Have you ever paused to think about all the things God does while we sleep? The Bible is full of examples of dreams and visions that come to people while they’re in their beds. From Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph to the prophets like Isaiah and Joel; and then of course, in the new testament we have Joseph and the magi starting us off with instructions and warnings in their dreams too.
And the disciples. More than once, they’re fighting sleep in the worst possible moments. Let’s take a look at Luke 4:1-2 though…
About eight days after he had said this, Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face underwent a change, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly, there were two men talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which would come to pass in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake they beheld his glory and the two men standing beside him.
I’ve read this passage countless times, but I hadn’t paid much attention before to the fact that the disciples were fighting sleep here. They were dozing. Groggy. Enough asleep that they had to “come fully awake,” but not so deeply that they were completely oblivious to their surroundings. And weren’t they glad?!
Had they been more deeply asleep, they would have missed seeing Christ transfigured. They’d have missed beholding the glory of God. They’d have missed that miraculous appearance of Moses and Elijah.
Later in the Gospels, they are again with Jesus while he’s praying, and this time they are truly asleep. They do miss out–they miss the opportunity to keep watch with their Savior in his most wretched hour. They miss being true friends and brothers in that moment. They earn a rebuke–“Can you not watch even one hour?”
I get it. It’s understandable. They’d just hiked up a mountain…had a big meal after a long day of preparation… They were tired. Worn out. Exhausted. They wanted to stay awake, but their bodies betrayed them. They were tired. So tired.
We’ve all been there. And physically, this is unavoidable. We have physical bodies, and they require rest. God knows that–he designed us that way. He’s used it, time and again, to His purposes and His glory. He does speak through dreams and work on our hearts while our minds are still. He uses that time of rest to restore us.
But here’s the thing: there’s a time for rest. And there’s a time for keeping vigil with Him.
Paul warns us in Philippians that many are living as enemies of Christ. That they’re more concerned with the call of their bodies–what food they’ll eat, what clothes they’ll wear, what earthly glory they’ll achieve–than with the things of God. He tells us that when we make our stomach our god, we’ll ultimately find only destruction. He tells us to focus on the heavenly things, and then we’ll find restoration for these tired and broken bodies.
There is a time for rest. And there is a time for keeping vigil with Him.
My friends, we must all find rest, yes. But we must be careful to find it in Christ. We must be seeking the rest he gives, the kind that we find in communion with Him, not in our own earthly ideas. We must be vigilant, always, in every moment–even while we sleep–seeking and being open to whatever He reveals.
Because if we sleep too deeply in this life, we’ll miss it. We’ll miss his appearances in our lives. We’ll miss his glory revealed. Even when it’s right in front of us.
I know I’ve had times in my life when I felt like I was sleepwalking. Going through the motions but not really aware. So determined to just get through another day that I don’t really see what it brings.
I think we’ve all had (or will have) those times. Times of grief or mourning. Times of illness and pain. Times of anxiety and worry. Times when this is so much, we can’t even think about that.
But know that even when we succumb to that numbness, that oblivion, Jesus is still there. Praying in the garden. Sweating blood on our behalf. Taking on the ultimate pain so we can be spared it. Praying for us.
When we pray in the name of Jesus, that means we’re joining our prayers to his…that means he is praying for us to the Father. Every cry of our hearts, every sleepy murmur, every wordless yearning–our Savior takes that and presents it, pure and as it should have been said, even if we said it wrong, to God.
While we’re sleeping, he’s working. While we’re sleeping, he’s praying. While we’re sleeping, his glory is being made manifest.
And then, my friends…then we have only to open our eyes and see it.