When Sleep is an Act of Faith

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to his beloved while he sleeps.

– Psalm 127.1-2

The daily liturgy I use to approach God each morning tells me that today is a day of provision. Today I remember to worship God as the LORD who provides. According to Psalm 127.2, the LORD provides for His children while  they sleep.

There are two images here.

The first and most obvious is that despite the fact we rise before the dawn or stay up into the wee small hours of the morning, unless our effort is aimed at glorifying God our work will leave us empty-handed. No matter how much we eat of it, the bread of anxious toil does not satisfy, nor does it bring us the peace of a good night’s sleep.

Only those who put God at the center of their life and work will enjoy the mini-vacation of a good night’s sleep. To the person chowing down on the bread of anxious toil sleep is unproductive down time. Yet to the person who puts God at the center of their life, sleep is His reward for a hard day’s work.

There is another image here and it has to do with the alternate translation of verse 2 mentioned above:  “For He gives to His beloved while he sleeps.” The traditional translation has, “for He gives to His beloved sleep.” A good friend, far more skilled in Hebrew than I, tells me that since the Hebrew here is uncertain either translation is correct.  That said, let’s go with “He gives to His beloved while he sleeps.”

My friend tells me that support for this translation can be found in 2 Samuel 12.24-25 and Deuteronomy 33.12. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan gives Solomon the nickname Jedidiah (which in Hebrew means beloved of the LORD). In Deuteronomy 33, the beloved of the LORD is said to rest between the shoulders of God. So the image here is of the beloved of the LORD riding piggy-back on God’s shoulders while he sleeps. God is thus pictured as carrying us on His shoulders through the night seeing to it that when we wake up with the dawn He will give us our daily bread.

Understood this way, the simple act of going to sleep becomes an expression of faith in future grace. Rather than staying up late to eat the bread of anxious toil, God encourages us to take our rest. To sleep is to declare our trust in LORD who knows what we need before we ask and who provides for His beloved children while we sleep.

There is a balance to be struck between work and faith. That balance is found when we put God at the center of what we do. If the LORD is not at the center of our work, our work is in vain and we will eat the bread of anxious toil.

However, when the LORD is at the center of all we do; when He is at the heart of who we are, we can sleep well at night knowing He will carry us on His shoulders through the night. And when He greets us at the dawn He will give us our daily bread; a living bread that satisfies.

You think about that.

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