The Discipline of Sleep

By Uli Chi

May 27, 2022

Scripture: Psalm 3:5-6 (NIV)

I lie down and sleep;
+++I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves
+++against me all around.

Focus

David reminds us that sleep is an expression of faith. Our biological need for rest is a built-in reminder from our Creator that we are finite beings. Leadership can create the illusion that we are in control of the outcomes of our work. Our culture reinforces that illusion by projecting onto leaders almost godlike expectations. In contrast, a biblical vision of leadership recognizes the importance of human agency but understands its limitations. In the end, it is the LORD who “sustains” us and our work.

Devotion

I used to do my best work late at night. With a young family and a demanding career, I found myself often working after my kids and spouse were in bed. I have to admit that part of me enjoyed the uninterrupted time. No coworkers needed help with their projects. No kids interrupted my train of thought. I got a lot done. Still, the pattern of staying up later and later to do more and more work became a problem.

King David in Prayer by Pieter de Grebber (circa 1600–1652/1653) – Web Gallery of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I discovered that I was not alone. Numerous sleep experts have noted with considerable alarm the growing problem of sleep deprivation in our culture (for a sampler, just Google “sleep deprivation”). The demands of a competitive economy increase expectations of personal job performance, including the time we spend on work. All of it takes a significant toll on the amount of sleep we are getting. This brings me to today’s text.

As I noted in a prior reflection, Psalm 3 is a prayer of David from one of the darkest days of his reign as King of Israel. I find it remarkable that in the heart of his prayer, David says, “I lie down and sleep.” Frankly, that seems a bit odd to me. Why would David sleep in a crisis? And, even if he needed to sleep, why would that be important enough for him to work into his prayer? Isn’t sleep a mere necessity that gets in the way of our important work of leadership?

Evidently, it wasn’t for David.

David reminds us that sleep is an expression of faith. Our biological need for rest is a built-in reminder from our Creator that we are finite beings. Leadership can create the illusion that we are in control of the outcomes of our work. Our culture reinforces that illusion by projecting onto leaders almost godlike expectations. In contrast, a biblical vision of leadership recognizes the importance of human agency but understands its limitations. In the end, it is the LORD who “sustains” us and our work. So, David got it right. “I will lie down and sleep” is first and foremost an expression of faith in the God who is at work in all of our work.

Further, David reminds us that sleep is an expression of resistance. Fear drives much of our contemporary sleeplessness. Fear of failure. Fear of looking bad. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of losing our leadership role. The list goes on. David had much to fear. His son, Absalom, had successfully engineered a political coup. David’s life was literally on the line. In that context, his choice to sleep is not only an act of faith in God but also an act of resistance to the fear that resulted from his circumstances. My natural response to fear is to work harder. This psalm, like God’s Sabbath command, reminds me that rest is as important an act of resistance to fear as is work.

Finally, David reminds us that sleep is God’s means for the renewal of our work. “I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.” God uses our act of sleep to revitalize us for the work for which we are responsible. We ignore our biological need for sleep at our own peril. Not only does sleep deprivation have long-term health effects, but we have all seen its effects on the quality of our work.

Seeing sleep as a discipline that expresses our faith, that resists our fears, and that renews our work, is part of David’s lasting legacy in penning Psalm 3.

Reflect

Do you struggle with getting enough sleep? Why do you think that is? What causes you to work more and sleep less?

Does seeing sleep as an act of faith in God and as an act of resistance to fear resonate with you? Why or why not?

How can you practice the discipline of sleep more consistently in your life?

Pray

We are grateful, God, for your gift of sleep. As the Psalmist prayed elsewhere, we are grateful that we are not called to eat the bread of anxious toil, for you give sleep to your beloved. (Psalm 127:2)

We pray for wisdom to know our limits as leaders. Help us to lay down our responsibilities at the end of our day and to entrust them into your care for the night. Help us to resist the fears of our own limitations and to trust in your care and providence in all things.

We are grateful that you sustain and renew us and our work.

We give you the glory of our work, for from you and through you and to you are all things. Amen.

This post originally published on December 19, 2015.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. An article on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Balancing Rhythms of Rest and Work (Overview)


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Uli Chi

Vice Chair, Senior Fellow

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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