The problem everyone has sometimes
If we are honest with ourselves, every one of us has the problem of staying awake on Sunday morning. For some of us this problem is ongoing; for others, it is only occasional. More than anything else, this has to do with what seems to be an accidental phenomenon: Sunday morning always comes after Saturday night. For some people, going out on Saturday night and staying up late is a way of life. For the rest of us, it only happens once in a while. Yet the frequent Sunday morning confession, if only to ourselves, often starts out with this question: “Why, oh why, did I stay up so late last night?”
Why is it important to stay awake?
When you are committed to getting up on Sunday morning for Bible class and the worship assembly, you already know the importance of staying awake. You are not there as a silent observer but as an active participant in everything that is going on.
You want to learn more of God’s Word and help others to learn as well. You want to express your joy at being saved and incorporated into God’s family. You want to share in the heartfelt concerns and to intercede for the needs of others before the throne of God. You want to listen to God’s spokesman as he explains the meaning of Scripture and urgently pleads with us to respond to it. You want to encourage one-on-one your fellow believers and some who are on the verge of making a commitment to the Lord. But all of these things and more are only possible if we are awake.
A life-or-death matter
In Acts chapter 20, verses 7 through 12 tell the story of a boy named Eutychus who perched in a third-story window to listen to that Sunday’s guest speaker. As the long-winded preacher droned on and on, drowsiness crept over the boy’s body. His head started bobbing until eventually, he settled back for a nap. Some time later, he must have shifted his weight in his sleep, and that’s when he fell out the window. Fortunately for him, the guest speaker that day was the Apostle Paul, who promptly raised him from the dead. All of us who face this temptation should remember that sometimes when falling asleep, the emphasis is on the falling.
My own experience
Although I am only among the occasional Sunday morning nodders, I can recall a particular Eutychian-like experience. My two adult sons and I had just flown across the Atlantic, landing at London’s Gatwick airport early Sunday morning. Our plan was to take the subway to our tiny hotel near Covington Gardens and then find a church nearby to attend.
All went well until we sat down to participate in the worship assembly. That’s when our jet lag slipped in the door behind us and started trying to grab us by our throats. From then on, we faced the constant challenge of trying to stay awake. I am happy to report that the following tips have passed this test of fire.
Tips for staying awake
- Sit on the front edge of your chair or pew. You will find it very difficult to fall asleep unless you are sitting back comfortably. Do not permit your body to take such a position.
- Cross your legs or keep your feet bouncing. This may make you even more tired than you already are, but it does serve to keep you awake temporarily.
- Be an active participant in the learning process. This means you look up every passage in your Bible and read along with the speaker. You give the speaker constant feedback by nodding your agreement, raising your eyebrows when you don’t understand something, and in other ways showing that you are listening closely.
- If you can feel your body moving inexorably toward a comatose state, begin inflicting pain. Any number of ways can prove effective: sit half on the song book and half off. Pinch your leg or bite your tongue, lip, or cheek just enough to force your body to make the decision that staying awake on its own is better than feeling this.
- Take notes on the sermon. Try to catch not only the main points, but also the illustrations, biblical passages used, and even the jokes. It is quite hard to fall asleep if you are ardently scribbling.
- Make sure that the person sitting next to you does not fall asleep. You can do this in any number of ways, such as frequently making eye contact, jabbing your elbow into them, and even whispering briefly, which assembly etiquette permits as long as the whispering pertains to the lesson. Once you are in the process of doing this, your pride will not permit you to fall asleep yourself, and neither will your neighbor.
- Of course, the best cure is prevention. Make up your mind never to stay up late on Saturday night. The more you apply tips one through six, the more you remember how important tip seven can be.
Want to dive deeper?
When Jesus leads the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, he sits them down and gives them the charge, “Stay here and keep watch” (Mark 14:34). Before we criticize them too harshly, we should remember that these men have had a full day that may have involved a lot of walking. They have eaten a big meal, followed by yet another strenuous walk up a steep hill. The spring evening may be just warm enough to add to their drowsiness.
When Jesus returns in an hour, all of them are asleep. Jesus asks Peter, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” Then he urges him, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).
What would’ve happened in the garden if the disciples had stayed awake? It seems likely that they would have seen a procession of torches leaving a Jerusalem gate, heading down and across the Kidron gully, and making its way up the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane. This would have given them enough time to work out what they were going to do when Judas and company arrived. As it happened, they were roused from sleep as the events of the arrest tumbled upon them.
Perhaps every auditorium of every church needs a big sign or banner quoting these verses. Can we not keep awake for even an hour? Let us also watch and pray, so that we will not fall into temptation. A willing spirit can prop up sleepy flesh.
Here are a few blogs on this same subject:
Ben Reed: “10 Things to Do When You Get Tired in Church” (ironic suggestions bordering on humor)
Matt Morton: “How to Stay Awake During Sermons” (sincere suggestions)
Yahoo! Answers: “How to Stay Awake During Church?” (comment board)
Amy Morgan: “The Children of God: How to Not Fall Asleep in Church” (sermon on the text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)