When You Can’t Sleep

One of my all-time favorite songs comes from the old Bing Crosby movie, “White Christmas.” And no, it’s not “White Christmas”! Rather, it’s a lesser known song called “Count Your Blessings.” The first line goes like this, “When you’re tired and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep. And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

I don’t know about you, but there are times at night when I can’t fall asleep. Or there are times when I wake up in the middle of the night (usually to go to the bathroom – yeah, old age!) and I can’t get back to sleep. I’ll toss and turn and squirm and puff up my pillow. But if it takes me longer than 5-10 minutes to go to sleep, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lord wants me up for some reason. And so I’ll get up and pray.

I’ll usually start off with giving thanks to God for His blessings (like the song says). Paul says in 1 Thess 5:17 to “give thanks always” – I assume “always” means anytime, even in the middle of the night. You can’t go wrong with giving thanks to God. It always puts our hearts and minds in the very center of God’s goodness. Plus, the enemy hates it when we give thanks … and he usually tries to make us drowsy and fall asleep, rather than give us the opportunity to glorify God. This is always a win-win situation.

But sometimes it doesn’t end with thanksgiving. Sometimes God wants me to pray for something. I’ll ask him, “Lord, what do you want me to pray about?” And until I get an impression from God, I’ll pray “in the Spirit” (for some this means praying with an open heart for God’s will to be done, for others it involves a prayer language). Sometimes I already know what God wants me to pray for. My most powerful times of intercession often come between midnight and 6am.

And sometimes, in those wee hours of the night, God leads me to read Scripture or a book by a Christian author. In any case, my night time sleeplessness is not wasted on trying to get myself to sleep. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to practice Whole Life Worship – to offer my “unsleepy” self to God as a living sacrifice. I find that when I do this (and sometimes I’m up for a few hours) God almost always gives me a restful sleep for the remainder of the night. And I wake up refreshed and ready to live another day for him.

The Psalms talk about those who serve in God’s Temple, keeping their watch at night (for example, Psalm 134:1). Sometimes God calls us to that “night watch.” As God is always up, keeping an eye on all of us, occasionally he will ask us to stay awake with him – to tarry with him, to join him in the work he is doing in peoples’ lives, to worship him with the angels in the quiet hour.

The liturgical church’s night time prayer focuses on the fact that we might be asleep or awake during the night hours. And so the prayer goes:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

So if you can’t sleep at night, don’t worry. Instead, worship. Practice Whole Life Worship in those un-sleepy moments. And God will give you rest: falling asleep while counting your blessings.

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