Harrowing Of Hell
May 5, 2024

Sleepless Nights

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To watch the sermon click here.

I’m one of those guys who, when my head hits the pillow, am instantly out. In fact, if I were a person who snored, some might say my snoring begins the minute I lay down… if I were a person who snored.

And so, I found myself the other night completely undone by not being able to fall asleep. I had had a terrible day. Sometimes we have terrible days. Many of you have had a terrible day. I had one. It was one of those days where something happened that you just didn’t see coming, and it sort of knocks the wind out of you. It was one of those days where I didn’t have a glass of wine to relax after work. It was that kind of day.

We all have those kinds of days. They show up from time to time. No one is looking for them, that is for sure, but they can sure knock us off our rails for a bit. One salve I employed was to watch 3 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Nothing like Larry David to get you out of your own head.

I fell asleep eventually, but that night tossed and turned. It was one of those nights where you don’t really feel like you slept, even though you probably did. And I remember laying there thinking: “Gosh maybe I should just pray.” So, I started to say the Lord’s Prayer. And there was a moment, one of those weird middle of the night moments, where I wondered if I could remember the Lord’s Prayer. 

Fortunately, it is pretty well carved into my heart, and it flooded up when I needed it. At 3:55 AM I looked at the clock and thought “close enough.” As I splashed water on my face, as I do every morning, I prayed, as I do every morning, saying: “I give you thanks living and eternal God, for you have mercifully returned my soul unto me. Your faithfulness is great.”  

Every morning. Every day that prayer reminds me that I am inextricably linked to God through my soul no matter how well I have slept. It reminds me, as Lisa preached about last Sunday, that I abide… a branch permanently affixed to the vine. We all abide because we all belong to God; no matter how well we have slept.

Then I grabbed my coffee and popped up to my study, and sat in prayer, as I always do. One of the weird things about prayer is that whatever’s rolling around in your heart will land forefront in your mind; which includes the good and the bad, the bitterness and the blessing. This, I believe, is a designed function wired into our nature.

Prayer reveals what, from the world, we must contend with; and while prayer is not a guarantee of resolution, it does serve as a daily reminder that faith in Jesus Christ is victory over the world. That is what we are choosing to encounter in prayer… faith in the victory of Jesus  over the world.

Faith is keeping at it. Faith is showing up. Faith is knowing that Jesus is just around the corner.  Faith is continuing to say the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of the night. Faith is continuing to get up in the morning and splashing water on your face while giving thanks for your soul. Faith is continuing to sit in prayer day after day after day. Faith is continuing to open up your Bible and asking:  “What God is saying to me?” Faith is victory over the world irrespective of the worldly circumstances we find ourselves in – no matter the sleepless nights.

I opened my Bible that morning and I found in the margin notes something I had written years ago.  It was as if I’d written my future self a note at some point in the past, not knowing that that’s what I was doing. There in the margin in the Gospel of John 15 that I had written: “God loves you. Love your friends. Bear fruit.” It made me smile.

Then I turned to 1st John, and saw underlined: “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4). Faith is living and acting in full confidence that God has got this (whatever your “this” is),whatever is keeping you awake at night. 

And the list can be long: Turmoil on college campuses. An uncertain diagnosis. The illness of a friend. The betrayal of trust. A protracted conflict with a neighbor or relative. An uncertain employment situation. Anxiety over retirement, or the life plan one of our children is living out. Maybe it is angst over the greater gestalt of a world at war, or a nation divided. Maybe it is the spinning of a conversation you had that you’d like to take back.   

These are the ways of the world. The world is real, it is encountered and it must be contented with… and it is surmountable by faith. Faith is the victory of God: that God has got this; that God has got this.

And while that truth doesn’t guarantee we won’t have other sleepless nights, or that we won’t find ourselves out of sorts from time to time, have faith. Faith is living the reality that God has got this. And that is a way of thinking reinforced by the Christian lifestyle: saying prayers, talking with Jesus, reading the Bible, jotting down margin note for our future self. Maybe to remind us that God is here. God loves me.  Love your neighbor. Bear fruit. It is by our faith that we experience the victory of Jesus; not by apathy, or helplessness, or inactivity, but by the dynamism of a Christian lifestyle.

The Letter of James encourages us with these words: “Remain steadfast under trial knowing that the testing of faith produces endurance” (Jms 1:2-4). 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us he has overcome the world.  That the victory has happened, and the peace of Christ reigns. And what is the peace of Christ?Is it a peace that assures perfect slumber?No! It is a peace revealed in the assurance of Jesus’ presence especially on sleepless nights.

And so, when we come up against issues that keep us awake at night, issues we can’t overpower problems that we can’t work our way around; abide in faith. The victory of Jesus has been secured: not as a victory that eradicates suffering; not as a victory that erases doubts; not as a victory that eliminates injustice; but as victory realized despite all the worldly issues we are confronted with.

And so, I want to leave you with a passage from the Bible that is worth memorizing, or at least putting next to your bed, in anticipation of a sleepless nights yet to come. It goes like this: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. The Lord is near! Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ. Finally, keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:4-7, 9/ para)

May this be your abiding rest on sleepless nights.