Sleep doesn’t always come to me as easily as it once did. As I have gotten older, I am sometimes wide awake in my chair until the wee hours of the morning. For me, a sleepless night is usually accompanied by a good deal of anxiety. Concerns that don’t bother me much in the daytime grow inordinately large by night. When these combine with my overactive imagination, I am done for.
As someone who has trouble sleeping, I am drawn to 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah found rest and respite under a broom tree. At the beginning of chapter 19, Elijah was having a terrible time. Fearing for his life and fleeing to Horeb, he was all but ready to give up. Scripture says, “[Elijah] came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep” (verses 4-5, NIV). I am amazed that given Elijah’s situation, he could fall asleep, just like that. Nothing on Elijah’s mind was significant enough for him to lose sleep when he was in God’s presence.
I love this moment in Elijah’s story. At his wit’s end and running for his life, he found rest in God’s presence. I don’t know how many nights I have wished sleep would come upon me so easily. Among the ways I occupy myself on sleepless nights is to eat crackers with peanut butter and watch reruns of a popular television show from the 1980s. While not entirely productive, it distracts me from everything going on inside my head at two o’clock in the morning.
One sleepless night a few weeks ago, I decided to try something different. I started going through the floor plan of the building I work in, praying for each of my colleagues. I named something about each person for which I am thankful, and then I asked God for something on his or her behalf — to watch over a sick family member, for help in a challenging work situation, for wisdom and guidance in making a big decision, for strength in caring for an aging parent.
I have kept up this practice since. I haven’t yet made it through the entire building before falling asleep, so the next night I pick up where I left off. When I get to the last person in the last office, I start over. Some nights I neglect my prayers and go back to my crackers with peanut butter and 1980s television for comfort instead. But more and more I use my sleepless nights to pray for my colleagues.
Elijah’s story is only one of many that tell us just how much God cares for us. More than anything, the story is about the peace, trust, assurance, and comfort that can come to us when we are in God’s presence. It is a story about God’s care for those whom God loves. No matter what we are going through, what fears are swirling around inside our heads, or what concerns weigh on us, we can go to God in prayer and find a little rest.
My midnight prayer practice has become for me a broom tree of sorts. It has brought me closer to God and given me a deeper sense of God’s care and protection for both myself and my colleagues, and ultimately given me rest. Above all, it has made me realize that the strength God gave Elijah is available to each of us as well, anytime and anywhere — under a solitary tree in the wilderness or in a living room chair.
Several meditations in this issue address God’s continual care for us. You may want to read again the meditations for July 5, 8, 11, 14, 16, 18, 22, 25, 29, 30 and August 3, 5, 9, 11, 20, 21, 27, and 31 before responding to the reflection questions.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Name a story in scripture that has helped you in a significant way. What do you remember about the first time you encountered this story? Why is it meaningful for you?
2. What other characters in scripture did God care for in practical ways when they were enduring difficult situations? What do their stories teach us about how God cares for us when we go through tough times?
“Prayer, searching the scripture, and service are means of entering into and sharing the heart, mind, and work of Christ. A balanced spiritual practice helps us get in step with the transforming rhythm of Jesus’ life with God: work and worship, engagement and rest, service and Sabbath, contemplation and action.” Read more.