The Need to Sleep

Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.

  • Matthew 8:24

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

  • Matthew 26:40

But the wicked are like the tossing sea,
    which cannot rest,
    whose waves cast up mire and mud.

  • Isaiah 57:20

“It is a very funny thing that the sleepier you are, the longer you take about getting to bed; especially if you are lucky enough to have a fire in your room.”

  • C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

My mother used to say, often, “No rest for the wicked, and the righteous don’t need it.”

The first half of her saying could have come from Isaiah 57:20 (above), but I find little Biblical truth in the second half.  Of course, she was quoting from the Gospel according to Mother.  We were required to work for the entire time that the sun was up, and often after the sun went down, the more pain, the more drudgery, the better.  She was probably Obsessive-Compulsive, otherwise, she hated seeing anyone having fun.  Maybe both?

But I take exception to the second half of her statement.  The word “sleep” can be found 111 times in the NIV, in 29 books of the Bible, nearly half.  The word “rest” can be found 508 times in the NIV, in 54 of the 66 books of the Bible.  Note that some of the references to “rest” were as the first half of the word “restore” and all its derivatives, but isn’t ‘restoring’ what we are doing when we ‘rest?’

Even Jesus slept.  Look at the Matthew 8 reference above.  Jesus and the disciples are in a boat.  There is a storm raging, and Jesus is asleep.  Sure, we could focus on Jesus rebuking the wind and the seas suddenly calm.  That was the miracle, the flashy thing of the story, but look at Jesus while the waves were tossing over the sides of the boat.  Jesus was getting wet.  These boats were not that big.  They didn’t have sleeping births that were sealed from the outdoor elements.  Jesus was and is fully human, and fully God.  As a fully human, He needed rest; He needed sleep.

Now, as Jesus sits at the right hand of God, Jesus is outside time and space.  He needs no rest.  He can keep His eyes on us, night and day.

I’d like to address the Lewis quote, from the standpoint of the fire.  Thirty plus years ago, we had a fireplace and I tended the fire.  I often slept on the sofa, watching the fire blaze and allowing my thoughts to drift away.  I found fire fascinating to watch – in the fireplace, not as a house burns down.

When I was in undergraduate school, working on a chemical engineering degree, we chemical engineers got the reputation of being pyromaniacs.  None of us were arsons, but there were multiple incidents of experiments in the Organic Chemistry lab catching on fire.  I was the only one to accidentally make TNT, so little of an amount that it only broke the glass vessel containing the explosive.  I was supposed to make Di-Nitrotoluene, but I overcooked it, making Tri-Nitrotoluene.  Ooops.  With our class’ multiple issues, and a young girl in a different class that was severely burned, the university decided that there should be a new Chemistry building with working fume hoods, enough for everyone in class.

But before we tie a bow on sleeping and resting, one of the non-explosive or combustive incidents in Organic lab was when the guy next to me passed out.  Someone saw him wobbling and yelled for me to grab him.  I held him while someone else ran to the rescue.  We carried him to a window that a third person had opened.  Why did he pass out?  He was using ether and had not sealed his experimental apparatus.  Two of us held him halfway out the window until he woke up.  Of course, when he was awakened, he thought we were trying to throw him out a second story window (or was it the third story?), but we cleared that up quickly.

But is there an inappropriate time to sleep?  For my chemistry friend, sleeping while standing in a lab, tending to an experiment using volatile chemicals was an inappropriate time.  You would think that Jesus sleeping during a storm that He could have stopped was inappropriate, but Jesus knew there was nothing to fear.  Jesus showed us that we can sleep through dangerous storms in our lives, if we simply trust in Jesus.  But Jesus rebukes Peter for sleeping in Matthew 26, above.  Jesus had foretold that this was the night of His betrayal.  Yet, Peter and the others could not stay awake.  I read a book recently by Karen Kingsbury.  The heroine of the story said “Good night” to her grandmother and went to bed, but her grandmother did not wake.  This heroic woman lamented not staying up that night and talking about all the things that were important.  But none of us know the time that we will lose someone close to us.  But with all the warnings, Peter and the others should have known.

Have I ever failed to sleep when sleep was needed?  Of course.  I have insomnia, at times.  After a bad bout of insomnia, it might take a few days to recover.  You never “catch up” on lost sleep, but I have found that the feeling of ‘illness’ goes away after a couple of nights of normal sleep.

Have I ever slept when I shouldn’t have?  Probably.  I wrote quite some time ago about my Dad taking a broomstick and swatting a bear across the nose after the bear had eaten ten pounds of raw bacon.  The park ranger at the Smoky Mountains National Park said the bear was no longer hungry, or my Dad would have not won the battle.  I slept through the entire thing, with every other family member yelling, banging pots, anything to scare the bear away.  I have also fallen asleep behind the wheel of a car.  But, oh how many times have I fallen asleep when I should have been praying, studying the Bible, or providing for someone less fortunate.

We all need our rest.  That amount of rest changes as our body changes.  Getting older, I can go with less sleep for a shorter period than I did when I was younger.  I take unintentional naps these days, resting from exerting myself and then finding that it is an hour later.  If we learn to interpret our body’s signals, we will know how much sleep we need.  And we should not give in to the temptation of sleeping too much.

God sent us into the world as His arms and legs.  They do not work well when prone.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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  1. The Gospel according to mother. LOL😜

    Liked by 1 person

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