Reflections on sleep, fear, and faith
Sleep is a dangerous enterprise. Every night we lie down unconscious and vulnerable for multiple hours. This is why it is safe to assume that most of us lock our doors at night before we go to bed. I go through my routine every night: close the garage door; lock the garage door; lock the back sliding door; lock the front door. I never set an alarm on my phone to remind me to lock the doors. I always remember and I always do it. It never fails. My wife never asks me to lock the doors, she just knows that I do it. And if I am gone, she never forgets to do the same thing even though she is not in the habit of doing it. Why do we do this? And why do I think it is safe to assume that virtually everyone who reads this blog post does the same thing? Is it simply because more crime happens at night? In actual fact, a lot of crime happens in broad daylight. But the reason we lock our doors at night is because we know that we are about to lie down and become unconscious. We do not know what might be going on around us while we are sleeping or who might be awake in our presence so we try to make ourselves as safe as possible before going to bed.
But sleeping is a dangerous enterprise for another reason. We know that when we lie down at night there is a possibility that we may not wake up. Granted, the chances are slim of dying in sleep while relatively young, but most of us know people who have died in their sleep or have heard stories of people in the prime of their lives who laid down to go to bed and had a brain aneurysm and never woke up. They had plans for tomorrow and tomorrow never arrived.
The point of this post is not to make you scared to go to bed at night. The point is that sleep can teach us something about why we experience fear. Many of our fears stem from things outside of our control and sleep reminds us that we are not in control. The world functions just fine while we are unconscious every night. Sleep is loud and clear evidence that we were not made to be in control of all things. We were made to trust the One who is in control of all things, namely God. Every night when we go to bed we have an opportunity to combat fear by reminding ourselves that we are creatures made to trust a sovereign God and his good purposes for our lives. Psalm 121:3–4 says,
Psalm 121:3–4 (ESV) — 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The psalmist finds comfort in the sleeplessness of God. God never sleeps; he never checks out; he is always active and working his purposes in the world and in the lives of people. Human beings, on the other hand, sleep a lot. If we get the recommended eight hours a night, then we sleep 1/3 of our lives away. Needless to say, we are a sleepy people. But God never sleeps.
Why does the Psalmist celebrate the sleeplessness of God? Why does he rejoice in a God who never sleeps? The answer is found in the first two verses of Psalm 121:
Psalm 121:1–2 (ESV) — 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
The Psalmist celebrates the sleeplessness of God because he is in need of help. In the midst of trouble, he lifts up his eyes to the hills—likely a reference to the temple mount—to remind himself of God’s presence. He knows that the Lord is the sovereign maker of heaven and earth and the God who never sleeps. His confidence rests in a God whose sovereignty expands over heaven and earth and in a God who will be faithful to his people (121:4). God is God; we are not. God is in control at all times in all places. We, on the other hand, sleep.
So I end this post with a poem I wrote about a year ago. It is an expansion of the famous children’s bedtime prayer, which you will recognize in the first stanza. The remaining 10 stanzas are my addition. Hopefully it will encourage you as you combat fear with faith in God and the redemption he has given us in Christ.
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take,
But if I rise, I shall not fear, The Lord, never sleeping, is always near. From where does my help come? From God, the creator, three in one.
He will be my helper, it’s a guarantee. In my place, he hung on creation’s tree. My eyes are fixed upon his cross. What the world counts gain, I count as loss
So I shall not fear the sun’s heat by day. The Lord shall keep me, guide my way. I shall not fear the moon by night. The Lord has shone on me his light.
He who keeps me shall not rest. Will I withstand his purifying test? He who keeps me will not delay. Will I now let my soul give way?
Take courage my soul, the Lord is at hand. He will uphold me, strengthen me, cause me to stand. My Lord is coming, he will be swift. To mount Zion on high, my eyes will I lift.
But if he tarries, fear will not prevail, For faith can see where my eyes fail. To the heavens where lives the redeemer of Adam’s race, My savior, my keeper, preparing my place.
By faith I see behind the veil, Where stands one man, with God he dwells. His name is Jesus, he is my king. Fear step aside so I may sing.
I’ll sing the song of victory won. In Christ my fears have become undone. So I will sing with my closing breath, Of him who conquered fear in death.
Now I lay me down to die. The Lord has kept me from the lie, That I should fear to wake no more, For no eye has seen what he has in store.
Now I lay me down to die. Fear not my soul, you are hid with Christ on high. O’ Fear, your greatest ally was my death, But listen now to my final breath, You thought through death that you could reign, But hear me whisper to your shame, Death now is my greatest gain.