Still in the Richard Sibbes sleep clinic…
Sibbes notices five disturbing similarities between the nature and effects of physical sleep and the nature and effects of spiritual sleep:
- “Men disposed to be asleep desire to be alone. Those likewise that are disposed to take a spiritual nap, will avoid company, especially of such as would awake them.” (Sibbes). Be concerned for those who avoid Christian fellowship or avoid anything deeper than superficial conversation.
- “Men will draw the curtains and shut out the light when they mean to compose themselves to rest.” Jehoiakim cut up and burned the Word of God (Jer. 36). People hate the light (John 3:20). Sibbes: “Much of the anger that men bear against the word laid open to them, is because it will not suffer them to sleep quietly in their sins.”
- “In sleep, fantasy rules” (Sibbes). Sleep is the land of dreams. In spiritual sleep we accept the fantasies and false promises of the prosperity gospel and get-rich-quick schemes (Prov. 12:11). True Christianity is about waking up to the truth – True Truth, the solid realities of our sinfulness and God’s greatness and Christ’s coming. But in spiritual sleep we dream that we are good people, that we are at the centre of the universe, that this world will go on forever.
- “In sleep there is no exercise of the senses or motion” (Sibbes). In sleep we don’t use our eyes to see or our ears to hear or our mouths to taste. We are unfeeling, unconscious. And we are immobile in this state. It is ‘akin to death’. If we are not feeling any spiritual affections, if we do no good to anyone, or if the good we do we do without any love, then Sibbes says we are not only sleeping, we are little different to a dead man.
- In sleep there is vulnerability and danger. Sisera had a tent peg driven through his temple as he slept (judges 4:21). Saul had the spear and water jug taken from by his head while he slept (1 Sam. 26:12). “In sleep, the most precious thing men carry about them is taken away without resistance” (Sibbes). There is an openness to temptation. There is an openness to false teaching and an accumulation of traditions and dead ritualistic religion.
All this is not only applicable to the sleep of individuals. Sibbes points out that whole churches can be sleeping (e.g. Sardis in Rev. 3), whole periods of church history (e.g. the middle ages), whole countries.
How do we start to take note of our sleepy condition and pull up from the nose dive into the sleep of death? Some ideas prompted by Sibbes:
- Consider how far we have fallen (Rev. 2:5). Compare your current state with how things were for you as a new believer, when you loved to be with other Christians, when you loved the light, when you rejoiced in the solid reality of the gospel, when you were joyfully busy in Christian service – and do those things you did at first.
- Consider the profile of a normal Christian in the New Testament. Read passages like Mark 8:34-38 and 1 Thessalonians 1 (in fact the whole of 1 Thessalonians) and see there the normal, expected, Spirit-filled Christian life – compare yourself with that, repent, cry out for the Spirit, take up your cross and follow Jesus.
- Consider examples of others in a better spiritual state. Read Christian biographies. Watch films like Amazing Grace and Luther. Be inspired by what it looks like to be fully awake.
- Consider how we perform our service. How would we perform a service for a king or president or high official? What reverence and carefulness and sense of privilege would we have as we do it? Then think of the manner in which we tend to come into God’s presence in prayer and the attitude with which we minister. “Oh the mercy of our patient God, that will endure such services as we most frequently perform!” (Sibbes). May that mercy lead us to repentance and to a happy, eager, reverent approach to Him.
- Consider what we admire, what we treasure, what we feast our eyes upon. Is it profit margins, Google images, Facebook likes? These are empty cisterns, vapid fantasies, sleeping pills. Will we not set our heart on Christ, treasure him, feast our eyes on him? He is true food and drink and life.