Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Psalm 44:23
“Isn’t it about time you woke up!”
Have you ever found yourself saying that to somebody? Or perhaps there have been times when somebody said it to you. It needn’t, of course, be meant in the literal sense of actually getting out of bed. More often it’s a way of saying “Come on, you’re in a rut! Stir yourself! Roll your sleeves up and get to work!”
Whatever, it does come as something of a surprise that the Psalmist in Psalm 44 should feel able to talk to God himself in this way. It seems faintly blasphemous. Who are we to give orders to God? And anyway, doesn’t the Bible say elsewhere that “God neither slumbers nor sleeps”?
Well, if you read the psalm through, you find that it’s about a period in Israel’s history when they were going through a seriously bad time – and the problem was that God just didn’t seem to care. He seemed deaf to their prayers. It was as if he was fast asleep; hence these words.
When I last read Psalm 44 these words struck me with special force. I decided that if it was good enough for the Psalmist, well, it was good enough for me. I prayed over various matters where it seemed that God wasn’t doing anything very much, and, taking a leaf out of the psalm, I prayed “Come on, Lord, wake up!” Two things seemed to happen – or not, as the case may be.
First, something that didn’t happen. I didn’t find myself feeling guilty, as if I was doing something wrong. Of course, I tried to pray reverently and respectfully, but, still, I was as blunt as the Psalmist. I remembered that God has pretty broad shoulders, and he is happy to take from us whatever we feel we need to throw at him.
But second – and this was something I didn’t really expect – I felt that the longer I prayed in this way, the more God was almost smiling back at me and saying something along these lines: “So you would like me to wake up, would you? All right, I’ve heard what you are saying. But – just a minute now – can I ask you something? Is it time you did a bit of waking up too?” It seemed almost like a bargain, if I can put it in such crude terms: “I’m very happy to wake up – but what about you?” It was as if God was challenging me: “Have you rather gone to sleep in your discipleship!”
It brought to my mind one or two other Bible passages.
I thought of Jesus, praying in agony of spirit in the Garden of Gethsemane, only to find his disciples fast sleep. There is a deep sadness, even loneliness, in his voice as he asks, “Couldn’t you keep watch with me for one hour?” There’s Paul in Romans 13: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber“. Paul again in Ephesians 5: “Wake up, O sleeper, and rise from the dead and Christ will give you light.” And Paul yet again in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Let us not be like others who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled….”
Never mind God… We as Christians are called to be alert! self-controlled! awake!
Where does this lead us…?
Perhaps there’s a bit of a paradox here that we need to notice. We often hear it said (usually in sermons; I know I’ve said it myself) that “God’s timing is not ours”, and therefore we need to be patient. Of course that is true. But on the other hand verses like this one suggest that there may also be times for – if I can call it this – a sort of holy impatience. Times when our passion, our urgency, to see God’s hand at work, trump that natural sense of reverence.
So… Do you ever feel like praying “Come on, Lord, wake up!”? If so, I encourage you to carry on in that vein. God can take it! But do remember too to listen out for his voice – you may well hear him say, “What about you? Have you gone to sleep on the job – the job of being a serious Christian? Is it time you too rolled up your sleeves? Let’s strike a bargain: I’ll wake up a bit – when I see you beginning to stir”.
Dear Father, please forgive me if I have become lazy and sluggish in my walk with you. Please help me to roll up my sleeves and get going again. Only then, dear Lord, will I look for the signs that you too are really awake!