“Let Us Not Sleep On as the Rest Do”
“IT’S a real joy to be alive!” Did you ever feel that way on awaking from a good night’s sleep, refreshed, strengthened, ready for renewed activity? Or, have you ever taken refuge in sleep as a help in overcoming sorrow or disappointment? And who, on being faced with a serious decision to make, has not said something like ‘Let me sleep on it’? Recent scientific studies indicate that sleep may even be instrumental in the learning processes and memorizing. Truly, sleep is a gift from man’s Creator, Jehovah.
The Encyclopædia Britannica describes sleep as “a recurring state of inactivity, decrease of consciousness and decrease in responsiveness to events in the environment.” Obviously a “state of inactivity” or a ‘decrease of consciousness and responsiveness’ is not always desirable. Like other gifts from Jehovah God we could misuse sleep to our own detriment. Proverbs 20:13 warns: “Do not love sleep, that you may not come to poverty.”
Christians therefore should strive to have a balanced view of sleep. A person would certainly want to get sufficient rest so that he could fulfill his Christian obligations properly. On the other hand, we should not lazily “love sleep” to the point of neglecting vital matters.
Jesus gave us a fine example to follow. He was willing to work hard, curing the sick and expelling demons even “after evening had fallen.” But the next day, “early in the morning, while it was still dark,” he was already up, in this case so that he could have privacy for prayer to his Father.—Mark 1:32, 35.
The apostle Paul, an elder in the early Christian congregation, is an example for Christian elders today. Speaking to the older men of the congregation in Ephesus, he said: “Bear in mind that for three years, night and day, I did not quit admonishing each one with tears.” (Acts 20:31) Yes, “night and day.” Also, he wrote about “sleepless nights” resulting from his conscientious efforts to help the congregation.—2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27.
However, there is also such a thing as spiritual sleep, and this is what Paul was speaking about at 1 Thessalonians 5:6 when he said: “Let us not sleep on as the rest do.”
In speaking of “us,” he was obviously referring to genuine Christians, who are religiously active, responsive to Jehovah’s direction and conscious of the development of God’s purposes. They must be spiritually awake! “The rest” would be persons, perhaps including some professed Christians, who are spiritually asleep and thus unconcerned about Jesus’ “presence” and the coming “sudden destruction” of the wicked.—1 Thess. 4:15; 5:1-3.
Today that sort of spiritual sleep or apathy affects far more persons than it did in Paul’s day. Even some of Christendom’s clergy perceive this. The prevailing spiritual sleep is made plain by all the hopeful talk about “a new religious ‘awakening.’ “ Commenting on this, in April 1978, The Detroit News said that “reports of a religious revival in the United States may be a bit premature, if not downright exaggerated, . . .” And it quoted a dean of a Protestant seminary in Oklahoma as observing: “In my judgment, the church has fallen on hard times because it has gradually but definitely become illiterate in the faith.” What about in other lands? The Austrian religious journal das gespräch (the conversation) said: “Cardinal König [of Austria] also revealed who is to blame for the world’s miserable condition. . . . ‘The blame lies to a great extent with the so-called “Christian nations,” who in the past colonized practically the entire world and then went about “Christianizing” it. But they did not really bring Christ’s spirit, only the name. They have failed to live the gospel.’”—September 1976, p. 2.
A DANGER FOR GENUINE CHRISTIANS
Paul admonished “let us not sleep,” showing that even genuine Christians must be careful to avoid being lulled into sleep. Remember that on the last night that Jesus was with them the disciples fell asleep, despite his urgings to wakefulness. Although physical in nature, their sleep indicated a tendency toward spiritual drowsiness. Jesus said: “At such a time as this you are sleeping!” (Matt. 26:40-45; Mark 14:37-41) Just think of all that was involved: The truthfulness of God’s Word, the faithfulness of his Son, the destiny of the human race. Fully conscious of all that was involved, Jesus was spiritually awake, petitioning his Father for needed strength. His disciples would have done well to have copied his example.
“Keep on the watch and pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation,” Jesus told them. (Matt. 26:41) How timely and appropriate this warning! Shortly thereafter, at the time of his betrayal, “all the disciples abandoned him and fled,” and Peter even went so far as to disown him three times. (Matt. 26:56, 69-75) Spiritual drowsiness is dangerous.
This is understandable because even untimely physical sleep can lead to disaster. We recall Judge Samson who was betrayed by Delilah and “woke up from his sleep” only to discover “that it was Jehovah that had departed from him.”—Judg. 16:19-21.
If physical sleep at inappropriate times can lead to disaster, how much more so spiritual sleep. It is always inappropriate. Revelation 16:15 says concerning such: “Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments, that he may not walk naked and people look upon his shamefulness.” Yes, spiritual sleep can lead to loss of our Christian clothes of identification.—Compare Proverbs 23:21.
But how do you think true Christians can stay awake? As an aid to knowing let us consider some parallels between physical and spiritual sleep. This will also help us in making personal examination so as to prevent even the slightest tendency toward spiritual drowsiness.
Sleep, we learned, is a “state of inactivity.” So, to what extent are we active in Christian matters, such as in proclaiming the “good news” that Jesus is present in Kingdom power and soon will bring “sudden destruction” on the wicked? Not that we want to compare the amount of our activity with that of others, for this would be not only unwise but also unloving. (Gal. 6:4, 5) But, by taking into consideration our personal circumstances, our health, our family responsibilities, our abilities, as well as our limitations, each of us can individually judge his own degree of wakefulness in this respect. Regarding our spiritual activities in this harvesttime, we can well take to heart what Proverbs 10:5 says: “The son acting with insight is gathering during the summertime; the son acting shamefully is fast asleep during the harvest.”
Sleep is further described as a “decrease of consciousness.” Hence, are we still very conscious of our spiritual needs, as is appropriate for Christians who truly believe that we are near the end of this system of things? Do we show this by regular study and meeting attendance? Are we eager to read the newest literature published to help us to understand the Bible? How much better it is to use our time with such matters than wasting it on revelries or the constant pleasure-seeking that characterizes many who are spiritually asleep.—1 Thess. 5:7.
Sleep also shows a “decrease in responsiveness.” We can ask, ‘How do I respond when encouraged to some special Christian activity? Is my response immediate and enthusiastic? Am I as responsive in applying new things learned as when I first became acquainted with the truth of God’s Word?’
Let us take the illustration of literal sleep a little farther: Sleep is characterized by a drop in body temperature and a decrease in heart rate. Do we sense a cooling off in our zeal and love for others? Or are we still “aglow with the spirit,” zealously sharing the Christian message? Can we, like Jeremiah, say that the truth is “like a burning fire” within us that we simply cannot contain?—Rom. 12:11; Jer. 20:9.
Another feature of sleep is dreaming. Dreams bring no lasting happiness, and in fact can even lead to disappointment when one awakens to stark reality. Isaiah 29:8 describes it like this: “Yes, it must occur just as when someone hungry dreams and here he is eating, and he actually awakes and his soul is empty.”
Could it be that we are living in a “dream,” asleep to the reality of the changing world scene, perhaps spending too much time and money in pursuit of material interests? Even as a dreamer has no sense of time, have we also lost the sense of urgency of the times in which we are living? Remember Paul warned Thessalonian Christians that the end of this system would overtake many like a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5:4; Matt. 24:43, 33) Could we be overdoing recreation, perhaps even missing Christian meetings in pursuing such? Or advocating changes in meeting times to fit in better with our personal plans, rather than in consideration of the best interests of the flock and those whom we should be teaching? How much better to be awake to the real facts of life: God’s established kingdom is actively ruling; this wicked system of things is facing imminent and permanent destruction; our personal destiny is at stake.—1 Tim. 4:16.
HOW TO AVOID DROWSINESS
We need to understand what causes sleep. Physical sleep is not primarily caused by external forces. Oh, things such as a warm room, lack of fresh air, or warm milk may contribute to sleepiness. But sleep is actually triggered by some inside mechanism that is not yet completely understood. Similarly, external forces can contribute to spiritual drowsiness. For example, public indifference to our preaching work could. Or, as Jesus warned, letting our hearts “become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life” would also tend to lull us to sleep. (Luke 21:34) These dangers must be avoided. But probably what we are inside, not our outside environment, will in the long run either keep us spiritually awake or lull us to sleep. So we must guard our internal makeup, keeping our heart awake to its first love. We must watch our thoughts, our motives, our desires, pay close attention to the man we are inside. (Eph. 3:16-19) How fine is the apostle’s counsel: “Be persevering in prayer, remaining awake in it with thanksgiving”!—Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:8, 11, 16-22.
COPY JEHOVAH’S EXAMPLE OF WAKEFULNESS
In ‘not sleeping on as the rest do’ true Christians can follow Jehovah’s fine example of wakefulness. To the “rest” it may appear that Jehovah is slow in bringing an end to the present system with all its corruption and injustice. (2 Pet. 3:9) Thus they likely will still be ‘asleep’ when the “great tribulation” suddenly is upon them. (1 Thess. 5:3) But Jehovah will prove himself to be wide awake indeed. His course then will compare with the description in Psalm 78:65, 66: “Then Jehovah began to awake as from sleeping, like a mighty one sobering up from wine. And he went striking down his adversaries from behind; a reproach of indefinite duration he gave to them.”—Compare Jeremiah 1:12.
Now is the time for us to find Christian joy in being active in Jehovah’s service, being conscious of our spiritual needs and the critical time in which we live and in being responsive to His direction. Now is the time to be spiritually awake even as Paul said elsewhere: “It is already the hour for you to awake from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than at the time when we became believers. The night is well along; the day has drawn near.”—Rom. 13:11, 12.