Friday, March 15, 2019

Seeking Him in the Wee Hours of the Night

Jesus Praying All Night
It's natural and normal for us to prioritize sleep, since our physical bodies and brains need time to rest, and when we don't get it properly, then we don't feel well. However, the passages of Scripture about people in the Bible being awake during the night seeking the Lord show us that this was a greater priority than sleep for them. Let's take a look and see.
Our first example is Paul the apostle. He described the hardships he had suffered for Christ, saying that he had served the Lord "in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger." (2 Cor 6:5, NIV).

One instance for which we have a record of one of those sleepless nights he had was when he and Silas were singing praises to God at midnight in the Philippian jail. Scripture says, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them." (Ac 16:25, NIV). They chose to stay awake singing hymns to God rather than sleeping, and the Lord used it mightily by sending an earthquake that opened the prison doors. But Paul chose instead to use that as an opportunity to share Jesus with the jailer rather than to escape.

Another instance is when he received the vision of the man from Macedonia, which happened during the night also. "During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Ac 16:9, NIV). This was not a dream but a vision while he was awake during the night. Perhaps he was seeking the Lord alone while the others were sleeping.

The next example is the psalmists, who had many sleepless nights.

The blessed man is the one who meditates on the Word of God day and night, so he spending time with the Lord at night. "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night." (Psa 1:2)

"I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears." (Ps 6:6, NIV).

"When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches..." (Psa 63:6)

"In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; My soul refused to be comforted...You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, The years of long ago. I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, And my spirit ponders." (Psa 77:2-6)

"O LORD, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You." (Psa 88:1)

"Awake, harp and lyre; I will awaken the dawn!" (Psa 108:2). Normally the dawn awakens man, but in this case, the psalmist said he would be the one to awaken the dawn, as he got out of bed to sing and worship.

"O LORD, I remember Your name in the night, And keep Your law." (Psa 119:55)

Even after the psalmist was in bed, he would rise at midnight for a time of thanksgiving to God. "At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You Because of Your righteous ordinances." (Psa 119:62)

"I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words. My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word."(Psa 119:147-148)

"Surely I will not enter my house, Nor lie on my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes Or slumber to my eyelids, Until I find a place for the LORD, A dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob."
(Psa 132:3-5)

Jesus Christ
The third example is Jesus Himself. "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." (Mar 1:35, NIV). Since he got up and went off to pray alone outdoors so early in the morning before dawn, it was probably sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 AM.

Then there was the time when He went up into the hills to pray all night while the disciples struggled at the oars, rowing against the wind all night on the lake. "After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea." (Mat 14:23-25). In this instance, He prayed from evening (anytime between 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM) until the fourth watch of the night (between 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM). So he may have prayed alone in the hills from 7:00 PM until 4:00 AM. He was not sleeping, but spending time with the Father.

That was certainly not an isolated incident. Another instance when He prayed all night was before He chose His twelve disciples. Luke wrote: "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God." (Lk 6:12, NIV).

We can't forget the late night prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed. Scripture records:

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. "Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!" (Mat 26:36-46).

First of all, He chose to spend that night in prayer rather than sleep, so the enemy would not catch Him off guard, because He knew He would be betrayed on that night. He won the victory in prayer in the garden, and that is why He was able to endure the cross the next day. He expected the three disciples Peter, James, and John to keep watch with Him while He prayed. He was probably just as tired as they were, and perhaps even more so, since He routinely arose earlier than they did for prayer in the morning. 

How did Jesus address His disciples who were supposed to be praying with Him late at night? When He saw them sleeping, He asked, " men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." That proves that He prayed for a full hour that night, and He was expecting His disciples to do the same with Him. He was surprised that they could not do it, and He admonished them to keep watching and praying as He had told them to do, since their flesh was weak, even though their spirits were willing.

We know the attitude that Peter had expressed earlier that evening at the last supper, when he said he would go to prison with Jesus and even die for Him. His spirit was willing, but since his flesh was weak, and since he slept rather than prayed that night, he later ended up denying the Lord three times.

First Century Saints
The fourth example is the saints in the first century. Were the saints in the first century more concerned about getting enough sleep or hearing the Word of God and breaking bread together? Scripture says:

"On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight..." (Act 20:7-8).

During this all-night church meeting, a young man fell asleep and fell from a window he was sitting in, plunging to his death three stories below. After Paul went down and raised him from the dead, he went back up and rather than send everyone home because it was late, he continued the meeting until dawn. The Bible says, "When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left." (Act 20:11). Obviously Paul was undeterred by that incident and proceeded with the all-night meeting as planned. He didn't apologize and the church didn't complain to him that they needed their sleep or that the meeting was going too long. They were hungry for God. Being together in that place breaking bread and listening to the Word of God was more important than sleep. This is foreign to the twenty-first century church, which prefers short messages and meetings.

Apparently that occasion was another one of Paul's many sleepless nights that he wrote about in his epistle to the Corinthians, as I mentioned earlier (2 Cor 6:5).

He Gives Sleep to Those He Loves
All of this talk about praying and meeting together in the middle of the night might cause you to wonder if God even cares about sleep at all. If it does, then let me assure you that God knows your need for sleep and He fulfills it. The psalmist said, "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for He grants sleep to those he loves." (Psa 127:2). This means that people who assume too much of the burden of toiling for life's basic necessities, and fail to trust the Lord to provide, are burning the candle at both ends for nothing. They need to remember that the Lord gives sleep to those He loves.

Sleep Deficit of Christ
Did you ever wonder when Jesus found time to sleep, since He often prayed during the middle of the night or in the very early hours of the morning before daylight? Not only that but during the day He stayed very busy serving others by preaching to them, teaching them, healing them, feeding them, and casting demons out of them. When did Jesus sleep? Perhaps He got a little bit of sleep at night, and on certain occasions He caught a brief nap during the day. Did He always get enough sleep? I suppose He probably did not. I'm sure there were plenty of times when he got less than eight hours of sleep, which is that amount that most people today associate with their basic, daily requirement. In fact, it is my opinion that He probably got around five hours or less of sleep per night on average. On some occasions He may have only gotten three hours of sleep or none at all, so it's likely that He lived with an ongoing sleep deficit, and since He was fully human as well as fully God, He probably felt the physical effects of it in much the same way we do when we don't get enough sleep. 

Sleeping Through a Storm
Children are known to be sound sleepers who can sometimes sleep right through a major thunderstorm. Perhaps it's because they don't have any worries and they enjoy deep, peaceful sleep.
How do you suppose Jesus was able to sleep in the boat during the storm? Probably because he had faith in His Father in heaven to protect Him from all harm, which would explain why He asked His panicking disciples when they awakened Him, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Here is the account from Mark's gospel:

"Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?' And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Hush, be still.' And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, 'Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?'" (Mar 4:38-40).

Luke's gospel states: "As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger." (Lk 8:23, NIV). It was as they sailed that Jesus fell asleep, because he was probably tired and entrusted Himself to the Father. Even though the boat was being swamped and they were in great danger, Jesus remained asleep, because He had peace in His heart. As He slept, His heart was as placid as the sea was after he calmed it.

Matthew's gospel says, "Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping." (Matthew 8:24, NIV). This emphasizes the fact that it was not just a typical rain, but a furious storm that suddenly came upon them, and the waves were actually washing right over the top of the boat. However, throughout all of that noisy, intensely turbulent action, Jesus was sleeping. That's one of the benefits He enjoyed of spending those long nights in prayer. Whenever He did get some sleep, He slept like a rock.

He could say with David, "I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me...In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Ps 3:5; 4:8, NIV)

The Lord experienced what the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet, who said, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You; because he trusts in You. Trust in Jehovah forever; for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength." (Isa 26:3-4, MKJV). May the Lord help us to keep our minds stayed upon Jehovah. As we do so, He will keep us in perfect peace, even in the midst of life's storms, because we trust in Him. That was the secret to Jesus sleeping during the storm.

Primary Source of Rest
Does our rest primarily come from sleep or from God? Scripture says it comes from God.

As David said, "Truly my soul finds rest in God...Yes, my soul, find rest in God." (Ps 62:1,5, NIV).

The Lord replied [to Moses], “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex 33:14, NIV). This means that it is God who gives us rest through His abiding presence with us. When you have the presence of the Lord with you, then you will experience rest as He refreshes you. For times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord (Ac 3:19b, NASB).

In this way, the Lord sustains us -- both young and old -- even when we have not gotten adequate sleep. As Isaiah said:

"He gives power to the weary; and to him with no vigor; He increases strength. Even the young shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall; but those who wait on Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (Isa 40:29-31, MKJV)

There is rest for the weary, if they will come to Jesus and trust Him. He said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Mat 11:28-29; cf., Mk 6:30-37). May the Lord help us to understand that He alone can give us rest. The flesh, the world, and the devil will run us ragged and lead us to exhaustion. But in Christ we find true rest, which is not merely a physical rest resulting from sleep, but much more than that -- rest for our souls. Until you have found that rest in Him, you would not be able to understand how or why anyone would miss sleep to be with Him, because you might be incorrectly associating rest only with sleep. As someone said, "Sleep really is overrated."

Essentials of Getting Good Sleep
What are some essentials to getting good sleep?

The second wisest man in the world taught us how to enjoy sweet sleep when he said, "The LORD by wisdom founded the earth, By understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the deeps were broken up And the skies drip with dew. My son, let them not vanish from your sight; Keep sound wisdom and discretion, So they will be life to your soul And adornment to your neck. Then you will walk in your way securely And your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." (Pro 3:19-24). So the key to sweet sleep is keeping sound wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and discretion.

Loving Sleep
Although we all need to get some sleep for our health, should we love sleep? No, we shouldn't. There are actually numerous warnings against loving sleep in the Bible.

Solomon warned, "Do not love sleep, or you will become poor; Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food." (Pro 20:13)

And again, "How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. (Pr 6:9-11, NIV)

Be careful not to look only to sleep as your comfort, because then what will you do if it is disrupted? Job said, "If I say, 'My bed will comfort me, My couch will ease my complaint,' Then You frighten me with dreams And terrify me by visions." (Job 7:13-14)

That's why a hard working man can enjoy sweet sleep, regardless of how much he eats, while a rich man may not. Solomon said, "The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep." (Ecc 5:12, NIV)

We must be careful not to love sleep, because it should not become a top priority in our lives above the Lord. It is possible to de-prioritize the things of God like worship, prayer, the Word, preaching, breaking of bread, and doing His will, and thus fall asleep spiritually. What good is it if you get a full night's sleep every night but lose your soul?

"For this reason it says, 'Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.' Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil." (Eph 5:14-16). This Scripture is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. Many are fast asleep spiritually in these last and evil days, and are in desperate need of an awakening. Let's wake up, people!

"And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Rom 13:11, NIV).

Listen to what Jesus said to the Church of Sardis:

"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.'" (Rev 3:1-3)

Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame." (Rev 16:15)

Modern Examples
In addition to all the examples I have already given of people who prayed in the wee hours of the night and morning, I'd like to cite some examples of modern day people who have done so. One person who comes to mind is John Wesley, who rose daily at four or five o’clock in the morning for private prayer.

Another one I'd like to mention is brother Yong Doo Kim, a South Korean pastor, who led his church in all night prayer meetings for a month one year in January. During that time, he and the members of the Lord's Church that he pastors began to have supernatural encounters in the spirit realm. This brought about a mighty, spiritual awakening not only in that church, but in the lives of people like me around the world who have read his series of books called Baptized by Blazing Fire, which recounts many of those supernatural encounters that his church experienced. Many people like me have also attended his all-night meetings called holy fire revival meetings that go on for three or four days at a time in locations around the world where he travels. I am a life that was changed after reading his books and attending his all-night revival meetings that he held in Liege, Belgium in 2012. That in turn impacted my whole family and brought about a spiritual awakening among us all, as well as transformed my ministry and powerfully touched the lives of many people to whom I have ministered.

If you would like to learn more about that, then I recommend reading my articles Baptized by Blazing Fire -- a Korean church's testimony and Holy Fire Baptism.

Closing Words
While it may be natural to prioritize sleep, we see plenty of examples of people in the Bible being awake during the night seeking the Lord, which teaches us that this was a greater priority than sleep for them. These people included our Lord Jesus, in whose steps we should follow, as well as Paul, who said to follow him as he followed Christ. Other examples include the psalmists and the saints in the first century church, who sometimes pulled "all-nighters" in prayer, worship, and listening to the Word.

Based on what we know from Scripture, due to the prayer life that Jesus maintained, we could safely conclude that He probably operated with a sleep deficit during His days on earth. The same could also be said of Paul and many of his fellow first-century disciples. These students were not above their Teacher, but once they had been fully trained, they became like their Teacher. As Jesus Himself said, "The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher." (Lk 6:40, NIV).

According to Scripture, the Lord gives sleep to those He loves, so we don't need to fret and toil at our occupations from the time we get up until we go to bed. We can go to bed trusting Him to provide for us. Yet even though He does give sleep to us, we should not love sleep or make it a top priority above God and His will for our lives. We should always remember that God and His glorious presence with us is our primary source of rest, not sleep. When we come to Christ and He is our focus, then He'll keep us in perfect peace and give us rest for our souls. Then we will be able to sleep peacefully through the furious storms of life. As we maintain wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and discretion, we will enjoy sweet sleep.

Finally, the time has come for us to wake up, arise from the dead, and strengthen what remains, so that Christ may shine on us. We are nearer now to Christ's soon return than when we first believed, and each day we are another day closer to it, so let's stay awake and keep our clothes, so that we will not go about shamefully exposed.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, copyright Lockman Foundation, used by permission. Other Scriptures where indicated are from the Holy Bible NIV, copyright Zondervan, used by permission.Image of Jesus Praying All Night may be subject to copyright, used according to the Fair Use Act for educational and commentary purposes. The first boat in the storm painting is Christ Asleep in His Boat, by Jules Joseph Meynier. The second boat in storm painting is Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee - 1695, by Ludolf Bakhuizen.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, please also see the following: Who Intercedes for UsCrying Out to God Loudly, Lifting Your Face in Prayer, Lifting Hands in Prayer, Praying Heart-Prayers, Standing in the Gap, and Baptized with the Holy Spirit. You may find the Main Directory for this blog at Home, and you may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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