Note: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” NORMALLY Thursdays belong to Isaac. However, he’s swamped right now, so I’ll be posting today instead. I’m sure Isaac would appreciate your prayers. ~ Barry ~
“Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”
I crafted the silly little formula in the title of this post to express something true about myself. It’s not a completely new realization for me; it’s more like I just connected the dots between a couple of old realizations.
I’ve always known that I don’t function well without adequate sleep. Among other things, I can get irritable when I haven’t had enough sleep. I’ve also always known that I’m sensitive to caffeine. Too much makes me jittery and high-strung. What I had never really thought about before is what a disastrous combination that is.
Think about it—not just irritability, but high-strung irritability, inciting me to act not just a little like Oscar the Grouch, but more like Oscar the Grouch on steroids. It isn’t pretty.
A terrible reality dominates our existence. We are all by nature sinners who deserve nothing but God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). In addition to that, sin has a blemishing effect on our minds and personalities so that we all have a few deeply ingrained character flaws, many of which we’re oblivious to. Ideally, we need to know what those are. It’s a healthy thing to heed Plato’s admonition: “Know thyself.”
But that’s not as easy as it might sound. The same sin that deserves God’s wrath and blemishes our personalities warps our ability to know our own hearts, and even our ability to recognize that we may be deceiving ourselves. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
What can we do?
Commenting on a phrase in Psalm 36:9 (“in your light do we see light”) Charles Spurgeon said, “We need no candle to see the sun, we see it by its own radiance, and then see everything else by the same luster. The knowledge of God sheds light on all other subjects.”
Before we can ever begin to know ourselves accurately, we must know God. And the Bible makes it clear that we can only know God through Christ. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). I don’t want anyone reading this to miss that. If we don’t start there, we cannot know ourselves truly. Even then our knowledge will be partial and imperfect.
That was a digression from my main point, although a lot more important than it. Getting back to my original thought, though, I can see that I have to be careful to avoid situations like the one I described at the beginning of this post. Too much caffeine on top of too little sleep is for me a recipe for disaster. Donald Whitney, in his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, says,
Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a nap… God made us a unity of body and soul, and one influences the other. When your soul is either happy or discouraged, it can affect how your body looks and feels. And when your body is exhausted, it tends to dampen the zeal of your soul. In fact, fatigue often weakens our resolve against temptation and provides excuses for anger, lust, and other sins.
Whitney’s insight, of course, isn’t new. Many others have observed the same phenomenon. Spurgeon once told his ministry students,
The condition of your body must be attended to … a little more … common sense would be a great gain to some who are ultra spiritual, and attribute all their moods of feeling to some supernatural cause when the real reason lies far nearer to hand. Has it not often happened that dyspepsia has been mistaken for backsliding, and bad digestion has been set down as a hard heart? (quoted by John Piper)
And again, in the same lectures to his students, Spurgeon said,
The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. . . . Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength. (Quoted here)
Is that all?
What I’m about to say next may appear to upend what I’ve already said, but in reality I’m only putting what I’ve said in its proper perspective.
While Spurgeon saw clearly the value of common sense and adequate rest, he did not encourage laziness. In fact, he himself worked so hard that his accomplishments are almost unbelievable. And he accomplished what he did in spite of a lifelong battle with sickness and depression and exhaustion. That makes his words in a message to those who were sick and afflicted all the more remarkable:
If I have any message to give from my own bed of sickness it would be this—if you do not wish to be full of regrets when you are obliged to lie still, work while you can. If you desire to make a sick bed as soft as it can be, do not stuff it with the mournful reflection that you wasted time while you were in health and strength. People said to me years ago, “You will break your constitution down with preaching ten times a week,” and the like. Well, if I have done so, I am glad of it. I would do the same again. If I had fifty constitutions I would rejoice to break them down in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. You young men that are strong, overcome the wicked one and fight for the Lord while you can. You will never regret having done all that lies in you for our blessed Lord and Master. Crowd as much as you can into every day, and postpone no work till to-morrow. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
I can’t read that without thinking about the apostle Paul’s words to the church at Corinth: “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15).
Is there a danger of overextending ourselves? Yes. But a greater danger, I think, and one that we in affluent societies like America are more prone to, is to take this truth and pervert it (remember that deceitful heart?), using it as an excuse for our own sloth. We love our leisure and our recreation. Our bows are not always bent. In fact, they are seldom ever bent.
I do need to know my weaknesses and my faults, and know them well. And I need to take care of myself. But I have an even greater need. I need to spend myself for the good of others and the glory of God.