Sleep walking towards disaster
Sleep kills. Thousands of people a year. That’s according to numerous studies into road traffic accidents. And spiritual sleepiness is a serious thing too. In case we still haven’t got it, the Puritan Richard Sibbes wants us to know how serious a thing a sleepy soul is:
- “Would a waking man run into a pit? Or upon a sword’s point? A man that is asleep may do anything… It is the inlet to all sins, and the beginning of all danger.” And it is all the more dangerous in that it comes on in degrees. “There is no man that comes to gross sin suddenly. But he falls by little and little; first to slumber, and from slumber to sleep and from sleep to [a dead, cold presumption and nominalism].”
- “A man in his sleep is fit to lose all.” He loses his moral footing, loses a clear conscience, loses assurance, loses the comfort of Christ, stands to lose his position of ministry, his family, his friends, his possessions, his mind.
- And he doesn’t even get to enjoy the false comforts of this world because his conscience is disturbed – it is sleep but a restless “broken sleep.”
- A sleeping Christian comes under the Lord’s discipline. If someone is a true child of God, the Father will not endure them to stay sleeping but will send them all sorts of storms and famines to rouse the Jonah and bring back the prodigal.
- Sleep is an “odious” thing to the Lord God. To be spiritually asleep, unfeeling of spiritual things, inactive in service, is so hideously out of keeping with our salvation. “Has The Lord been a wilderness to us? (Jer. 2:31) Does he not deserve the marrow of our souls? (Lev. 3:3-4) Does not his mercy deserve that our love should take all care to serve him that is so gracious and good to us? Is it not the fruit and purpose of our redemption to serve him with holiness and righteousness all the days of our life? (Luke 1:75)”
- Sleep is also hideously out of keeping with who we are as Christians. Why has God, in the new birth, planted in us understanding, love, faith, spiritual affections if not to use them in understanding, serving, trusting, feeling? These new graces which have been planted in us are verbs more than nouns – as we cease to exercise them is to be as if we do not have them. We might as well be dead. “To have [these graces] and let them sleep and lie unexercised, so far a Christian forgets himself and is not himself.”
So how can we wake up from this spiritual coma? Sibbes has some more encouragement and counsel for us:
- First, be encouraged that you are aware of your sleepy state. That is a good sign that you are in fact God’s child. The unregenerate unbeliever is not even aware that he is sleeping. The child of God has two natures – the old sleepy man and the new awake heart. Even in a sleepy state the child of God has some awareness of himself, some awareness of the danger, some unsettledness and unhappiness in his state. “So far as he says he is asleep, he is awake.” The conscience is not yet completely seared. There is, in the inner man, as Sibbes puts it, “a secret love to Christ” however deeply buried under other cares and loves. So there is strong hope that this current sleep is not the hopeless sleep of death but a bout of illness from which, by the power of the implanted Spirit, we will recover. “God’s children never totally fall from grace.” They may go as low as Peter in his denial and yet their faith does not completely fail – there is grief and, in time, restoration.
- Attend to your heart. Our natural inclination is to rush to get our outward appearance sorted out, to think that we wake up from a sleepy state by filling our diaries with more work. But the first thing to attend to is the heart for from it flows everything else (Prov. 4:23). “The Christian does what he does from the heart; he begins the work there.” Jesus’ harshest words were for the hypocrites – who honoured the Lord with their lips and outward religion but had hearts full of love of money, love of praise, love of power and rebellion against God. So attend to the key issue – the heart. Cry out for the Spirit, cry out for a new heart.
- Consider Christ. It was as Peter’s eyes met Jesus’ eyes across the courtyard of the high priest, that his heart was broken and he woke from his sleep (Luke 22:61-62). Consider the suffering of Christ for us. Consider Christ who came to us “when we had nothing good in us… nothing but enmity, rebellion… Consider how he debased himself and became man, in being united to our frail flesh, a wonderful nearness, and all our of mercy to save us.” Consider that because he lives, we live. Consider him ever interceding for us before the Father (Heb. 7:25).
- Consider the greatness of the riches we have in Christ. What made Moses leave the glories of Egypt? “He saw that the basest things in religion were greater than the greatest things in the court (Heb. 11:26).” What makes us leave the spiritual sleep of intoxication with the riches of this world is to catch sight of the immeasurably greater riches that we have in Christ – adoption, forgiveness, righteousness, glory.
- Consider the shortness and vanity of this life. We must number our days (Psalm 90:12). If the owner of a house knew that a thief could break in any moment he would not go to sleep (Matt. 24:43). We could die today or Christ could return today. We can keep awake a little longer. The dawn is almost here.
- Consider him who has authority to throw you into hell. Jesus warned his disciples of hypocrisy and then immediately told them who they should fear (Luke 12). The spiritual sleep of a hypocrite is exposed when persecution comes – there is fear of man. In contrast, Jesus wants his disciples to have hearts fully awake to the awesome reality of the Lord God – the God of terrible judgment, stupendous grace and total sovereignty. “Labour for a fear of the Lord by all means… because fear is a waking affection… one of the most powerful.” Cry out for the gift of an awakening and preserving fear (Jer. 32:39-40).