“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”
– Robert Robinson from “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
The Old Testament abounds with the cyclical pattern of Israel’s turning away from God, then turning back to God, and then turning again to sin. Many of us recognize this pattern in our own lives as we flourish in faith and later drift from God and his word until he brings us back again. The pattern is reminiscent of the rhythm of our days, waking and sleeping with the cycle of light and darkness.
Sleep is used as a euphemism several times in the New Testament. It is used for physical death (Matt. 27:52 and Acts 13:36), for the lack of spiritual vigilance and attentiveness (Mark 13:35-36), for sin and alienation from God (Eph. 5:14), and for literal sleep (Mark 14:37) which also has symbolic import. In this passage in Mark, Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake and to keep vigil while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death. When Jesus returned from prayer and found them sleeping he instructed them to pray that they would not enter into temptation, yet twice more he found them asleep and each time he waked them.
It is easy to slowly slump into spiritual drowsiness and inattention, forgetting God and “falling asleep” to spiritual sensitivities. Often we feel too tired to continue walking the narrow path and we drift into sleep, but he has ways of shaking us awake. He shook the Israelites in Amos 4:6-11, but they would not return to the Lord.
We have an active God who pursues us and does not leave us in our slumber. When we feel him shaking us awake through the circumstances of our lives, he may be telling us to rise and turn to him in repentance. It can be difficult to remain alert and intentional about staying awake, but when we do slumber we have the opportunity to respond in obedience when he comes to wake us.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third book in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis describes three great lords who have fallen asleep under an enchantment as they sat around an ancient table. There is a sense of sorrow that settles on the drooping heads as they remain for years in loneliness and desolation. But the lords were not abandoned to a state of eternal sleep; instead the spell was broken and they wakened to life and joy. God, in his mercy, does not abandon us when we wander into the staleness and stagnation of life away from his presence. He wakes us from slumber and invites us to turn to him for strength and sustenance as we walk the paths of this life.