Last spring when our old Joe Boxer (literally of the boxer breed) died, he was fairly docile. He grumbled when we had the college men’s soccer team over (he was a woman’s dog), but that was the extent of his grumpiness.
He wasn’t always that way. We got him as a wild, uncontrolled one-year-old, and he didn’t respond to the regular training I’d used with all our other dogs. By the time he was 3, I was fed up with his desire to fight every male dog we encountered and I worried that this aggression might spread to people. I called a dog trainer and shared his history. She asked to see him in our home.
He was tense with her, displaying all the behaviors of an unreliable dog, and when she sat down with me at our dining room table, I could tell she was going to give me bad news.
Then Joe came over and curled up at my feet, quickly slipping into a deep, snoring sleep.
She stopped her lead-up to the “bad news” and looked at me in surprise.
“He trusts you!” she said.
“Dogs don’t sleep like that—“ she pointed to his now fully-splayed-out position—“unless they feel secure with a person.” She looked back up at me. “I think you can work with him.”
I recently re-listened to a sermon by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/) on Psalm 127:2, “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 sleep.” The most straightforward interpretation of the second half of the verse is simply that God gives us sleep and rest. He allows us the time we need to step away from life, to lose consciousness of stress and concern, heartache and pain. We ALWAYS need this break from life, but it is especially necessary when we are suffering with deep grief or pain. In those times, sleep is one of the greatest blessings.
But Piper pointed out that this interpretation, though completely valid, doesn’t fit with the phrases preceding it. Therefore, based on the context of the verse itself—and the meanings of the Hebrew words used—he suggests another interpretation: “He grants IN sleep to His beloved.”
In our sleep—a resting, trusting sleep—the never-slumbering, never-weary God works for us and in us.
Piper gave the example of preparing for the seminary classes he taught years ago. He would stay up late, trying to get everything right, and wake up stressed about the class. Finally he realized this was a lack of trust.
I identify with his example. I’ve burned the candle at both ends for much of my teaching career. I’ve regularly gone without sleep to get things done and not sacrifice time with my kids. And I’ve trusted and prayed that God would increase my strength even though I was not getting enough sleep (and, for seasons, I think this is valid).
But long-term patterns of this are not healthy. And the pattern I’m currently in of living like this is going a little too long.
Could this be a lack of trust on my part? When I’ve managed my time well and prioritized my tasks and responsibilities, should there be a clear stopping point? What would happen if I really trusted this promise? Really trusted that God will work miracles while I sleep?
Obviously this is not like the elves and the shoemaker. I’m not going to wake up to find my house cleaned and my papers graded. But perhaps the verse “the mercies of the Lord are new every morning” applies to this. At 10 at night, facing a messy house, I feel nothing but frustration. At 2 a.m., bleary-eyed, staring at a computer screen, I lose sight of anything but exhaustion. But in sleep I gain a new perspective. I see those mercies of the Lord. I gain strength. My creativity is refreshed.
Doing my best and then stopping my efforts, allowing for good rest: this requires that I trust God will increase my strength, my creativity, and my thinking IN sleep so that the next day more is miraculously accomplished than what would have gotten done had I stayed up late.
That interpretation fits with the first part of the verse, which tells me that it’s foolish (and counter-productive) for me to stay up late and get up early—in this hamster-in-a-wheel effort to get it all done.
That brings me full circle (no pun intended) to Joe Boxer and his trust in me. The trainer was right. His trust allowed me to work with him, to form a dog-person relationship that transformed him into a dog that was amazing with the twin babies I had less than a year after I talked with that trainer, and with the rambunctious three-year-old we brought home from Africa in Joe’s old age.
Could the same be true with God?
Is my lack of trust in this area hampering His work in my heart? Interfering with my focus?
Psalm 4:8 “In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
For You, Lord, alone make me dwell in safety and confident trust.”