Thursday, December 11, 2008

Meditation on Sleep and the Lord as Creator, Sustainer, Crucified and Risen

A Song of Ascents.

121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

There are two implied contrasts I was meditating upon recently in this psalm. The first comes in verse 2 where it describes the Lord as the creator of heaven and earth. The contrast is this: He is the creator and I am not! He is all powerful and I am a creature in need of help.

What a privilege to be a son of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and able to come to God as my Father seeking help from the One who made heaven and earth! Surely this God can help me no matter my circumstances. If he is truly my Father, which he is if I have welcomed his beloved Son as Lord and Savior, then with this kind of helper I have little to fear.

The second implied contrast comes in verse 4 when it says that the Lord does not slumber or sleep. Unlike his creatures, the Lord does not need sleep. He does not need to rest. He does not retire at night.

I struggle with sleep. My wife is out the minute her head hits the pillow while I toss and turn. I tend to be a night owl, and truth be told, I don't really like going to sleep. I wish I could stay up all night and accomplish all the things I didn't accomplish during the day.

Sleep says to us that we are mere creatures. Sleep says to us that we are not God. He keeps us; he preserves us; and he sustains our lives. He gives life and breath and strength. He alone is the independent, self-existent, life giving and sustaining Lord, and we are but creatures, who depend on him at all times.

Sleep is a picture of our physical dependence, but isn't it also a picture of our spiritual dependence as well? So often death in the Bible is likened to sleep. I think, for example, of Jesus telling the disciples that Lazarus has fallen asleep. The disciples, who have no interest in facing the danger that awaits them if they head back toward Jerusalem, say, "Lord, if he is sleeping, he will wake up." Jesus then tells them that he was using sleep as a metaphor of death.

Similarly, awakening from sleep is a picture of resurrection in the Bible. For example, Ephesians 5:14-15:

"'Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.'
Look carefully then how you walk,
not as unwise but as wise . . . ."

And so, the Lord gives us sleep and awakening from sleep as a picture of our spiritual dependence on Christ with whom we have died and risen for the purpose of living a new kind of life (Rom. 6:4). And just as I am dependent on the Lord physically, so I am dependent on the Lord spiritually, for as Jesus says, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Applying this in a rather personal way, I think maybe I need to see sleep in a new way, namely, as an opportunity to trust in the Lord to watch over me; to recognize that my work and life is in his hands; that I am dependent physically and spiritually; that I must trust him each day (and night) to awaken and raise me to newness of life, according to his promise. Sleep is a sign of all that, but also an opportunity to put that trust into practice each day.

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