Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

The value of good sleep


"He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:3-4)

By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

Ah, sleep—reluctantly we close our eyes on the day’s potential, yet regretfully we leave our slumber. Ah, sleep—we make up our mind to rise early, but our body draws us to linger in respite.

What a delightful thing rest is! Napoleon wrote: "I would not exchange it for all the thrones in the world!"

Few people I know would argue against the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Yet in our fast-paced culture, statistics tell us that a great number of us do not get the sufficient hours of sleep we need to be healthy. Let’s face this truth: Our bodies are like coils, and after a long day of work, of dealing with the daily challenges thrown our way, many of us get so wound up that we seldom take enough time to fully unwind.

When the lights go out and you pull the covers over your weary frame, have you ever wondered what God is doing while you’re asleep? Have you given much thought to the idea that God needs us to rest in order to do God’s work?

Let me explain.

The Psalmist declares that we belong to a God who needs no sleep. At all times God is wide-awake, busy at work in us and all around us. A popular Jewish belief is that God did not actually need the seventh day to rest, but only to "survey" what had been created.

If the Creator is a 24-hour God who watches over us by day, what happens during the night? I surmise that God is busy at work, shaping and molding our lives in ways we cannot comprehend or understand. I believe God literally needs for us to "be still" and "get out of the way" so His work can continue.

God molds our lives

Let me share the story of Sir Herbert Von Herkomer to better explain what goes on at night when God is at work. It is a charming tale about an artist of the 19th century.

It seems that Herkomer’s father was growing old and feeble. Because of the increasing difficulty in taking care of himself, he went to live in the home of his distinguished son. He, too, had worked as an artist, and to pass away the many hours while his son worked, the father asked for clay to mold and model.

Yet each night, because of his physical frailty and failing eyesight, the old man put away his work in despair. He was not as good as he once was. Because he could not make the pieces as he wanted them to be, he went to bed very sad and disappointed.

But after the lights went out and the old man fell asleep, the son secretly worked on his father’s clay.

In morning, his father would look at his work from the previous day and—not knowing another hand had touched it—would exclaim delightedly, "Why, this isn’t so bad after all! I’m still pretty good. Maybe I’ll keep trying."

And he did. Each night the son reworked the clay, and each morning the old man awoke with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of value and worth.

In many ways God works like this in our lives. We are the clay, and God molds us even while we sleep.

Long after we close up shop for the night, one of the proven ways our brains function is to continue processing the thoughts we held in mind before we went to sleep. Many times we awake in morning to realize we have solutions to problems we could not resolve the previous day.

You may say that is the benefit of a good night’s sleep or of giving oneself time to see things from a different perspective. But in my opinion, God kept working while we slept.

When you run up against a wall, unsure what you should do, the wisest advice I can give you is this: Turn it over to God before turning in. Place that challenge in God’s hands during the night.

You can be assured that it will be in God’s care, and if it can be solved by morning, God is certainly the One to solve it. God can and will mold your prayer and your wishes within God’s will, just as Herkomer molded his father’s clay.

What a comfort to know I am the child of God, who is at work even as I sleep! I have confidence to face the day because I know God watched over me all through the night as well.

What about you? Are you tensed up, having trouble sleeping? Have you tried hot chocolate, sleeping pills, counting sheep?

Try counting on God! Any time of day or night, God’s ear is inclined to you. God can dress the sky each night in the glittering array of stars and moons, and can bring up the sun each morning at a precise moment. Be reassured God can work in you and on your problems even while you sleep.

Sleep well tonight, dear friends. All you need for tomorrow will be taken care of tonight!


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