beyond our control while we sleep.” Her point is, “spiritual dynamics might lurk beneath this epidemic” of inadequate sleep. When we sleep we are “aren’t little godlike keepers of every aspect of our lives,” we are vulnerable, weak, mortal. Can this vulnerability and weakness be a good thing? Apparently so (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). Although we sleep, God does not (Psalm 121:4-5). That’s the whole reason we can sleep—because God is our protector and keeper. Our lack of control, even as we sleep, is a grateful reminder of His all-controlling power. Meditating on that truth will probably give you a better night’s sleep.
- The Delusion of Productivity. When we get up early and go to bed late, we think we’re being productive. When I was in high school, I remember reading a book on self-discipline. I read these lines from Longfellow: ”Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.” So, in an effort to cultivate productivity and self-discipline, I stayed up later, got up earlier, and probably shaved a few years off my life. When we think that sleep is overrated, we are either endowed with a supernatural ability to need less sleep, or more likely, we’re just deluded. We cannot be truly productive if we are sleep deprived. The less sleep we get, the poorer we function. Despite your coffee intake or Red Bull consumption, you’re doing your body and your ministry a disservice by denying sleep.
What We Should Do About Our Lack of Sleep
The problem we’re facing is one where the solution seems apparent. Obviously, we just need to get more sleep. This is, of course, easier said than done. Some of us face legitimate medical sleep problems. Some of us face high stress levels. Some of us face jam-packed schedules. Although there is no easy solution, there are a few things that each of us can do:
- Meditate on God’s protection, power, and wisdom. Meditation isn’t a quick-fix sleep pill. Nonetheless, contemplating God’s character in contrast to our weakness can give our soul the repose we need to sleep more and to sleep better.
- Adjust your schedule, and eliminate the unnecessary in order to sleep more/better. Some activities, spiritual as they may seem, are not more important than sleep. We must honestly face up to our schedules, and realize that extra Bible study, soulwinning, church activity, or fellowship with Christians may be counterproductive. If an activity, holy as it seems, is cutting into our sleep, it is compromising our body and weakening our ministry.
- Rethink your “need to relax.” We all need to relax. Recreation and relaxation are significance needs of the human body. But so is sleep. Here’s the problem. When our “relaxing” cuts into our sleep, we are doing ourself a disservice. Is watching a movie until 12am really relaxing? Is staying up late with friends really relaxing? Perhaps getting to bed at 9:30p will be a lot more relaxing. Relaxation can easily turn into a sleep-depriver instead of a sleep-inducer. It’s important to relax, but don’t do so at the cost of sleep.
Sleep is not a waste of time, unless, of course, you’re doing way too much of it. Sleep is an investment in your body’s health and wellbeing, which renders you of greater service to God. Don’t compromise your ministry — your health, your family, and your spiritual life — by purposely sacrificing sleep.