Luke 6 – Who Needs Sleep

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Today’s PassageLuke 6

The Sermon on the Plateau, which bears some similarities to the better-known Sermon on the Mount, makes up the bulk of this chapter, but there’s also some fuss about Jesus and his disciples’ Sabbath activities, plus Jesus selecting the twelve apostles. But one little verse stood out to me today: just a few words whose significance you might breeze right past if you didn’t stop to think about what they actually say.

I’m talking about verse twelve. Jesus has just healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, drawing the ire of the Pharisees. Luke tells us, “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (12). The whole night.

The whole night.

My brain initially doesn’t want to believe that. I think this is the first time I realized that Luke’s literal words are that Jesus pulls an all-nighter. And I say to myself: no, that can’t be right. He must mean that Jesus… And it dawns on me that Luke can mean nothing else than that Jesus spent the whole night in prayer rather than sleep.

Yesterday morning, I listened to a story on NPR’s Morning Edition: “The Haunting Effects Of Going Days Without Sleep.” It concerns Randy Gardner, who in 1963 stayed awake for 11 consecutive days. A decade ago, Gardner went through a spell of pronounced and upsetting insomnia, and to this day he can only sleep around six hours a night. The story also features a few brief words from neuroscientist Matthew Walker, who warns of the dangers of even minor sleep deprivation. According to data gathered from the annual clock shifts of Daylight Savings Time, the springtime’s lost hour of sleep correlates with a 24 percent increase in heart attacks, and with the fall’s extra hour for gaining more sleep, there is a 21 percent decrease in heart attacks. And even before this article, I was no stranger to the value of sleep.

So why does Jesus Christ go without?

I can only conclude that spending time talking to God is just that important to him. It supersedes the value he places on his own physical well-being. And were this coming from anyone else, I would ask, “Are you out of your mind?” And to a certain extent, I would still ask it, or at least caution my readers against erring too far in the other direction, ignoring the limitations and needs of the bodies God has given them. But here the Son of God himself teaches us that as important as sleep is, sometimes prayer is more important. Sometimes God wants to hear from us for eight hours straight.

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