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Why Did the Lord Give Us Sleep?

The Lord knew what our weaknesses would be when he created us and tried to save us from ourselves by building into us the need for sleep. For the rest brought on by true peace and joy in our hearts.

 


He makes me lie down in green pastures ,he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul (Psalm 23:2-3).

Sleep. Restful, peaceful slumber. Just the words sound good, don’t they?

The Lord knows what is best for us. He knows what is best for how we ought to live our lives. So often we see God’s commands as a set of restrictions laid out for us to obey — the do’s and don’ts of being good Christians.

Yet, his commands are not rules we must obey as much as guidance for what is best for us, for our lives. Before we were even created, God knew what would give us peace and joy in our lives.

Whether we like it or not, sleep is a human need. Try going without it for an extended period, and the consequences become quickly obvious.

In order to function at our best, both physically and mentally, we all need sleep. While some endure a lack of sleep better than others, at some point, we will break down. Every one of us.

That time we spend asleep, nighttime for most of us, acts much like a recharge for not just our bodies and minds — but our spirits as well. We rest so that we can be refreshed to take on each new day.

We can rest assured that God’s mercy and faithfulness will be waiting for us in the morning: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22–23).

Perhaps our need for sleep, like our need for food and water, reminds us of our need for God and dependence on him. Or perhaps, as in everything else, God simply knew what was best for our lives.


Sleep and Rest in the Bible

Sleep is first found in Genesis 2:21, when Adam was placed into a deep sleep by God, forming Eve out of his ribs. God even rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2), perhaps to offer an example to follow, setting aside a Sabbath for the Jewish people, indeed, for us all.

In point of fact, the Bible speaks of sleep both positively and negatively. Sleep is often portrayed as a gift from God:

When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet (Proverbs 3:24).

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).^Moreover, God may give us understanding and the Holy Spirit works in our hearts while we sleep: "I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me" (Psalm 16:7).

We know, too, that rest is a part of a healthy lifestyle — Jesus had to sleep just as we do (Luke 8:23; Mark 1:35). God often spoke to people through dreams and visions while they slept (Genesis 20:3; 31:24; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 7:1).

Like all of God’s gifts, though, sleep can also be abused. Proverbs 6:10 warns us against the laziness of too much sleep, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”

The same sentiment is expressed in other verses such as Proverbs 19:15, 20:13, and 24:33. The Bible also describes things related to a lack of rest as troubling, at best. Grief, guilt, fear, and doing evil are all associated with being weary (Proverbs 4:16; Psalm 6:6; Psalm 77:4.)


What Would We Do with More Time?

In his book, Daily in His Presence, author Andrew Murray mentions a “busy life” or “busy lives” no less than six or seven times. You may know that, in addition to writing, Andrew Murray was a teacher and Christian pastor.

One who lived and wrote in the mid to late 1800s. In South Africa. I don’t know about you, but it is difficult for me to envision a “busy lifestyle,” as we know it today, in the mid-19th century in South Africa. Yet, it appears to be just that.

It is not until my later years that I have begun to understand and appreciate a slower pace of life. It is not due to a lack of others trying to get me to listen in my youth. Forever we hear about “stop and smell the roses” from all sorts of self-help books.

Yet it seemed impossible. While raising our kids, of course, the days and weeks were filled with endless activities and the hustling and bustling that went with them. But if I’m honest, when it wasn’t the kids, I filled that time with work.

I “had to” strive to get ahead. My job required commitment! I had people counting on me. I recall telling others I was going to invent a calendar that had thirty hours in every day, and eight days in every week and knew it would sell like hotcakes.

But even if I had all that time, with no sleep required, I would have found a way to fill it up until I barely had a spare moment. What suffered as a result? My relationship with the Lord.

With my family. My peace and joy. My contentment. And yet, how many of us do the same? If we each had eight more hours in every day, how much of that time would we fill with the endless pursuit of more?

Psalm 127:2 says this, “In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to each — for he grants sleep to those he loves.” The ESV says it this way, “…eating the bread of anxious toil.” This verse is written in the context of how “unless the Lord builds the house, the builder labors in vain…” (v. 1).

We seem to fill every waking moment trying to achieve more. Just a little bit more. If only we had a bit more in the bank, then we could take some time off. If only we had a bigger house, then we would be happy. If only, then. Yet, when “if only” happened, it did not improve our level of happiness.

The Apostle John tells us, “For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).

The pride of life. How much time do we fill to achieve it? How much time do we spend trying to keep up with the expectations of our friends, neighbors…and the marketing messages that are constantly telling us we aren’t good enough, we need more, more, more? Happiness is just one more purchase away.

And then, the more we have, the more pride we take in ourselves. The more our minds tell us everything we have accomplished, and we forget how much we need God. It isn’t often we find true humility in the rich and powerful.


In Pursuit of Peace and Joy

We spend so much time working in our lives, we forget to work on our lives. We forget to spend the time to finally find the happiness we truly seek. We think we’re getting closer to what we want but are never satisfied.

Because the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” are incapable of satisfying us. In fact, they succeed because they do the opposite. The pressure of those things steals our contentment, our peace, and our joy.

For many years, my favorite verse — indeed the first one I memorized — were Jesus words in the Book of Matthew:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

“I will give you rest.” “…you will find rest for your souls.”

When was the last time you lay awake in bed at night, unable to get to sleep — because you were content? Stress and worry steal our sleep. Contentment and peace bring us rest.

Do I know exactly why the Lord gave us sleep? Of course not. But I don’t need to know all the answers. I don’t have to have it all figured out — I just need to have faith that God does. I trust him to have all the answers. After all, he is God, and I am not.

The Lord knew what our weaknesses would be when he created us and tried to save us from ourselves by building into us the need for sleep. For the rest brought on by true peace and joy in our hearts.

Indeed, the Lord has always known what is best for us. Sleep. Restful, peaceful slumber. What an incredible gift from God.

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