When Pastors Are in Love With Sleep

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A couple weeks ago on Facebook I said that the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life is a love of sleep. Quite a few responses were generated by that and I’m afraid that most of them missed my point and instead focused on the benefits of getting a good nights sleep, which, as someone who does not sleep well, I will not argue. But that was not my point. I didn’t state my point. I do that sometimes. I want some statements to make people think. So…I should not get too upset when they end up thinking things I did not intend. Anyways…

Here’s what I was getting at. In regards to spending time alone with God, any time other than first thing in the morning is risky. First thing is the only sure thing. I’m not saying that having a quiet time in the middle of the day or evening will not work. Times like this can be just as meaningful but they are twice as likely (maybe more so) to be interrupted or postponed. And what does this have to do with a love of sleep and a fear of feeling tired?

For most of us, if we are going to start our day with time alone with God, if we don’t want to be interrupted by the family or by morning appointments, we will have to get up earlier than we would like to. We will have to, oh forgive me for saying this, set our alarm clock earlier. A good alarm clock is the best devotional tool you will ever have.

Now, I can already hear the objections: “I’m not a morning person. If I get up earlier I’ll feel tired. It’s better for me to meet with God later in the day.” Okay, let’s look at these arguments one by one.

Objection #1: I’m not a morning person.

This could be true. Some people can pop out of bed with a smile on their face, a clear head, and a song on their lips. Others hold on to their pillows like a man clutching a life preserver after having been swept overboard. For some waking up is easy, for others it’s hard. But honestly, haven’t there been times in your life when you had to set your alarm clock either for work or something else? When you did, when you got up early, did it kill you?

I thought about drawing your attention to Mark 1:35 (“When it was early in the morning, before the sun came up, Jesus left the house and went off to a quiet and remote place where he prayed.”) but making a principle out of a single verse is poor hermeneutics, not to mention an attempt to motivate by guilt and shame, and even though we pastors are good at that, I will not go there.

So, while it’s true that you might not be a “morning person,” consider what is more important to you: to stay in bed and stay the way you are, or set your alarm a bit earlier to insure that you have time to cultivate intimacy with God?

Objection #2: If I get up earlier I’ll feel tired.

Yes, you probably will. But is feeling tired really that horrible? Think about it. Feeling tired isn’t pleasurable but it’s not like getting a stick in your eye. Now I realize if you are a bi-vocational pastor who has a day job as a brain surgeon, then maybe you don’t want to poke around gray matter if you’re tired and struggling to keep your eyes open. But other than that…you’ll be okay. Your body will adjust.

Maybe you need to go to bed earlier or plan for a short nap in the middle of your day. The bottom line is this: would you rather feel physically tired or spiritually empty?

Objection #3: It’s better for me to meet with God later in the day.

I hear this a lot. I usually respond by asking, “So how’s that working for you?” The typical answer is, “Well…not as well as I would like. Often something else interrupts me.” Exactly.

If you are able to maintain a meaningful, consistent quiet time with God in the middle of your day, one that is peaceful and unrushed, then more power to you. Keep it up. But if not, take this challenge.

Compare early morning quiet times with middle of the day quiet times. Set a goal of three to four days a week. Take one month and experiment with early morning quiet times and one month with middle of the day quiet times. At the end of the two months ask yourself which approach proved to be more consistent and meaningful. Do what works best for you. Just remember, your current devotional routine is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting. If you want different results you will probably have to do something different.

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The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.