Have you ever fallen asleep at church? You really want to get blessed but you just can’t stay awake. You try to meditate on the Word but you drift into lala land. Dangit! I wanna get blessed, but I am so tir… zzzzz… I definitely have my share of stories. Allow me to share a few of my failures as well as some things I’ve learned over the years. Hopefully, it will encourage you.
1. Falling asleep during communion. At OIL when I was a college freshie. Every night (4 days/3 nights retreat) there was a prayer meeting after the sermon until 2-3am. It was just an absurd schedule, but without fail, each night was filled with knock-out-of-the-park-blessings. However, being an OIL neophyte, I thought I might die of prayer exhaustion. I was just so tired by the end of the retreat. (Put me in a body bag and take me back to Chicago!) At the end of the retreat, we had a communion service. I got my bread and juice and sat back down. The officiating pastor goes into his spiel and I drift into deeeeeeep sleeeeeep. I remember feeling nice and toasty too, bundled up in my thick winter coat, dreaming about Jesus, and then… (screeching sound) you know those quick naps in class where you are jerked awake by something, like falling off a cliff in your dream? Yep, it happened to me at that moment during communion. I woke up with a violent jerk and I SQUEEZED my hand–the one with the cup of juice in it. The thing exploded all over me and I had to lick, not drink, the grape juice off the palm of my hand. It was very dramatic. Then I fell back asleep.
2. Falling asleep during sermons. I have so many crazy stories of falling asleep during sermons, but this is how it generally goes. You’re tired. You’re trying to listen to the sermon but you are failing badly. You keep falling asleep. You know the sermon is pretty good because you hear people laughing and responding. You laugh along too. In your mind you think you’re fooling everyone, but you know what your face looks like right? You look like a bad Jack Nicholson impression which suddenly relaxes into a drunk man’s face.
I don’t know about you but when I fall asleep during sermons, I continue to write even after falling asleep. I have to say, I am a master at writing while my eyes are closed. It’s like my spirit is dancing Lady Gaga-like in the third heavens while my body is taking notes on earth. It’s very ethereal. So I write for about a good 10 minutes. Something jerks me awake and I look down at my notes and I see… nonsense. If you could write in tongues, that’s what it would look like. “shabbayabaddaya…” Or other times, you look down at your paper to see that you basically made Aztec symbols over and over again in one spot. That part is completely soaked in ink as well as three more pages after that one!
Or how about this one? You’re writing rubbish, and then for some reason you have one very legible word but it has nothing to do with anything. Like this: rubbish, rubbish, rubbish…. BIG MAC … rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. Am I crazy here? Does anyone else do this?
3. Falling asleep during prayer time. I’ve fallen asleep a lot during prayer time. I’m pretty sure I’m a descendant of Peter, James, and John in that regard. I’d like to share some lessons in staying awake during prayer time.
Don’t put your head on the ground or on the chair. It doesn’t matter whether you are kneeling with your head to the ground or sitting Indian style with your forehead on the chair/pew. Don’t do it. You will fall asleep. Plus, you’ll wake up feeling like little people are sticking needles up and down your leg and feet. Also, your face will look like Frodo took a hobbit iron and pressed down real hard on it. So I’ve heard.
Pray out loud. There’s something about hearing yourself pray that helps you stay awake. If you are so tired that you start praying nonsensical things like, “God… help me… my brother… dog is dying… Italian Beef…” then you know you’re falling asleep and can go get a drink of water. But be careful. Please make sure that as you pray out loud that you don’t slip and announce the name of someone you like :) Also, make sure you remember it’s not a shouting contest. You don’t have to be the loudest guy. The point is not to keep everyone else awake, but to keep yourself awake. You need to take it down a couple of notches before you burst a blood vessel in your forehead. But don’t get me wrong. I would rather have that then some of you yogi types out there who pray like you’re doing transcendental meditation.
4. Falling asleep during singing. This is when you know you’re super super tired. I have on two occasions fallen asleep while standing. This is not natural. The thing about falling asleep while standing is that unless you are propped up by something (wall, post, another human being, etc.) you will eventually fall down. For me, it goes like this. It’s a slow song and I close my eyes. Big mistake, off to lala land. Then, abruptly my legs buckle like someone whacked me on the soft spot behind my knees. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch yourself by holding on to your friend, post, or wall. However, if you are not so lucky, you can always milk it for all its worth. Make it look really spiritual and act like you were slain by the Holy Spirit. Your face should have a smile or an intense frown to display pure joy or pure conviction. Your eyes should be closed. Prophetic words are optional. But don’t stay down too long because it might be closing praise and you’ll look silly sleeping on the carpet after everyone’s gone and the janitor is vacuuming around your body.
In all seriousness though, how great is it that Jesus knows who we are. As I poke fun at myself, I am thankful that Jesus knows I am nothing without him. I can’t pray a single moment or read a single verse and truly understand it without his grace. He knew his disciples were made of flesh and blood for they slept while he prayed, “40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matt 26:40-41)
Lord, you know our weak and frail bodies. You know our sinful and rebellious hearts. Help us to pray and not sleep. Even when we fail, help us to wake up again and again, for you do not look at how many times we fell asleep but how many times we tried to rise again. Amen.