How to Have a Good Night’s Rest
April 30, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! How are you doing? Are you feeling alive, awake, energetic, and enthusiastic about life? I feel moved to talk with you today about “how to get a good night’s rest.”
Let me share with you the scripture that lit up for me, Psalm 4, verses 7 and 8. We’re talking about the joy of the Lord in verse 7.
“You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.”
That’s the one that jumped off the page at me. It wasn’t the topic I intended for today, but I felt moved to talk about it. “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.”
So I went into this dialogue with the Lord. “Why, Lord, why this topic? Why is this lighting up for me?”
He said, “You may never know the answer to that question. But it may come to pass that something very important may happen in somebody’s life or that something very important may be avoided in somebody’s life because of this message.”
You see, sleep is important. The Bible gives very special emphasis to the Sabbath principle, to the idea that we take a day to come to church, to worship the Lord, and hopefully to get some rest. I have a friend who says that there is nothing quite like a Sunday afternoon nap, and I think that he is right. I hope you will rest, and I hope you’ll feel good about it. God knows that we need rest, and He’s made it clear in His Holy Bible. I hope that you take this sermon as something that takes care of you and cares about that need within you and gives you the patience you need and the relaxation of heart that you need to rest well.
God has built rest into the fabric of our lives. How do I know? I know because it gets dark at night. The whole of the earth is dark to remind us that we need to rest at this time. It’s part of being human. We need to give ourselves permission to claim it and to rest well and to know that when you rest you are doing something. You are doing something important.
The Lord further nudged my heart to remind me that sleep deprivation can be a very dangerous thing. Ever notice that you feel different when you’re sleep deprived? I sure do. Do we feel a little more irritable? Do we feel a little short-tempered? Do we feel a little depressed? Do we feel hungry when we’re really tired? Sleep deprivation can do strange things to a person. Resting is important, and God’s scripture today is emphasizing that.
As I meditated on that more, asking, “Lord, why this scripture? What is it that you want me to say to your folks?” He reminded me of a situation that I hold lovingly before you that happened to a member of our church. Someone at her workplace was very seriously injured because she went to take a walk one afternoon and another co-worker got behind the wheel of his car. He shouldn’t have, because he was sleep-deprived, and she was very seriously hurt.
But I’m not pointing any fingers. I’m saying, let’s be aware. I wonder if anyone besides me has had this happen personally. Have you ever been driving home late at night and found yourself nodding a little bit? Have you ever found yourself nodding and then, in a sudden wake-up state, find you’re not really sure where you are? Have you ever felt the need to stop for coffee because you were too tired to drive? Have you ever found yourself opening the window in the middle of winter and slapping your knee to keep yourself awake? I heard another one this morning, from more than one person – have you ever poured a bottle of drinking water on your head to keep yourself awake? I admit, I have never done that. And I’m ashamed to admit that it sounds like it might be a good idea sometimes. I don’t want it to be.
I’m not going to embarrass you; I’m not going to ask for a show of hands. But I wonder, if I were to ask who among you has never had one of those symptoms, would any hands go up? I’m not going to ask, because the question is really only important for you, individually. You see, we’re talking life and death here. We’re not talking about something trivial; we’re not talking about something light. I invite you to take this scripture as a gift from the Lord to rest when you need rest.
Can we make an agreement among ourselves, friends, out of love for each other? If we’re driving along and we’re really tired, let’s agree that we’ll find a quiet place, pull the car off the road, lock it, shut off the engine, and rest for twenty minutes, then drive on refreshed. Why take a chance?
Our scripture says, “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” I’m going to say, “Yes, Lord! When I’m awake, I’m going to be really awake, and I’m going to do my work as hard as I can. But when I need rest, I’m going to let you protect me. I’m going to let you give me a deep and secure rest.”
So, can I talk with you a bit about this scriptural point about lying down and sleeping in peace? Can we talk about how to have a good night’s rest? I see a lot of commercials on TV for sleeping pills. Have you seen those little butterflies fluttering around?
First, we need to accept sleep. It is your birthright as a human being to be well-rested. It is a dignifying thing. It is a good thing. It is a gift of God. It isn’t something you need to apologize for. You never have to say, “Oh, if only I slept less, then I could do more work on my computer!” Then what? More work? You have a God-given right to rest. It is a thing of dignity. It is a gift of God. So expect it. Know that it is coming your way. It is a legitimate thing.
The next word is prepare. Prepare ourselves; prepare our rooms, our bodies, our spirits, and our minds for rest. There’s a wonderful moment in the first verse where it says, “Lord, you gave me room when I was in distress.” What room? How about your room? How about we declare your room a sacred space, a space that is a sacred gift from God to you? How will you make your room a sacred space so that your rest will be full and rich?
I know that probably all of you have rooms that are neat as a pin, completely orderly, and that’s great. I’m probably the only one who needs to straighten my room out a bit. But I think it will be worth the 30 or 40 minutes to put things in order. Then, when I go into my room, I won’t see a stack of papers or to-do lists. Instead I will see orderliness. I do my best to make up my bed every day. And when I come into my room, it feels peaceful. How about you? What will you do this week to make your room a place where God can protect you and give you the sleep and rest that you need?
May I suggest that you look around at the things in your room? Are they things that make you smile? Are they things of sweetness, of gentleness and softness? Are they pictures that relax you, so that you can absorb the blessing of God? What can you do to make your room a safe, relaxing, gentle place?
Do you have a TV in your bedroom? Uh oh. Friend, listen, let me ask you a question. Do we really need to watch the 11 o’clock news? We care about the fire in Bensonhurst, but there’s a lot on TV that’s ‘make news’, if you know what I mean. And it’s almost always upsetting. Do you really need to watch it then? Can’t it wait until tomorrow? Let your room be a haven of blessing and a place of peace.
Second, let’s prepare our bodies for rest. Let your sleep clothes be warm and comfortable, and allow yourself time to prepare yourself for a gentle night’s rest. Am I the only this has happened to? Have you ever gone home after a long night of meetings and just fallen face down on your bed? You’re still dressed, your contacts are still in, and you wake up at 3:30 in the morning. You have to take out your contacts, and you’re not quite sure what time it is or what day it is.
We deserve to treat ourselves better than that. Have a cup of warm herbal tea. Have a little healthy snack to relax yourself. Let your preparation for sleep be gentle, and let it be intentional. Prepare your body for rest. Let your body know that you are going to a safe and warm place and that your rest will be full and complete and relaxing.
Prepare your spirit for rest. Let your night prayers be thank-you prayers to God. “Thank you, God, for all the wonderful things that have happened today. Thank you, God, for all the wonderful things that are going to happen tomorrow.” Let your mind be filled with thank-you thoughts. Let your mind be filled with thoughts that your dreams will be sweet and peaceful, that your rising will be gentle and rested and refreshed. Prepare your spirit for rest.
And finally, my friend, prepare your mind for rest. Put angels around your bed. Let them have their hands raised in your mind, keeping out all worrying thoughts. Can we agree that your room is the worry-free zone? If we don’t, where is the boundary going to be? If we allow the resting place to be the place where we think about all our problems and our worries and where we’re rehearsing imaginary conversations in our minds with imaginary adversaries, when are we going to going to get our rest? Let your room be a worry-free zone with angels around your bed stopping any worrying thoughts that may come by.
And if a worrying thought creeps up while you’re trying to rest, try this: smile and say, “Go away now. Angel of God, do your work. What else shall I think about?” Let the worry flee from you. Prepare your mind.
And one last thought…let’s make a rule that when we are at rest, when we are prepared to receive God’s gift of healing, life-giving, nerve-energizing sleep, that there are only two things to think about when our head hits the pillow – number one, how good God is, and number two, how good your pillow feels.
Dear friend, my prayer for you is that you would allow yourself to have the rest that God intends for you. My prayer for you is that you would awaken refreshed and restored and with the knowledge that you are deeply loved, because you are. God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski