Sleep is vitally important and essential for our health. We all know you can cheat sleep for a while if you want to. But stack up too many nights with little or no sleep and it will start to have serious consequences. Your immune system will be compromised, and you will be at a greater risk of serious health issues. Lose too much sleep and you can experience mental health problems. Sleep is vital for our physical health, our mental health and our spiritual health. We spend something like a third of our lives asleep. Sleep, therefore, must be important to God. So what does he have to say about it? Listen to these words from Psalm 127:
Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.Psalm 127:1-2
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Now, I have a confession to make: I used to hate this psalm. It was probably my least favourite part of the Bible! The reason is because as long as I can remember I have struggled with sleep. There are lots of different reasons for that, but sleep has always been something that has been hard work for me. I’ve had periods of insomnia, and even at the best of times I don’t sleep well.
Why did I hate Psalm 127? Because of that line in verse 2: “He grants sleep to those he loves.” Perhaps you know it well and perhaps you have struggled with it as I did. You see, the logic in my mind was this: God grants sleep to those he loves. I can’t sleep. Therefore God doesn’t love me. After all, if he loved me, he would grant me sleep, right? I looked at this verse and saw in my struggle with sleep a sign that God did not love me.
But, you see, I had got this psalm the wrong way around. Sleep is not a reward but a gift. The context of this troublesome verse is the hecticness of work and toil. By ourselves we work and work to try and get things done. But because God loves us he allows us to cease from our toil – he gives the gift of sleep.
God knows that we need rest and recovery from our labours, he knows that we need slumber for our good, and so he gives us sleep. Sleep is a sign of God’s love for humanity. Sleeplessness is not a sign that God does not love me. Quite the opposite in fact. My struggle with sleeplessness shows that I need sleep. It bothers me because I want to receive this good gift from the hand of a loving God.
We live in a world of continual light and activity (especially in London where I live). All that makes us forget that God has given us a rhythm of waking and sleeping that we need to respect. Each night, the God who loves us says to us, it’s time to sleep. We need to heed his voice and receive his gift.