I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

Psalm 3:5-6

 

I used to do my best work late at night. With a young family and a demanding career, I found myself often working after my kids and spouse were in bed. I have to admit that part of me enjoyed the uninterrupted time. No coworkers needed help with their projects. No kids interrupted my train of thought. I got a lot done. Still, the pattern of staying up later and later to do more and more work became a problem.

King David in Prayer by Pieter de Grebber (circa 1600–1652/1653) – Web Gallery of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I discovered that I was not alone. Numerous sleep experts have noted with considerable alarm the growing problem of sleep deprivation in our culture (for a sampler, just Google “sleep deprivation”). The demands of a competitive economy increase expectations of personal job performance, including the time we spend on work. All of it takes a significant toll on the amount of sleep we are getting. Which brings me to today’s text.

As I noted in a prior reflection, Psalm 3 is a prayer of David from one of the darkest days of his reign as King of Israel. I find it remarkable that in the heart of his prayer, David says, “I lie down and sleep.” Frankly, that seems a bit odd to me. Why would David sleep in a crisis? And, even if he needed to sleep, why would that be important enough for him to work into his prayer? Isn’t sleep a mere necessity that gets in the way of our important work of leadership?

Evidently, it wasn’t for David.

David reminds us that sleep is an expression of faith. Our biological need for rest is a built-in reminder from our Creator that we are finite beings. Leadership can create the illusion that we are in control of the outcomes of our work. Our culture reinforces that illusion by projecting onto leaders almost godlike expectations. In contrast, a biblical vision of leadership recognizes the importance of human agency but understands its limitations. In the end, it is the LORD who “sustains” us and our work. So, David got it right. “I will lie down and sleep” is first and foremost an expression of faith in the God who is at work in all of our work.

Further, David reminds us that sleep is an expression of resistance. Fear drives much of our contemporary sleeplessness. Fear of failure. Fear of looking bad. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of losing our leadership role. The list goes on. David had much to fear. His son, Absalom, had successfully engineered a political coup. David’s life was literally on the line. In that context, his choice to sleep is not only an act of faith in God but also an act of resistance to the fear that resulted from his circumstances. My natural response to fear is to work harder. This psalm, like God’s Sabbath command, reminds me that rest is as important an act of resistance to fear as is work.

Finally, David reminds us that sleep is God’s means for the renewal of our work. “I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.” God uses our act of sleep to revitalize us for the work for which we are responsible. We ignore our biological need for sleep at our own peril. Not only does sleep deprivation have long-term health effects, but we have all seen its effects on the quality of our work.

Seeing sleep as a discipline that expresses our faith, that resists our fears, and that renews our work, is part of David’s lasting legacy in penning Psalm 3.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Do you struggle with getting enough sleep? Why do you think that is? What causes you to work more and sleep less?

Does seeing sleep as an act of faith in God and as an act of resistance to fear resonate with you? Why or why not?

How can you practice the discipline of sleep more consistently in your life?

PRAYER:

We are grateful, God, for your gift of sleep. As the Psalmist prayed elsewhere, we are grateful that we are not called to eat the bread of anxious toil, for you give sleep to your beloved. (Psalm 127:2)

We pray for wisdom to know our limits as leaders. Help us to lay down our responsibilities at the end of our day and to entrust them into your care for the night. Help us to resist the fears of our own limitations and to trust in your care and providence in all things.

We are grateful that you sustain and renew us and our work.

We give you the glory of our work, for from you and through you and to you are all things. Amen

 

This post originally published on December 19, 2015.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryBalancing Rhythms of Rest and Work: Overview
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2 Responses to The Discipline of Sleep

  1. Patricia Powell says:

    I live in Houston, pretty centrally located. In my neighborhood it was a while before we felt any effects of the storm. All day Friday it was calm. I had some concerns about what was to come, but I was not really frightened because we have been in this house for 45 years and have never had water in it even though it does not appear to be situated on particularly high ground. I have always been grateful to God for his protection. After supper I was straightening the bedroom and thought I would lie down just for a minute. You know how that goes. At 9 pm I was awakened by a neighbor’s call, just checking to see if I was all right. Then he told me that the street was flooded, but everyone seemed to be OK. I stayed up for hours after that. I had begun to feel a bit more nervous than before. I read and I prayed and felt fairly calm. I did not want to go the bed because I did not want to get out of bed in the morning and find my feet in water. That caused me to question my faith. The water would come or not regardless of what I did. And what did I think I was going to do anyway? Still arguing with myself I checked my email to see if there were any urgent messages. Guess what I found? The Life for Leaders email with your devotional on the Discipline of Sleep. Perfect timing. It had arrived at 3:54 a.m. I read what you had written, and I read David’s Psalm 3. I knew that David was talking to me as well as to God. I immediately picked up my cat and hauled her off to bed with me. We both slept like babies. When we awoke in the morning the water had receded considerably. Psalm 3 was new to me. I believe that God sends his grace just at the moment it is needed. Thank you for writing this devotional at just the perfect time for me.

  2. Uli Chi says:

    Thanks, Patricia, for taking time to share this very encouraging note in the midst of the storm. Like so many others, I’m praying for you and your region for God’s sustaining comfort and gracious help.