January 25, 2015
January 25th, 2015
How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions and you’ve already broken them?
How many of you just didn’t make any new year’s resolutions at all … you know, keep the expectations low and you won’t be disappointed – again?
January is usually the month where people do try to start self-improvement plans. It’s a great month for gyms, health shops, sports shops, and the like.
Actually, it is not a bad thing to stop and reevaluate how we live our lives, what we eat, how we live, how we can get out of debt, what we do – and not just at the beginning of a new calendar year.
Possibly this sermon will provoke us to make some changes in our lives. Today I want us to think about how God designed us for rest. Rest from work, rest from relationships and rest from being awake … and just how important and necessary all three really are.
1. Sabbath: Rest from work
In the creation story, we read that after creation, God ceased from all his creative work.
On the seventh day God rested from all his work. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy (set apart), because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:2-3
Notice that God did not give His special blessing to the six days of creation but only to the day in which He did nothing at all but rest. It was this day only he proclaimed as holy or set apart for himself, it was to be a day of worship.
And by the way, the only reason we now have our primary day of rest and worship on Sunday, the 1st day of the week, is because it is the day Jesus rose from the dead and it is the day on which the church met at its inception.
In Exodus, we are told something extraordinary. When God rested, “he was refreshed.”
It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. Exodus 31:17
This seems a pretty weird statement given the fact that God is understood to be all powerful and continually active. We would think that God wouldn’t need to be refreshed. And yet he apparently does. God’s creative activity, his work of creation, came to an end, and he was refreshed from it.
Now, if this is true for God, now much more for us who are created in his image? In fact, when we rest from our work, when we relax, when we rejuvenate and reenergize we are doing what God himself did. From time to time, our sagging spirits, our spinning heads, our sputtering hearts and our tired bones all need to be refreshed, relaxed and renewed. It is false pride that makes us think that we can improve on God's performance.
There was no one in Jewish society who was to be excluded from that Sabbath rest. It was to extend to all, including slaves and working animals like donkey and ox, possibly camel and horse.
The seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your God. On it you are not to do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female slaves, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female slaves may rest, as you do. Deuteronomy 5:14
According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.
Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, "Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bows implies."
The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, "If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it."
So we should start by setting aside a special day to relax physically and renew ourselves emotionally and spiritually, as well as prolonged times of rest, such as vacations and holidays. We will be at your best if we take time to loosen the bow.
When we live at a busy pace, rest is the chance for us to rejuvenate and avoid burnout. But it goes beyond that. Rather than simply recharging us so we can tackle our work week, rest can change how we fundamentally view our lives. Rest gives us the ability to refocus, to have a better perspective on life and on what is going on.
By the way, even holidays, instead of being relaxing and rejuvenating, can be just the opposite. How many of you have come back from vacation and you need a rest by going to work?
I’m reminded of the teen in history class who, on hearing Winston Churchhill’s famous words, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender” commented, “Wow, that sounds just like our family vacations.” Which takes us to our second point:
2. Solitude: Rest from people
During his time of ministry, Jesus was often inundated with people. Because of this Jesus often sought out solitude for himself or his disciples.
After Jesus healed a leper, the story about his healings got around, with predictable results:
But now even more the report about Jesus went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to uninhabited places and pray. Luke 5:15
Notice that Jesus went to regain perspective as he connected intentionally with God the Father. The pressure and the expectations of the people were great. It would be intimidating to have to live up to it all, knowing that most would end up being disappointed in him.
At another time, Jesus sent out the 12 apostles (sent ones) to preach the good news and to exorcise demons and to heal from illness. When the disciples came back they were excited, but also tired.
And Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to an uninhabited place and rest for a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure time, not even to eat. And they went away to an uninhabited place by themselves. Mark 6:31-32
So Jesus was keenly aware that solitude is sometimes necessary, especially when we are around a lot of people a lot of the time. At other times, Jesus sought solitude when he was under a lot of distress. The time in the Garden of Gethsemane comes to mind, but also the time when king Herod Antipas had John the baptizer beheaded at the bequest of his step-daughter Salome:
Now when Jesus heard about John, he withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by himself. Matthew 14:13a
Jesus wanted to have this time to himself to process the shock of losing his cousin. It may also have meant contemplating that the kind of ministry that he and John were doing would likely result in execution. At times we need solitude, not only to recover, but to gain perspective, to perhaps refocus on what is really important, to consider what can happen next.
Do we allow rest to shift our attention?
Do we use a time of solitude to get refocused?
Do we truly slow down enough when we rest? Are we too focused on activity?
Once we grasp a correct understanding of rest, then we’ll be freed to make some practical changes to how we engage in rest and leisure in our daily lives, which leads us to our third point.
3. Sleep: Rest from activity
About 36% of life is spent asleep. If you happen to live until you’re 84, you will have spent about 30 years asleep.
Back in biblical days, there was a high degree of appreciation for a good night’s sleep. In fact, sound sleep was considered a blessing in the Bible, especially during troubling times:
I lay down, slept and woke again, for YHWH sustained me. I will not be afraid of the many thousands all around me who have set themselves against me Psalm 3:5-6
In peace I lie down and sleep because you alone, YHWH, let me rest without worrying. Psalm 4:8
Or, if you hold on to wisdom and discernment then …
When you lie down your sleep will be sweet. Proverbs 3:24
Jesus epitomized that kind of trust in God’s providence when he and the disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee also known as Lake Gennesaret or Lake Tiberias. The lake is the largest in Israel, about 21 km long and 13 km wide. It is big enough for winds and waves to come up that posed a real danger to the small fishing boats. This event is described in all three of the synoptic gospels.
As they sailed Jesus fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. Luke 8:23
And behold, a great storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. But Jesus was asleep. Matthew 8:24
But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Mark 4:38
Sound sleep is considered a blessing of God. It was considered a sign of those who are so secure in their relationship with God that they did not have to be kept awake or have their sleep disturbed because of what was going on in their lives.
The Psalmist comments on a lack of sleep because of being too consumed with work.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go to bed late only to eat the bread of anxious toil, for God gives to his beloved sleep. Psalm 127:2
Sleep is a blessing from God.
The view that sleep was a good and necessary thing was a view that permeated society. The Elizabethan dramatist, Thomas Dekker, wrote 400 years ago:
Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.
In fact, what we know through modern research proves Dekker right. But there has been a great shift in society’s thoughts about sleep as we move into the industrial revolution.
In the 1700,s Benjamin Franklin wrote:
There will be sleeping enough in the grave. Benjamin Franklin
In the early 1800’s, Thomas Jefferson said,
Sleep is a criminal waste of time, inherited from our cave days.
Around the same time, the first buildings were fitted with Thomas Edison’s lightbulbs and invaded the dark more readily than kerosene lamps or gas lights.
Personally, I enjoy working about 18 hours a day. Besides the short catnaps I take each day, I average about four to five hours of sleep per night.
Also in the 1800’s the evangelist Henry Drummond wrote
No man can become a saint in his sleep.
100 years ago Virginia Woolf wrote,
Sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life.
Margaret Thatcher was reported to have said,
Sleep is for wimps.
I have all kinds of further quotes about sleep being an intrusion, almost an enemy of productivity, by football coaches, comedians, business people and others. I like a couple of ones whose origins are unknown, including this one:
Sleep: a poor substitute for caffeine. Author Unknown
Today we live with jetlag, global business, and the ability to work at any hour of the day or night, 7 days a week. Sleep is an inconvenience, an enemy to productiveness.
Others live with shift work. However, the internal body clock cannot shift with the demands of working at night. When the shift worker comes home in the morning desperately tired and tries to sleep during the day, the body clock is saying that this is the time to be awake, which means the quality of sleep is very poor.
It seems that sleep deprivation has become one of the things that we men brag about. I only had 4 hours of sleep last night and look at how good I’m functioning. I work so hard I don’t have time to sleep more than 5 hours a night. It’s almost like one up-man-ship.
Sleep and our natural sleeping pattern is highly underrated when it comes to the biological factors that determine health and well-being. Yet Sleep is vitally important.
How much sleep do we need?
Teenagers need 9 hours
Adults: 8 hours – about what people got back in the 1950’s
Average in 2014 6.5 hours (very common 5 hours, even on a school night)
One myth is that older people need less sleep. That simply is not true. While sleep may fragment as we get old, the requirements are the same. The average needed remains around 8 hours, some needing slightly more or slightly less.
Why do we sleep?
The cells of our bodies are fed and oxygenated because of our blood system. We also have a lymph system that flushes out the toxins that accumulate between the cells.
However, the cells of our brain are simply too tightly packed into a confined space called the skull, that there is no room for a second system to flush out the toxins. Yet, because of the brain’s intense electrical activity means its cells produce an overabundance of waste that does need to be cleared. So there is a very elegant design in our brains using the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds our brains.
Only during sleep, do the cells of the brain contract so that the CSF actually penetrates the spaces between the cells as it is pumped along the intricate network of blood vessels into the brain enabling it to take up the waste materials. The CSF actually flushes out the toxins and dumps them into the blood. A sleeping brain is literally awash with CSF while a waking brain hardly has any CSF.
So what is the waste builds up during waking hours? One class of toxins is called amyloid-beta proteins. Its buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. We now know that even minor sleep deprivation in healthy brains causes the buildup of amyloid-beta proteins. They simply are not flushed from the brain because there isn’t enough sleep to do so. While high-quality sleep may not prevent Alzheimer’s, there is as least some connection between poor sleep and the disease.
So the brain puts off clearing out the waste until we are asleep – and long enough - much like we put off some chores until the weekend.
There is also some connection between sleep disorders or sleep disruption and mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disease. Patients who are reconditioned to have normal sleeping patterns have reduced paranoia by 50%.
Now imagine if you actually stopped cleaning your kitchen for one month. You just dump dirty dishes and kitchen waste there. Can you imagine the stink that would not only be in the kitchen but penetrate the rest of the house? Can you imagine the maggots crawling out the kitchen door into the rest of the house? The ability to live in your house or apartment would decline drastically.
However, a lack of sleep may have a much more profound negative impact on the health of the mind and body. Sleep has this incredible restorative function for the mind and body. As such, sleep is not an indulgence. It is not something that we should be treating casually. Sleep refreshes and cleanses the mind.
Why do we sleep?
2. Memory consolidation – researchers have found that sound sleep helps to consolidate memories that are made during the day. That means that those memories can then be recalled. Poor sleep results in poor memory.
Why do we sleep?
3. Brain processing
Brain processing is one way of stating that our ability to come up with solutions to complex problems is vastly greater after a good night of sleep. It is estimated that a good night’s sleep gives us a three-fold advantage with regard to advanced creativity.
If you don’t sleep, your brain doesn’t fly. It’s not just that sleep gets us an upgrade to business class or first class. Without sleep we don’t even get off the ground.
One of the most notable example was the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. The sleep deprived shift workers had a greatly reduced decision-making ability, and mistakenly disabled the cooling system which resulted in the reactor overheating and exploding.
Even brilliant people will make terrible decisions when sleep deprived.
Brain processing is impaired and leads to:
• Poor memory (as previously mentioned)
• Poor creativity
• Poor judgment
• Increased impulsiveness
• Increased cravings for things that keep awake: food, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, stimulants, caffeine
• Increased the risk of obesity
If on average you get 5 hours or less of sleep a night, you have a 50% chance of being obese. Why? Because lack of sleep tends to release the hunger hormone ghrelin. As a result, sleep deprived people Seeks carbohydrates and particular sugars.
• Increased stress
Tired people are massively stressed. They are stressed on an ongoing level.
• Compromised immune system.
This may be why shift workers have a higher rate of cancer and why people who sleep poorly are more prone to develop diabetes 2 and cardio-vascular disease.
Microsleep – these are times that last for a fraction of a second or up to thirty seconds of sleep which are relatively common in sleep deprived people. Those who have them don’t know they are happening, thinking that they’ve been awake the whole time. Microsleep can be deadly when you’re driving a car or operating heavy equipment. 1/3 of drivers fall asleep at the wheel at least once in their lives.
Being sleep deprived is more than just a mildly impaired brain. God created sleep as a massively important process.
How can we tell if we’re not getting enough sleep?
Do we need an alarm clock to wake us up? – the sound of the alarm clock stops the most important time of restitution in our day.
Does it take a long time for us to get out of bed?
Are we grumpy and irritable?
Are we told by our coworkers that we look tired?
Do we feel exhausted?
Do mental chores seem overly difficult?
So God has designed us to take time off work on a weekly basis – our Sabbath day, whatever day of the week that might be.
God has designed us to take off for periods of solitude – the time when we get reenergized to reconnect with people
God has designed us for 8 hours of sleep a night.
Traditionally, January is the time when we think of self-improvement. It’s all about what we can do to make ourselves better people. The result is that health clubs, debt counselors, and vitamin shops do a booming business. While self-improvement is by and large positive, there can be a lot of SELF in it.
What I mean is that we can take this concept of rest and sleep and restoration and apply it to ourselves only because we want to be more productive at work, or more able to retain what we’ve studies, or more stable emotionally, or healthier.
However, we tend to forget that Jesus and the disciples didn’t devote their lives to becoming the best possible version of themselves physically and emotionally. They devoted their lives to make a difference in the world … or a difference in someone’s world.
The disciples came back from preaching the good news elated but exhausted. Jesus told them to rest, in part for them to recover, but mostly because it gave them a greater ability to do what they felt called by God to do, in order for them to regenerate, to refresh, to reenergize so that they will be better able to minister to others, to help others, to positively influence others, to give and not just to take.
The point I’m getting at is that we may go home today with plans to go to bed earlier, or not to watch TV or be on the computer 30 minutes or 1 hour before bedtime, or to stop drinking coffee in the afternoon. But the real purpose, the real message we should get from our passage is that we need to do these things not only for our own sake but for the sake of others as well.
The way to a more productive, more inspired, more grateful, more effective, more caring, more joyous life is Sabbath Rest, Solitude and Sleep.
What is keeping me from taking a weekly Sabbath rest, times of solitude and 8 hours of sleep a night and what will I do to fix it?