Do you sleep to the glory of God? The Bible contains multiple warnings condemning the lazy man – e. g., “The desire of the slothful kills him … As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed” (Prov 21:25; 26:14). God has designed us in such a way that we require rest. Too much time in bed, excessive leisure, and a life of loafing around are unhealthy and wrong. But it is possible to sleep to the glory of God, and ignoring your body’s need for rest is a risk to your usefulness to God.
We are to use our minds for God’s glory (see last month’s article), and most young adults need approximately eight hours of sleep for their cognitive functions to reach maximum potential. You may think that a caffeine-infused, all-night cramming session will help you with your exam score, but research1 on high school students’ sleep and study habits debunked that a few years ago (studying is good … but so is sleep). You may also have been exhorted to “burn the midnight oil” and to sacrifice sleep for the sake of prayer and Bible study. This may be valid at times, but perhaps there are other things eating up time that need to be sacrificed instead. “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” (Psa 127:2, ESV).
There are well established links between lack of sleep and mental health issues. Sometimes it is a clinical health issue that causes insomnia; at other times, it is poor sleeping habits which, in turn, lead to anxiety, irritability, or problems coping with stress. While there are obviously other factors, a lack of sleep is one of them. God “knows our frame” (Psa 103:14) and the fact that most of you should spend about ⅓ of your life in bed is no disappointment to him. You may feel like you are an exception to the norm – that you can get away with constantly pushing your physical limits – but it takes its toll, both on your physical health and on your mind. Some of you might then find yourselves in a vicious cycle – your anxieties increase, which makes it harder to get sleep, which in turn makes you more susceptible to stress and anxiety. “We are whole, complicated beings: our physical existence is tied to our spiritual well-being, to our mental outlook, to our relationships with others, including our relationship with God. Sometimes the godliest thing you can do in the universe is get a good night’s sleep … in the normal course of things, spiritual discipline obligates you to get the sleep your body needs.”2
This does not mean that, if you are mentally distressed, you are a poor Christian – not at all! In the Psalms we see that David had plenty of mental and emotional agony. He had burdens upon his mind as he lay in bed at night, but he also learned to take those burdens to the Lord, leave them there, and then rest. “The LORD will hear when I call to Him. Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still … I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psa 4:3-4,8, NKJV). In the New Testament, the Spirit’s words to us through Paul are, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7, NKJV). The devil wants to attack minds by distraction, stress, etc., but a mind that is “guarded” by the peace of God – isn’t that a blessed thought?
The issue is not only how many hours of shut-eye you get, but the concept of physical and mental rest. This is a clear implication of the Sabbath principle in Scripture. You are not under the Law of Moses. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4, ESV). And while nine of the 10 commandments are repeated in New Testament teaching, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” is not. You have found your Sabbath rest in Christ. Sunday is not the “Christian Sabbath.”The Bible does not give you a list of things you aren’t allowed to do on a Sunday. All of this being said, two things need to be carefully considered. If your society allows you to devote the first day of the week to the Lord and His assembly, that is a fantastic blessing – take advantage of it.
Secondly, the principle of Sabbath rest preceded the Law of Moses and abides today. “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). Taking one day out of seven to rest from your regular busy schedule is healthy. You were designed that way. You are afraid, though, that the rest will hinder your success. That’s like telling God His creation has a design flaw. “He offers us Sabbath as a test; it’s an opportunity to trust God’s work more than our own. When I go weeks without taking adequate time off … I’m certainly too convinced of my own importance and more than a little foolish. If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest … I’m not so important in God’s universe that I can’t afford to rest. But my God-given limitations are so real that I can’t afford not to.”3 Take a break from the books, from the work, and from the screen – rest your body and your mind. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1Thes 5:23-24, NKJV).
1 For more information, Google “To Study or Sleep? The Academic Costs of Extra Studying at the Expense of Sleep Cari Gillen-O’Neel, Virginia Huynh and Andrew Fuligni, UCLA.”
2 D.A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 147.
3 Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 91-92, 99