June 19, 2024

How God Uses Sleep to Magnify Himself

Sleep is a common issue in my work.  Most problems I address have sleep issues as a portion if not the majority of the problem.  I also have sleep problems, and in advising my clients and problem-solving my own poor sleep, I have gotten into a transaction loop with sleep.  By that, I mean that if I sleep well, I think about all that I did well the day before, and if I sleep poorly, I catalog my failures.  The result is frustration, though, because the reality is that I sleep poorly just as often as when I do most things right as wrong.  I can undoubtedly influence my sleep, but there is something else that has an overriding influence on my sleep.  Sleep is more than transactional.

Psalm 123:2

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.

Psalm 127:2 is corrective.  My goal was to create good sleep, and I think there is some virtue in this goal.  But there are many times when I do everything right and still sleep poorly.  God grants sleep to those He loves.  Perhaps it is also true that He grants sleep out of love. 

Ecclesiastes 5:12

Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

Ecclesiastes 5:12 is more transactional, but in what sense?  This verse contrasts the sweet sleep of the laborer with that of the wealthy person.  The contrast is physical comforts and not effort since the distinction is not made between a laborer and a sluggard (Proverbs 6:9).  After all, wealthy people work hard too.  Perhaps the focus is on the resource.  The resource of the laborer is inconsistent, in a sense.  Sometimes he eats a lot and sometimes a little, yet sleep is sweet.  What causes his good (i.e., sweet) sleep?  Laborers have many virtues that might create good sleep, but simplicity fits the context.  He has fewer things, thus fewer cares and worries.  This interpretation is consistent with the description of the wealthy person in that their abundance disrupts their sleep.  This wisdom contrasts with our instinct to gain peace through accumulation.

What is it about having little that brings sweet sleep, or its contrast: abundance that disrupts sleep?  As sons of the Most High, we will inherit even the earth (Matt. 5:5).  Inheritance means the earth will be our possession not from labor but by law.  We are wealthy in the purest sense of the word in God, so the statement in Ecclesiastes is not likely talking about abundance as having that which will lead to a full stomach.  After all, Isaiah 55:1 encourages us to come and eat and drink to satisfaction.  Such indulgence is not necessarily a vice.  Instead, Ecclesiastes is likely talking about the process of accumulation.  Luke 12:18 describes Jesus’ attitude to such activity.

Further, Ecclesiastes is likely referring to the source of the abundance.  Did I acquire because of my labor or my wit, or because of the provision of God?  Both the laborer and the wealthy work, but only one has a consistently full stomach.  The plans and provisions of man cannot get beyond the goal of having abundance.  People want to eliminate hunger through effort and stockpiling.  The provision of God says that hunger is no big deal and is certainly no better or worse than satisfaction.  God’s provision is always daily, and the only storing up we do is glory or wrath in the age to come.  Having much or having little, being tired or rested, sleeping a lot or a little-all of these things are secondary to one’s understanding of the source and nature of these things.  Note that the verse didn’t say anything about how long the laborer slept, just that the sleep is sweet.  By contrast, and maybe this is not proper contrast, the wealthy person cannot sleep. 

What then is sweet sleep?  It will likely help to consider the purpose of sleep, which I have said elsewhere is possibly a mechanism to put God, the One that neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4), in relief to our weakness and finitude.  We have reason to be meek.  Sleep humbles us and makes us helpless, which is the proper human posture to God.  That posture to God is why the laborer sleeps so sweetly.

Does Psalm 127:2 suggest that God gives sleep to his children as an act of love?  He not only saves us (He gives us sleep instead of death-see Matt.  9:24) but sustains us through this loop of lovingly bestowing sweet sleep that keeps us in right thinking about our relationship to Jehovah Jireh (Gen. 22:14), our Provider.

It is possible to improve sleep through behavioral interventions.  Creating bedtime routines, reducing stress and alcohol intake, and increasing exercise are all behaviors science has successfully linked to sleep quality.  Only God gives sweet sleep.  The sleep we have in God our Benefactor is enough for the demands of the day.  Sweet sleep is also sufficient when you wake up exhausted.  God causes fatigue for His purposes.  Perhaps fatigue is so that God can presently sustain you and bring you encouragement and peace as a result.  Our relationship with God is not transactional or static.  It is ongoing because even after He saves you, He sustains you until glorification (Psalm 55:22, I Cor. 1:7-9), which is certain.  He not only did it all, but He does it all.  What happens in and out the universe is by Him, for Him, and through Him (Col 1:16).  Sleep is an instrument for the magnification and exultation of God.

AJ Switzer

This name is a moniker so that the text can speak for itself. I am developing what I can write about more than how I write. I use AI to edit my stuff.

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