We are sleeping less than ever before. One study showed that over the past five decades average sleep duration on work nights has decreased by an hour and a half, down from eight and a half to just under seven. Thirty-one percent of us sleep fewer than six hours a night, and 69 percent report insufficient sleep.
The Bible has a theology of sleep. According to the psalms, sleep is God’s gift (Ps. 3:5; 4:8; 127:2). In today’s passage, sleep was part of God’s prescription for Elijah’s exhaustion and depression. After his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Jezebel swore to kill Elijah. The prophet fled for his life, running 120 miles to Beersheba. After leaving his servant behind, he traveled another day’s journey into the wilderness and asked God to let him die.
Instead of dealing with Elijah’s discouragement immediately, the Lord prescribed a regimen of rest and diet. Strengthened by this, Elijah traveled forty more days to Mount Sinai (referred to as Horeb in v. 8). After he was rested, refreshed, and relocated, he was ready to hear God’s perspective on his situation and receive instructions on what to do next.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones warns that physical factors often contribute to spiritual depression. “You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind and spirit,” he explains. “The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time and there are great illustrations of this in Scripture.” Overwork, poor sleep habits, and lack of exercise may not seem to have anything to do with the Christian life, but they can have a detrimental effect on our service for God.