Trouble us that we may not sleep the sleep of death.
1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8; Matthew 22: 34 – 46.
It is possible to have eyes wide open yet sleep the sleep of death!
I came to my time with God at the start of my day with a restless spirit. I was in the midst of settling into our new home. There was so much to do and achieve. I turned to a devotional book to aid my morning conversation with God. The invitational sentences to worship struck me. The writer had brought two verses together from Psalms 13 and 119 respectively. The invitation to worship read like this:
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death. Let me live that I may praise you, and let your ordinances help me.
These sentences spoke to me. They expressed such deep truths so simply. They formed a prayer request to live life and simultaneously provided a statement about how to live the Christian life. They echoed my heart’s desire and how I have lived out the faith in praise guided by the commandments and principles of God.
Christian spirituality begins with the recognition that one belongs to God and it is God who gives life. The Christian life is the recognition that God gives light to our eyes, and if we don’t have the light of God in our lives we will sleep the sleep of death. I take the phrase; sleep the sleep of death, as a metaphor for the superficial life. When we glide over things, pretend they are not there, hide from the horribleness of life, we invite a kind of death. When our conversations and relationships swim in shallow pools of small-talk and entertainment, life itself becomes thin. When we live life without venturing into the deeper waters of honesty and frankness life itself becomes meaningless. Such life is death to the reality of life: a dying to both the deep joy and the deep pain of living. It is only in engagement with the depth of our joy and pain that we appreciate the love of others and of God. To pretend that all is well when it isn’t is a denial of life. To deny the deep joy of living is to negate the gift and the giver of that joy.
We may use different words to express these thoughts. Unless we see the way to go we will turn in the circles of the darkness. Unless we see the direction to go we will wallow in the life that is undirected and purposeless. When our lives are directionless we merely spend our time filling in time with meaningless things and entertainment. Boredom is present and worst still despair and despondency. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, says the psalmist of Psalm 13:3. I think the test of whether we are alive to life is whether we can be still and alone with ourselves, and whether we can be quiet and listen to the pain of others.
The life that has direction is full of vitality, challenge and change. For many our work fills the emptiness of life with a daily task and a purpose. For some our professional lives are rewarding and they give meaning. I will not easily forget a brief conversation with a fellow sailor. He had recently retired. I asked him how it was going. He said he felt depressed. I was surprised. He said that his life now had little purpose. He had found his professional life meaningful. Now there was a void. We chatted a few times about this and he set himself some goals and is now involved in offering a service to the community. He has seen a way forward and has a more meaningful life.
The psalmist speaks of a deeper sense of meaning. His words come out of a context of suffering, isolation and exile. In this little psalm the writer asks God, x times ‘how long must they wait for God’s salvation’. In the midst of the psalm the psalmist has this prayer; Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death. Wow! What a prayer and what insight. Life is never easy. Suffering touches us all. Here is the recognition that our greatest need is not to escape the suffering, the difficulty or injustice, but that we can see a way forward today. The psalmist prays to have godly sight so that he may live with hope rather than survive with despair. Without godly sight we enter into a spiritual death that robs us of life. The dying of our spirit is the death of hope and meaning. We become despairing and we become cynical.
The next sentence taken from Psalm 119:175 simply states what the Christian life is about: Let me live that I may praise you, and let your ordinances help me. The essence of living is praise and thankfulness, and a daily life guided by the commandments of God. When I think ‘commandments’ I think primarily of loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves.
Let me live that I may praise you. It is not only our duty to praise God, but according to the Westminster Confession, it is our lifeblood. To praise God is life giving. We need God to show us what a wonderful world we live in and that leads us to praise. Praise – thankfulness – is a healthy practice. The Bible is full of praise. Our worship begins with praise. Praise helps us in a number of ways.
Praise helps us see the world. Many years ago when I was young I had to deal with a little darkness in my life. I said I suffered from time to time with melancholia. God’s Spirit taught me a lesson. My prayers were principally about a list of things I wanted for the Church or myself. My praying was mostly an act of bringing a shopping list to God. All I was seeing were my needs and the needs of this world. I realised that my spiritual life was like looking into a mirror where I saw only my life. Not surprisingly I experienced little contentment. I learnt from Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5: 17 & 18 the lesson that I should start giving thanks in all situations. I would look at a flower and say, ‘thank you, God’. I would wake up in the morning and the first thought was, ‘thank you, God’. When trouble came I would thank God for supporting me through the time. I began to give thanks to God in all situations. I found that my prayer life changed. Instead of my prayer life being like looking into a mirror it was like looking out the window and seeing God’s world. Praise and thankfulness changed the way I experienced life. Today I automatically just give thanks and enjoy the beauty of life. Thanksgiving has lifted my spirit and enhanced my perception.
Praise lifts our spirits. When we see the world with a thankful heart then we become positive and thankful people. Thankfulness is a gift that we can cultivate. Just start saying thank you God for the things about you and the things that happen. It is easy to thank God for the beautiful spring colours and the wonderful gardeners who have nurtured their gardens. It is harder to be thankful when adversity comes but then I praise God. I know that through adversity and trouble I grow stronger so I praise God. When trouble comes it may be part of God’s plan. Remember God sees much more than we can see. Has it occurred to you that to get sicker may be better for you than to quickly progress to wellness? The Hebrew people learnt so much for their adversity. Their trouble has become our blessing as it has enriched our living and understanding of God.
Praise helps us to become positive people. You have surely noticed that positive people are attractive. They give us their energy. They make us smile. Praise welcomes others into our lives. Our friendship circle grows. Praise is the older sibling of thankfulness. Thankfulness welcomes life and shares self with the world.
Praise is a witness to God. The thankful, vital, positive, perceptive and welcoming person is a witness to God. Our first act of mission is our worship each Sunday.
C.M. Hanson said; “Praise is like a plot set to go deep into the soil of the believers’ hearts. It lets the glory of God into the details of daily living.”
The third aspect of our text this morning is that God’s ordinances – God’s commands and principles – are there to help us. God’s laws are not meant to bind us but to free us. The two commands that sum up the whole law of God are that we love God and our neighbour as we love ourselves. God’s law is simple, yet profound. Love is God’s law. As the Epistle of John reminds us – God is love. To love truly and fully is to be bound up with God. Knowing God’s law is really knowing the mind of God. So in our daily lives the teachings of the Bible are there to inform our decision making. To sum up we can say that to love God is to see God and God’s whole Creation. To love our neighbour is to enjoy community.
The significance of these two sentences from the psalms is that they sum up the spiritual life of the Christian. The Christian life is not meant to be all calm and peace. It is meant to be calm and peace in the midst of the turbulence of life. Both our readings speak of the joy of the Gospel in the midst of the conflict and contention of the environment. Jesus announces the good news in the context of opposition from the authorities both religious and political. Paul proclaims Christ Jesus in the context of opposition from the authorities and religious people. But both exhibit calmness and peace. We behave as if the opposite were true. We need to let God open our hearts to see, to praise God in all situations and let God’s commandments guide our daily action. Then we shall grow into the abundant life Jesus spoke of.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 29/10/2017