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A Pastor’s Reflections: Sleepless Nights

August 19, 2014


One of the things that drives me nuts is sleepless nights. I do my best to make the most of my day—I get up pretty early in the morning and I go to bed at a modestly late hour. I want to ensure I can use my day well. I want to be productive. But every so often Providence disrupts my schedule. I will go to bed at my regular time and then I’ll lie there and stew. My mind will race and I can’t turn it off. I do my best to lie still so I don’t disturb my wife, but even then, she’ll roll over and tell me, “Honey, please go to sleep. I can hear you thinking.” When I’m lying there, mind racing, one of my frequent thoughts is, “I’m wasting time! I should be sleeping so I can rest. This will definitely hurt my ability to work tomorrow if I’m too tired.” Why do I suffer from this type of temporary insomnia?

Sometimes I suffer from it because I make the mistake of reading theology at night. That’s a big no-no for me. I’ll read theology, my mind starts chewing on what I’m reading, I’ll put the book down, turn off the light, close my eyes, but my brain is too hopped up! I’m too excited about what I’m reading, or sometimes my mind has been turned into a mental pretzel. Or, I’ve got some theological food for thought stuck in there and the best piece of mental floss can’t get it out so I can get some rest! I’ve therefore stopped reading theology before I go to bed. I try to find mindless entertainment or read something totally disconnected from theology, such as contemporary military history.

But as a pastor, one of the reasons that I would lay awake at night was because I was worrying about the people in my church. I might get a phone call from a distraught church member, and I would lie there and worry. There are some people that can sleep regardless of what’s going on in their lives, but I’m not one of them. As I would lie there, my inability to sleep, worries about being too tired, and the different people in my church would circle my mind like a merry-go-round, on and on. After this went on for a number of years, I started to reflect upon the doctrine of Providence and my temporary insomnia.

I reminded myself of those wonderful words of the third chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “God ordains whatsoever comes to pass . . .” I reminded myself that, yes, I was a creature with freedom of the will (see WCF 9 in case you think I just lost my theological marbles), but at the same time Providence ordained every moment of my life, including my sleeplessness. I accepted the fact that, I might have wanted to go to sleep, but God set up a divine appointment with him through his holy Providence. I could either squander that appointment by jumping on the worry-go-round, or I could use it well. I came to the conclusion that if I was awake, and if I was worrying, that I should pray for those for whom I had great concern.

I want to offer one other piece of counsel—never make life-changing decisions in the middle of the night. I’ve found that when you get on the worry-go-round it can become a vicious cycle and you can quickly turn molehills into mountains. You begin to imagine scenarios, dialogs with other people, and your imagined responses. Before you know it, you’ve worked yourself into a frenzied state of mind. Plus, given that it’s the middle of the night, chances are you aren’t at your best, mentally or physically. You can think some pretty weird stuff in the middle of the night (or at least maybe I do). Rather than make life-changing decisions—pray! Take your worries and concerns to Christ. When you wake up in the morning, take inventory of the situation, seek godly counsel, and then when you’re convinced that you’ve given the matter prayerful consideration—make your decision.

Don’t ever think that you’re wasting your time because you find yourself sleepless in the middle of the night. Remember that Providence has a reason for everything, and it just might be that God wants you to pray to him rather than let you take another ride on the worry-go-round.