Over the years, I have had many sleepless nights. Without any prompting, my eyes would open at 3 a.m. My heart would sink because I knew what was going to happen next. But I was powerless to stop it.
My mind would begin to work but it would work against me.
An active imagination is useful when you need to be creative. But it is painful when it loses its spiritual and moral compass.
In the darkness, stillness, and silence, my mind played out all kinds of imaginary scenarios inspired by actual events: the fear of complicated conversations, the weight of difficult decisions, the burden of conflicting desires, the pressing guilt over misdeeds, the nagging feeling of inadequacy, and the frightening prospect of what is still to come.
Sometimes I tried to suppress the stories building up in my mind, falling into a restless half-sleep in a hall full of horrors.
Other times, I woke up and paced around the house in restless prayer—more restless than prayerful. Most days, I was exhausted before the sun was up.
Sleepless Nights Are a Revelation
In the middle of the night, you discover what your heart really believes.
A restless mind is like a ship that has lost its moorings, tossed back and forth by the wind and the waves. It cannot be counselled, calmed, cajoled, or even confronted.
We cannot fight nights like this by answering the mind. We can only overcome them by nursing the heart.
My wayward mind pointed to a fearful heart. It revealed that my heart had lost its confidence in Christ.
The joy of the Lord was Nehemiah’s strength (Neh. 8:10). But the weight of the world is the vulnerability of the fearful.
We can only win the battle against the mind by tending to the heart.
Recently, I was sleepless. I wrestled for an hour with all kinds of catastrophic worst case scenarios. Then I fell asleep and walked into a nightmare.
It was the first sleepless night I had in a long time. So I gave it some thought.
Something in my heart woke up as I wondered about these terrible imaginations that would not let me sleep.
Each scenario played out the worst possible outcome. Every road led to a dead end. All outcomes were bleak. Everything was working against me.
Immediately, like dawn breaking through the night, I knew what my heart needed to hear.
My nightmares were testifying to the longing of my heart to believe what I was doubting. It was telling me to remember what I forget; to feel what I know, but did not really know.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
The Lord does not slumber or sleep (Ps. 121:4). He is always working, even when we are not working.
When the heart knows that God is working, the mind can rest even if it does not know how things will work out.
Like the psalmist, we can say, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me” (Ps. 3:5).
Sleepless Nights Are a Call to Action
When we fear something, we suppress it in our hearts and try to hide it where we cannot find it. But a healthy heart will find a way to express the truth. It does not want to repress what we fear.
A sleepless night could be saying, “Something needs to be done that you are afraid to do.” It may also be asking, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark. 4:40).
When we face sleepless nights that serve as a call to action, we can remember the night Jesus did not sleep because God was calling him to action.
On that night, in sorrow and anguish, he repeatedly asked his friends to stay with him and pray for him. But they could not stay awake (Matt. 26:40).
He is the perfect Son who trusted his Father when it was time to obey (Matt. 26:42).
In his darkest hours, Jesus stayed awake in anguish so he can give sleep and rest to those he loves (Ps. 127:2).
He offered himself in perfect submission on his sleepless night, so we can always have the assurance of his perfect love in ours.
When sleepless nights call us to do difficult things, we can rely on the strength of the one who made himself nothing for us. Because Christ took the fall for us, we can take a stand for him.
Tonight, and every night, let your heart, mind, and body rest in these reassuring words, “Go to sleep, God is awake.”