Sleep Under God’s Sovereignty

Audio Transcript

Get the rest and exercise and proper diet that your body was designed by God to have. That is not number one in our list. This is number eleven, but I will say it because you all are embodied human beings. God has ordained in his strange providence that what we eat, how we rest, and how we exercise affects our emotions.

We can’t equate bodily feelings with spiritual emotions, but I have a whole chapter on the mysteries of the interplay of body and soul in my book. All it is is a wrestling because these are mysteries to me as to how a spiritual reality, which I will have in heaven, works when I don’t yet have my body. So right now, my mother is in heaven and her body is over at Woodlawn Cemetery. But she’s filled with emotions toward Jesus right now without a body. I know that bodily feelings, trembling, the kinds of excitements that you associate with the body are not equal to spiritual affections. But they are interwoven, and you can hardly tear them apart.

“God has ordained in his strange providence, that what we eat, how we rest, and how we exercise affects our emotions.”

I’ll give you an example. It’s the fall of 1971. I’m sitting in a pantry, which I turned into a study in our apartment in Munich, Germany, where I was studying for three years. I read the most obvious sentence in Galatians: “The fruit of the Spirit is . . . patience” (Galatians 5:22). So I prayed, “Okay, Holy Spirit, please: I’m not a very patient person. Would you please grant me to be more patient with Noël, more patient with bus drivers and other people?”

Then I discovered this very paradoxical, contradictory, frustrating reality. My patience level rises and falls with how much sleep I get. And I got really scared. Now, what is patience? A fruit of sleep or a fruit of the Spirit? That’s a very profound question. If patience is a fruit of the Spirit, how come mine is going up and down with how much sleep I get? I’m crabby with no sleep. I’m a relatively easygoing, long-suffering person when I get enough sleep.

Now, here’s my best shot at an answer: One of the ways that the Holy Spirit works is by humbling me enough to realize that I’m not God and that the world can get along while I sleep. You can make good enough grades with some sleep. You can be a good enough husband with some sleep. You don’t need to stay awake and run the world. Just become unconscious one-third of your life. That’s a very humbling reality. That God would ordain that human beings are unconscious for a third of their life is just mind-boggling to me. There’s got to be a strong theological meaning for that. And the meaning is: You’re not God. I’m God, and I never sleep (Psalm 121:3).

The Holy Spirit gets at my patience, not just directly — and he can do that for a doctor who has to stay up three days in a row. He can make a doctor patient after two nights with no sleep. He can do that. Ordinarily, the Holy Spirit says, “Quit playing God and playing fast and loose with your body. I made you to need a certain number of hours of sleep. I’m going to humble you until you acknowledge that.” He can come at it indirectly as well as directly. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Same thing with eating. Same thing with exercising.

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