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Hearing God 7: Sleep

May 13, 2013

Hearing God by Dallas WillardThe fifth session of the Hearing God DVD curriculum starts out a bit strangely. The topic of the session is Hearing God in the Context of the Kingdom of God (more on the Kingdom of God in my next post). It is about hearing God in the context of a certain kind of life – a life lived in the Kingdom of God. But the first 10 minutes of the video is about sleep, and the epidemic of sleeplessness in our society today.

At first glance this seems a bit odd – why spend so much time talking about sleep in a class about hearing God’s voice? In fact, after the first 10 minutes of the video I stop it and ask the class participants the same question. “Why is this discussion of sleep relevant to our topic of hearing God.” After a bit of discussion, most classes come up with two responses:

  • First, it is relevant because the amount of rest we get influences everything we do in life. Sleep is a necessity for us – we are finite creatures and we need rest to function well. When we are not well-rested, everything gets harder – focusing at work, being civil to the people around us, our ability to process information, and so on. Sleep is necessary for virtually everything we do. And this is certainly true when it comes to hearing God as well. In Hearing God 6, we noted Willard’s belief that the primary way God seems to speak to us is the “still, small voice.” It is not always a booming voice that is impossible to miss. We have to pay attention. And paying attention requires us to be rested.
  • Second, it is relevant because – as we stated above – hearing God happens best in the context of a certain kind of life. Life lived in the Kingdom of God – which means life lived as if God is king. It involves a recognition that God is in control (and I am not). Few things in life more clearly demonstrate our need to release control of our lives than sleep, when we spend approximately 1/3 of our day unconscious and unaware of what is happening around us. When I sleep, I have to trust that God is in control and will take care of me at my most vulnerable. Halfway through Psalm 121 we find this line: “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa 121:4). God does not sleep – so we can sleep.

During this session, Dallas Willard and John Ortberg have an interesting discussion of the times when we can’t sleep – when something is bothering us and just can’t seem to let go of it and rest. Willard makes an interesting and (I think) very astute observation – he says that “sometimes turning loose [letting go] means taking hold of something else.” Often we have difficulty “letting go” of a problem or a worry – we may want to do so, but we aren’t sure how. Willard rightly points out that in order to let go, we may have to grab onto something else. So, for example, when I am laying in bed turning a problem over and over in my mind, and unable to sleep because of it, it is helpful for me to try and “let go” of that problem by “taking hold” of God’s goodness. Instead of focusing on the problem, I have found it helpful to pray – first, to pray about the problem and attempt to release it to God, at least for the night. But then I try and thank God for the good things in my life – my wife and newborn daughter, a roof over our heads, a warm bed to sleep in, etc. Instead of focusing on the few things going wrong in my life, this helps me to see and focus on the many things going right. And it often helps to calm me and allow me to relax enough that I can sleep.

In my next post, we’ll talk about the Kingdom of God – what it is, what it means to seek after it, and what that has to do with hearing God.

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