This is the final installment of the “Lead Better” series. Each post has focused on important, but often neglected, practices of leadership. You can find the previous posts here.
Most people need roughly eight hours of sleep. And yet it doesn’t happen. The bad side-effects of sleep deprivation are well known. As leaders, we should know better than to work when sleep deprived. Yet, working long hours and not sleeping is often held up as a badge of pride for high-capacity leaders. You can only be a high-capacity leader on a lack of sleep for a short time. Eventually, if you don’t get enough sleep, sleep will get you.
That’s why sleep is essential for our leadership. If we want to lead better, we need to get sleep. Don’t just take it from me. Carey Nieuwhof shows how sleep is his secret weapon of leadership.
A (Short) Theology of Sleep
God built rest (and presumably sleep) into the very fabric of human existence. The pattern of God working for six days and resting on the seventh became the pattern for Israel’s week (Exodus 20:8-11). Although Christians are not bound to the Sabbath like Israel was, we are still to observe the general pattern of work and rest.
Sleep is also a gracious gift from God. Somewhat ironically, the Bible brings together children and sleep in Psalm 127. Both are considered gifts from God (although I don’t think he gives both gifts at the same time!). To not sleep, then, can be an indication that you are trying to run your own life contrary to God’s good design. Not sleeping may indicate that you aren’t receiving God’s good gifts. God wants your life to run on his grace, not be run into the ground.
Why You’re Not Sleeping
When was the last time you experienced a bad night’s sleep? It was probably frustrating to toss and turn and not be able to find a comfortable spot. Or maybe your mind was churning so violently that you couldn’t stop thinking. Whatever it was, it’s important to know why you don’t sleep consistently.
We cannot be so spiritual that we neglect our bodies. God made both. Just as anxious thoughts can affect our bodies and keep us awake, so bodily illness or medical issues can affect our souls. If you’re not sleeping consistently, it may be worth paying a visit to your doctor.
As leaders, we often don’t sleep because we think that things will fall apart without us. Or we think that there is just too much to do to stop. The demands of ministry can make it difficult. But the demands of ministry often reveal a prideful heart. As Tim Keller writes:
Ministry is either going to make you a far better Christian or a far worse Christian than you would have been otherwise.
So put away your pride and sleep!
Pastors can worry about a lot of things, even if they have recently taught on Jesus’ words to not worry! Deep felt concern is necessary and good for pastors. Pastors with integrity genuinely yearn for their people to know Christ. Pastors want their people to grow in Christ and worry about attacks on their faith. But it is easy to cross the line from pastoral concern to outright worry. When you aren’t sleeping because of anxious thoughts, it may be that you aren’t trusting God for the care of your flock.
“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “I thought lazy people slept all the time!” That can be certainly true. But laziness also can contribute to us not sleeping. How many times in the last month have you aimlessly surfed the internet or social media when you should have been sleeping? It actually takes a fair amount of discipline to get to bed on time.
In our world today, the lines between work and “play” have become increasingly blurry. You can check social media when you’re supposed to be on the clock and you can check work email when you should be home resting. Both are signs of laziness: lacking the discipline to fulfill your responsibilities of the moment.
Don’t lose out sleep to TV. That show will always be there. Those hours in bed may not.
Jesus Slept; So You Can Too
Even when the storm raged around his disciples, Jesus slept (Matthew 4:23-27). He could sleep because he was the one in perfect control. And when called upon, he stilled the storm in an instant. He is the one who is watching over your church. He will still the storms while you sleep.
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