When you walk, they will guide you;
when you sleep, they will watch over you;
when you awake, they will speak to you. Proverbs 6:22
On average we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping. Sleep refreshes our bodies. A good friend of mine, a pediatrician, tells me that when we sleep our metabolism slows down so the maintenance functions of the body can be accomplished. Cell and tissue repair occur during this down time, rather than when the body is active and needing energy to do other things. Sleep is an amazing component of God’s creation of man. It is a daily reminder of our finiteness as creatures. God, our Creator, has no need of sleep and thus is able to constantly care for his people.
Sleep, like the other parts of our life, was affected by the fall. What was once a time of total peace and restoration has become a time when spiritual danger often threatens us. As we mentioned in the last post, bedtime can be a fearful experience for children. As children grow older, sleep can become a time of sin and anxiety. A number of passages in the wisdom literature of Scripture speak of the need for protection during sleep - protection from worry and from temptations. Psalms 3, 4, 127, Ecclesiastes 5, Proverbs 3 and 6 other passages speak of the dangers associated with sleep and the availability of God’s care while we are sleeping. These passages, no doubt, encouraged Calvin to pray this prayer. “Be pleased to keep me so chaste and unpolluted, not less in mind than in body, and safe from all dangers, that my sleep itself may turn to the glory of your name.” What a challenging concept – sleep bringing glory to God!
This issue of sleep and God’s glory powerfully points to the importance of addressing the heart rather than just focusing on outward behavior. It is possible to achieve a form of outward compliance that never reaches deeply into the thoughts of our children’s hearts. This outward compliance, however, will not provide the protection that children need when they are sleeping. Settling for outward compliance rather than heart change leaves teenagers wide open to attacks of lust, fantasy and anxiety while sleeping. A young person who appears to be daydreaming, or just absent-minded, may actually be caught up in fantasies, sexual or otherwise. These times of mental wandering during the day may turn into all-out spiritual assault at night. Without the protection genuine love for the word of God provides (e.g. Proverbs 6:20-24), a sleeping teenager is easy prey for the youthful lusts that Paul warns about.
Parents, this is why you must focus on the heart. Don’t settle for the momentary “victory” of outward compliance while instructing your children. Yes, your daily schedule may function more smoothly by demanding outward compliance. But what your children need when they go to sleep is genuine, personal reliance upon God’s word to protect them. Merely toeing the line will not offer protection from the fears and lusts that will surely attack them in the teenage years. These attacks often intensify while sleeping. Teenagers may be too embarrassed to talk about the things that dominate their dreams. They may assume that the powerful thoughts and fantasies of their sleep are just normal and natural. And, of course, since the fall, they are. That is why they need the protection of God while sleeping. Your children need the word of God to watch over them when they sleep.
The question, then, is what to do to help your children know the protection of God when they sleep. We will look at this in the next post.