Has it ever occurred to you that sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap? I know what you are thinking. “A nap? Come on. How can a nap be spiritual? Besides that, I have too much to do and taking a nap is just a waste of time.”
Well, just conduct a Google search with terms like lack of sleep, sleep deficit, sleep disorders, or insufficient sleep. My simple search yielded over 60 million internet pages about sleep issues. A lack of sleep affects almost everything in our lives. A lack of sleep causes issues with memory, learning, health, safety, and longevity. The health issues alone grab your attention: obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The relationships of those with a lack of sleep suffer. What about the financial impact? In 2016 one study said our economy loses $411 billion per year because of a lack of sleep. It is epidemic. And, our busy culture leads us to do more and more and rest way less than the 7-9 hours recommended for adults. Yet we pride ourselves on how little sleep we can get by on. And what’s more, when you ask almost anyone how they are doing, the typical response is, “I am tired.” We need to get sick and tired of being tired and live in the rhythms God designed for us.
You might not think this issue has any spiritual impact but it does. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun defines the spiritual discipline of rest as a practice that honors God and recognizes our human limitations through restful rhythms. How many people dose off in church services? How hard is it to concentrate for even a short length of time in prayer or Bible reading? How distracted are you to opportunities to pray and minister because you are just too tired to concentrate and be aware?
God has a plan for us. He made us with the need for rest. This is so important, he gave a command to rest in the Ten Commandments. Imagine that! He is so concerned about our rest that He set the example (Gen. 2:2-3) and he commanded us to rest a full day out of every seven days (Ex. 20:8-11). Physical rest is sometimes a foreshadow and a symbol of the spiritual rest God gives his people when they cease their labors for salvation and receive the rest salvation provides.
In my work, I see lots of very tired college students. But when I encourage rest, they state they don’t have the time. Sometimes they just laugh at me. God made us with principles and patterns for our good and blessing. God has designed us for rest because we are creatures with limitations. Sleep helps us with our God-given limits. People may seek to break God’s principles, but in reality, these principles will break us.
Everything fights against us when we try to practice rest. If you want to build on this discipline, be prepared for a fight. That smartphone, cable TV, computers and tablets all work to keep us watching because people make money for every minute you view screens. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the resistance against rest. Here are some ideas you might try.
- Set your alarm to go to bed every night.
- Develop some evening practices to help you get ready to sleep.
- Work toward a peaceful and relaxing home where rest is more likely to occur.
- Work hard when you work and rest well when you rest.
- A daily nap may help you rest effectively.
- Keep a Sabbath. Figure out how to spend a dedicated block of time resting and reflecting on the Lord. Now I am a Baptist, so I have about eliminated any expectation that a Sabbath can be observed on Sunday.
- Plan an evening off: no work related to your job or electronics. Just quiet, conversation, family games, reading, and relaxing. Have a simple meal and share a family devotion together.
- Find brief times during the day to take a real break and enjoy some quiet, reflective time.
- Take an extended break and rest once or twice a year. Don’t make this a busy sight-seeing trip. Just a day or two or a weekend of quiet time to read and reflect upon the Lord.
- Take a walk. Carry your phone, just turn it off and listen to the sounds around you as you walk.
- In spite of our modern uses of Sunday, determine ways to reflect on the Lord in moments you can carve out of this special day of Christian worship.
God’s plan for you includes rest, his gift to our human limitations. Accept his good gift and put it to work for your spiritual growth.
Scripture: Read Exodus 34:21. Notice the conditions under which God wants us to rest: on the seventh day, even when the people were in their busiest seasons. Why does God value our rest?
Dig Deeper: Read Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.
Now It’s Your Turn: How do you find times of Sabbath rest in your busy schedule? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.