I woke up in the wee hours this morning and found myself thinking about sleep. Mostly I was thinking that I would much rather experience sleep than think about it, but since that wasn’t happening, I found myself wondering about the purpose of sleep. I’ve been fighting insomnia for a couple of years now and it has been an uphill battle. I have been told that you don’t appreciate all your big toes do for you until you misplace one of them and suddenly find that you can barely walk. I guess the same is true of sleep–having it taken away generates a new level of appreciation. It also generates questions.
This morning I found myself wondering why we sleep. What’s the point of it? Obviously there are physical reasons, but there must be an underlying spiritual reason that God has made us beings who need sleep. We spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, or, at least, we should spend that much of our lives sleeping. That is remarkable. God must have a purpose behind any activity that consumes so much of our time. I am sure that God could have created us as sleepless beings who could be productive all day and all night, but he chose not to. He created us and he created sleep and he created a relationship between the two.
It came to me that the fundamental reality of sleep is that it assures us that we are not God. Apparently we all need the ongoing reminder. Psalm 127:2 says “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” We need sleep, and peaceful sleep is a good gift of a good God. Meanwhile, Psalm 121 says “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” We need sleep; God does not. Rather, the unsleeping God grants sleep to the people he loves, the people who need it so badly.
I find myself in good company here. Here is what John Piper says in an article from all the way back in 1982:
Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day. How humiliating to the self-made corporate executive that he has to give up all control and become as limp as a suckling infant every day.
Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Don’t let the lesson be lost on you. God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps.
For some reason he has not granted me a lot of it lately and I don’t know why that is. I don’t feel like I am particularly anxious and when I lie awake at night it is with a busy mind, not an anxious one. I have tried to do things by the book–minimizing caffeine, exercising, avoiding television before bed, and so on. But as often as not, I fall asleep quickly and wake up just a few hours later, having gotten only a small portion of the sleep I need. I am hesitant to interpret this kind of providence, but I see it as God’s way of reminding me of my own weakness. I am so utterly dependent upon God’s goodness and grace that I cannot even count on a decent night’s sleep, even in those nights when I go to bed bone weary. Maybe this is a thorn in the flesh, something given by the Lord for my own good, to keep me from pride and self-sufficiency. Or maybe it is something I have created by my own pride, my own unwillingness to surrender to the Lord the sovereignty that is his. I don’t know. But what I do know, is that when I go to bed tonight, it will be a reminder that I am not God. The question is, will I heed this reminder?