This article originally appeared in an old blog of mine that no longer exists. The original post has been edited for style and relevance.
There is a notion, entertained by some, that sleep deprivation is a means to holiness. Honestly, I do not get it. I do appreciate a good tired feeling – one that comes from an honest day’s work.
Ecc. 5:12 – “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet…”
But I hate chronic fatigue. Hate it.
The Pharisees had their disfigured, unwashen faces, and we have our baggy, blood-shot eyes. The notion that fatigue equals holiness has grown in popularity as entrepreneurial hustle culture has overlapped with the pastorpreneurial church growth crowd.
I vividly recall a young and zealous evangelist proclaiming to my congregation during a sermon, “You don’t need more than 5 hours of sleep! Get up early and walk with God!” Perhaps the young pulpiteer was one of those remarkable specimens who thrives on 5 hours of sleep, but I have a confession to make: I need 7-8 hours of sleep. I can function on 6. I can even survive on 3 if I have to. But for optimum performance, I need 8 hours.
Listen (especially you young Bible college students out there): there is nothing holy about being tired. Nothing.
Self-imposed fatigue is not a mark of sanctification; it is a mark of stupid-ification. Going to bed at 11 PM or 12 AM and getting up at 4 AM to read your Bible is not smart. You will likely wake up again at 6 AM drooling on your Bible.
We read about the old divines who would get up before dawn and walk with God, and we think, “That is what I should do!” But we fail to realize that those old divines did not go to bed after binge-watching 4 hours of The Office on Netflix. If we desire to emulate their prayer life, we should consider emulating their habits: early to bed; early to rise.
Many of us were challenged when we read what Spurgeon said about John Knox’s prayer life:
…the enemies of the Protestant cause dreaded the prayers of Knox more than they feared armies of ten thousand men. The famous Welch was also a great intercessor for his country; he used to say he wondered how a Christian could lie in his bed all night and not rise to pray. When his wife, fearing that he would take cold, followed him into the room to which he had withdrawn, she heard him pleading in broken sentences, “Lord, wilt thou not grant me Scotland?” O that we were thus wrestling at midnight, crying, “Lord, wilt thou not grant us our hearers’ souls?
Would God that all of His ministers had that kind of passion in prayer. But notice: John Knox did not set his alarm clock to go off every three hours so that he could rise to pray. He was awakened – and was kept awake – by his burden for the lost. Pray that God would grant you Knox’s passion – the midnight prayer sessions will follow accordingly. Do not force it. You will end up with a passionless, mechanical season of prayer, punctuated by the occasional nodding off. In the morning, you will not be anymore the example of John Knox. You will merely be tired.
A word of advice: if you are getting 8 hours of sleep, but you are not walking with God, the answer is not to get less sleep. The answer is to learn to prioritize. Learn how to go to bed early. Usually, there is not much going on in the average American home after 9:00 PM except electronic entertainment.
Preacher, you need your rest. You will pray more fervently, study more seriously, preach more passionately, and labor more fruitfully.
I leave you with a rather lengthy quote from Spurgeon’s Lectures To My Students. In the chapter titled “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” he speaks to the need for rest in general, including our need for R & R, but I think what he says is appropriate for our discussion regarding sleep deprivation. Enjoy:
The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when he said to his disciples, “Let us go into the desert and rest awhile.” What! when the people are fainting? When the multitudes are like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd? Does Jesus talk of rest? When Scribes and Pharisees, like grievous wolves, are rending the flock, does he take his followers on an excursion into a quiet resting place? Does some red-hot zealot denounce such atrocious forgetfulness of present and pressing demands? Let him rave in his folly. The Master knows better than to exhaust his servants and quench the light of Israel. Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength. Look at the mower in the summer’s day, with so much to cut down ere the sun sets. He pauses in his labor — is he a sluggard? He looks for his stone, and begins to draw it up and down his scythe, with “rink-a-tink — rink-a-tink — rink-a-tink.” Is that idle music — is he wasting precious moments? How much he might have mown while he has been ringing out those notes on his scythe! But he is sharpening his tool, and he will do far more when once again he gives his strength to those long sweeps which lay the grass prostrate in rows before him. Even thus a little pause prepares the mind for greater service in the good cause.