By Will Dole | September 10, 2020

Sleepless in September

What’s Your Schedule Like? 

Are you someone who burns the candle at both ends? Are you someone who keeps the midnight oil lit? Or perhaps you use the phrase, as I have countless times, “I can sleep when I’m dead.” We can wear this as a badge of honor. We’re the hard workers, the go getters, the people whom no one can accuse of laziness of a lack of productivity. Which makes us super important and awesome, right? 

If that didn’t already smack of some problematic pride, and it does, we would encounter still another problem in Scripture: burning the candle at both ends isn’t seen as necessarily virtuous. Psalm 127:2 says, It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. You mean this groggy fog of grumpiness, the seeming source of all my virtue, is all for naught?

What He Isn’t Saying

It’s important to note what the Psalmist isn’t doing in this text. He’s not in any way dismissing the value of hard work. Consider these texts: 

  • Proverbs 6:6-11, Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber,and want like an armed man. 
  • Ecclesiastes 4:5, The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. 
  • 1 Corinthians 15:10a, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them.

God values hard work, indeed he gave human beings work to do while still in the garden of Eden. Even in the Sabbath command found in Exodus 20, part of the instruction for the day of rest is that the Israelites should complete all their labor during the six days appointed for work. Hard work is something God values in us, and even expects of us.

But You Aren’t God

Notice what the Psalmist says in Psalm 127, though. It is vain to eat the bread of anxious toil. There is no doubt that hard work is important. But what motivates your labors? And what motivates your need to be constantly at them? For many of us, that answer isn’t diligence or some other noble trait. The answer is pride. We are anxious, because if we complete this next task our life will be more under control. We stay up late reading the news because we have to know what’s going on. We get up early so that we can accomplish a to-do list before work. We think that the quantity and quality of our labor ultimately determines the quality of our life and the lives of those around us. We are often using work as a way of anxiously grasping for control of our world. I just heard a noted author speak of his garden as a way to impose his will on some portion of the earth. Even our hobbies can turn into exercises of prideful control-seeking. And sleep is an enemy to this endeavor. It is the ultimate in un-productivity. Why, you’re just laying there on your back--for hours! Who came up with this nonsensical activity? Well, God did. He who never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:4) has created us with a daily reminder that we are creatures, not Creator. 

Sleep As Trust

If God has designed the human body with a need for sleep (and we might remember that he called this creation, “very good”), ceasing our labor every day and laying our head on the pillow is an exercise in trusting God. To stop working and receive the gift of sleep can be an important way to remember that God, in fact, controls the universe. Not me. I can’t add a single hour to my life, no matter how hard I worry or work (Matthew 6:27). 

So again I’ll ask: why are you burning the midnight oil? Surely there are times when the responsibilities of work or family or church require us to do so. But if it is the regular pattern of your life, you ought to consider: are you trying to exercise more control of the world than you are meant to? What should be cut out in favor of sleep? The gift of sleep is a good gift from the Father to those he loves.