Truth for Young Believers: Rest Well

Do you sleep to the glory of God? Or maybe you’re too cool for a good night’s sleep, being so young and strong, and playing such a crucial role in keeping the earth spinning. Well, God has a message for those who are sour about the need to slumber: “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).[1]

Cool to Be Busy?

Admittedly, some people are addicted to their beds, and God speaks to the dangerous lull of laziness: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Pro 6:9). But our culture also unhealthily glorifies busyness. An overflowing schedule can be a source of pride because it makes us feel important. Having more on our plate than we can handle then becomes part of our identity, so we feel compelled to maintain the pace. We stand in awe of people who seem to be so productive and feel guilty if our output doesn’t match theirs, possibly ignoring their completely different life circumstances. We are exhorted to serve the Lord (which is good, by the way), and are told of how much work there is to do in the local church (which is true, by the way), but we imbibe a mindset that says that if we aren’t doing more and more, we aren’t good enough. Be careful – “When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk …. Busyness is like sin: kill it, or it will be killing you.”[2]

Consequences of a Lack of Rest

Without margin in our schedules, without regular times of break and recreation, and without enough sleeping hours, we risk burnout – physically, emotionally and spiritually. “If you keep burning the candle at both ends, sooner or later you will indulge in more and more cynicism – and the line between cynicism and doubt is a very thin one.”[3] Scripture urges us to think on whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and things worthy of praise (Php 4:8), but a lack of sleep hinders Christian thinking. Studies show that students’ performance on an exam is enhanced more by a good night’s sleep than by an all-night cramming session. And many of us are more susceptible to anxiety, irritability, problems coping with stress, and depression when not getting enough rest. Some people who know me well might read this and say, “Physician, heal thyself!” And I don’t mind saying they are right; I have paid a price for pushing the limits for too long.

If you are in a particularly crazy time in life when you are reading this and are already struggling to get the sleep you need, I know you don’t need me to give you a guilt trip. But allowing that behaviour to become a way of life is a concern. Is it due to circumstances out of your control, pressed upon you for a short-term need? Or is it because you are having trouble prioritizing and saying no to unnecessary things you don’t have time for right now? Or are you simply lying awake too late due to excessive nighttime screen usage? Whether it is a smartphone or laptop or a TV, all screens emit loads of blue light that our brains are hardwired to respond to with wakefulness. Don’t take your phone to bed with you and consider turning off notifications for your sleeping hours. Maybe try downloading “Brahms’ Op. 49 No. 4” and setting it as your 9:30pm alarm, because “sometimes the godliest thing you can do in the universe is get a good night’s sleep – not pray all night, but sleep. I’m certainly not denying that there may be a place for praying all night; I’m merely insisting that in the normal course of things, spiritual discipline obligates you to get the sleep your body needs.”[4]

Created to Need Rest

God instituted this principle from the beginning of time by concluding His creation week with rest (Gen 2:2). He was not overworked; His rest was one of satisfaction, not of fatigue. But prior to Adam’s sin (therefore not a result of the Fall), God established for us a pattern of rest. He enshrined it in Mosaic Law (Exo 20:8), and although Christians are not under the Law of Moses, the principle of times of work followed by a time of rest is healthy for us – we ignore it at our peril. A day off from our normal activity, for physical rest or mental recuperation, is not sinful. And just as God designed a day of rest in the seven-day week, He designed the twenty-four-hour day to include hours of both wakefulness and sleep. Sleeping is not sinful; it is part of being human. But why?

The fact that we need to spend so much of our life at rest surprises us sometimes, but it is teaching us an invaluable spiritual lesson: we are not God. We are frail creatures of dust, helpless jars of clay, and crawling into bed each night is a recognition that the world will keep on spinning without my activity. In other words, it is an expression of trust. We can safely go to sleep because God doesn’t.

As Christians, we should embrace this as a way to worship God, remembering that the gospel teaches us the same lesson. We may think our works are important, but we have come to learn that there is one work that stands supreme and unique – the cross work of Christ – and we have rejoiced in the invitation to simply trust Him. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat 11:28-29).

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.

[2] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 26,28. You should read this book.

[3] D.A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 147.

[4] Ibid.