“Gravity is stronger in my bed.” My daughter’s insight was incisive. Certainly, there is some multiplier, some unaccounted for coefficient in the calculus of rising from bed that makes it so difficult. As a young man, getting up was a challenge. I had multiple alarm clocks, hidden in different places (but never the same places twice) to get me on my feet for that early morning appointment. But all too often, even this dynamic algorithm was not enough. Forcing yourself awake is hard. Clearing away the fog of the dream world and breaking free of nocturnal atrophy takes a strong act of will.
But staying awake can be equally demanding. Pulling an all-nighter seems like a bold stroke at 7:00 pm. But at 3:00 am when the euphoria takes hold and every bad pun becomes hilarious, the wisdom of this stratagem wanes. As a software engineer, I pulled many all-nighters. The challenge to stay focused, stay sharp, and guard against the careless mistake or misstep grows exponentially as night plods toward dawn. But with every passing hour, vigilance becomes more critical to success. Especially as downtime is winding down and users are waking to work.
Staying awake, remaining on guard, staying on track is an occupational hazard of the third-shift. The sunless, sleepless hours draw minds and bodies toward drowsy and dangerous complacency. But falling asleep is an even great danger in our spiritual lives. Persecution and adversity are enemies to our faith. But complacency is equally deadly. Yet much more subtle and common. The Bible warns us from cover to cover to “watch out,” “take heed,” and remain vigilant.
This is the warning to the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3. To the world they seemed alive. They did the things churches do. They said the things Christians said. They were untroubled by persecution or pressure. But complacency was their undoing. Despite appearances they were dead. And Jesus warns them to “wake up.” Their complacency was proverbial in the ancient world. Twice the seemingly impregnable citadel of Sardis had been captured, simply by a failure to remain on guard.
Sardis had once been the jewel of the Lydian empire, ruled by Croesus, a fabulously wealthy and ambitious king. So ambitious that he dreamed of victory over Cyrus and the Persians. Croesus inquired of the Oracle at Delphi about his chances. She told him that war with Cyrus would result in the “downfall of a great empire.” But he never guessed this meant his own. After a series of humiliating defeats, Croesus, retreated to the safety of Sardis.
High on Mt. Tmolus in western Turkey, sheer cliffs protected Sardis on three sides. It could be easily defended by a small force. But Cyrus always thought outside the box. He offered a large reward to any man who could find a way into the city. A Persian guard, Hyroeades, scanning the walls, noticed a Lydian soldier drop his helmet from the defenses then climb down to retrieve it. Sensing an opportunity, Hyroeades led a small group of men to find and make the harrowing climb. When they reached the battlements, they discovered them completely unguarded.
In their complacency and overconfidence, the Lydians did not even post a guard. Hyroeades threw open the gates and the city fell. The story of Sardis’ fall is proverbial. But it was a proverb they never took to heart. This story repeated itself a few hundred years later following the conquests of Alexander the Great. And at the time Revelation was written it repeated itself in the life of the Church in Sardis.
How careful are we to be on guard in our spiritual life? In Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples could not stay awake. How crushing it must have been to hear Jesus’ lament.
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.Matthew 26:40-42
What about you? Are you spiritually asleep? Has the relative safety and comfort of being a Christian in our culture caused you to leave your life unguarded? How easily does the enemy of your soul exploit the unguarded areas of your thoughts, your words, your actions, your loves, and your ambitions? Jesus commanded to the Church is Sardis is to “stay awake,” remain watchful. For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is apt for us. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12. How watchful are you? Are you struggling to stay awake in your spiritual life? Join us this week as we examine Revelation 3:1-6 and consider the call to “wake up.”
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.