Friday, June 30, 2017

Dear Heavenly … zzz

“Hon … Hon, wake up.  Your dinner is here.”  Hubby said as he placed my plate on the computer table.  Laying his hand on my shoulder he began to pray over the meal. 

Lifting my head from the comfy gel pad that I use for my wrists, I sat up and stared at the food. Within seconds I became one of those bobble heads trying to stay awake.   (Sound familiar?  I know, we're been this route before right?)

Thinking all this was funny my husband sat down on the couch watching me wobble back and forth in the chair.  This time I put my elbow on the pad and used my hand to prop up my head.  It was so comfortable I decided to use both elbows as a crutch and nestled my head in the palms of my hands. 

With a smile on my face I fell fast asleep never hearing a word of the prayer. 

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Dear Heavenly …zzz 

Have you ever had a difficult time staying awake through prayer? How many times have you barely gotten past “Dear Heavenly Father” before you’re already in dreamland? 

I remember talking to one of the deacons in our church about falling asleep when I prayed at night.  He was quite encouraging in helping me to realize that this isn’t something unique to me.  

Although he didn’t recommend I make a practice of it, he said, “At least you went to sleep talking to the Lord.”  That was kind of cool for a teenager to hear from someone I deemed as “religious”.  

The problem though didn’t stop with me dozing off during my own prayers.  Oh no, I was no respecter of persons when I fell asleep during prayer. 

Shall We Pray 

I loved our pastor, as a teen he was the only person who preached that I could really make sense out of what he said.  He wasn’t boring and was down to earth in his messages. There was one big problem though, well, not for me I thought.   

For most of the congregation, the compassionate Shepherd in our church touched the hearts of the sheep he led, but was long winded when it came to his prayers.  I remember some of the elders discussing the matter over the years.  However for me, I welcomed the times when he would lead us into the throne room of God. 

You see whether we were standing or seated, pastoral prayer meant a time for me to snooze.  Hearing the words, “shall we pray” was music to my ears and a legitimate reason to close my eyes.  

Falling asleep wasn’t a sin to me because I saw lots of people doing it including the deacons, and the pastor never said a word about it. There probably wasn’t a single time when my Dad didn’t fall asleep in church (that is when he attended). Mom would elbow him in the side to wake him and he would sit up as if nothing happened.   

Years later I can recall a time when another pastor was honoring veterans.  One elderly gentleman was sitting in the front row of the sanctuary and came especially for that service.  From the pulpit the pastor said,  

“I’d like to honor a certain WW2 veteran visiting with us today,
but can’t because he’s asleep and I don’t want to wake him.” 

Sleeping was something I patterned from what I observed from “godly” people.  So catching a few winks really wasn’t that big of a deal to God if the representatives of His Kingdom were active participants in this behavior. 

10 Tricks of Church Sleepers

Although the title for this section was meant to be taken as tongue in cheek, things happen in church that sometimes are funny. 
How many times have you seen a faithful soul drop a Bible or hymnbook on the floor because it slid off their lap while they dozed?  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve witnessed hitting their heads on a pew, because they fell sideways when falling asleep during prayer. 

For the record, most people don’t set out to fall asleep during a church service or in prayer, but often find it difficult to stay awake when closing your eyes is expected.  Some have become extremely talented and gifted at the craft of inappropriate sleeping. 

It’s not that hard to become a good church and prayer sleeper really.  Snorting and snoring is a clear give away, but people become quite cleaver when it comes to awkward incidences concerning sleeping in church.   

I haven’t participated in most of these practices, but have heard them told from qualified sources of the trade.  I’m not advocating any of these, but here are a few that you might think twice about doing now that they are revealed!   

1 – Pretending to take notes with your head down is an easy one.   

2 – While seated, bend forward to pick up something off the floor but take your time in doing it. 

3 – Lean forward and place elbows on knees with head in your hands. 

4 – Lean forward resting your arms on the pew in front of you with head lowered as if listening.  

5 – Lean forward resting your head on the pew in front of you looking toward the floor. 

6 – Put your arm around your spouse with heads touching as if praying in agreement.  (This one looks serious.  Who would question it?) 

7 – Browse through your purse looking down.  This will take a while for some.  Be sure to capture that mint at the bottom or at least come up with a tissue, it will make it look as if you were on a mission. 

8 – Keep your sunglasses on during the service. 

9 – Sit still and stare at the pastor.  Sleeping with your eyes open is a real talent wouldn’t you say?  I can’t do it, but have watched it being done. 

10 – With eyes closed, rub your forehead like you have a headache.  

I became so good at falling asleep through prayer that even when the pastor (or anyone else for that matter who was praying) said “Amen”, I would raise my head slowly as if I was finishing up on my own prayers and nobody thought differently.  That is until one day … it happened! 

My Little Secret 

As an adult I’ve learned to fellowship with all denominations even though I am a practicing non-denominationalist unlike my youth days.  I grew up attending a traditional Baptist church, and when the pastor prayed people were very still and there wasn’t any hand raising or shouting “Amen” brother.  If your hand happened to float upward in the air, you better have a question for the pastor. 

When the pastor prayed the sanctuary was silent with only his voice resounding through the great room.  If a child began to stir they were removed as quickly and quietly as possible so the congregation wouldn’t be distracted.  We were an obedient group of people. 

Staying awake during the service wasn’t usually an issue, but come prayer time this young Baptist girl needed to be a shouting, hand raising Pentecostal inside not to venture into lala land. 

One particular Sunday evening I was really tired for some reason.  I did whatever I could to stay awake, and sitting next to my mother made it a real effort indeed.   

I had been working on getting better at staying awake during prayer.  Of course no one knew my little secret.  After all it wasn’t hurting anyone right? 

By now I was teaching Sunday School and the Holy Spirit was working on my behavior as a leader to the little third graders I taught. What kind of example would I be if even their teacher fell asleep during the service? 

While taking notes (I really was and still do in each service) I dozed off … I mean really fell asleep dream and all.  How this got by my Mom somehow I can’t fathom, because she never missed a thing I did.  

I woke up startled and nearly bounced out of the pew as my body was flung forward in panic.  In a scream of horror I shouted, “AHHHH!”  Why couldn’t it have been an “aha” moment with words like Hallelujah, praise God or something religious at least, then everyone would have been thrilled I got the point of the message? 

Mom did a zip head turn and gave me that church look nobody wants to see.  It was like the domino effect with a chain reaction of faces zooming in on me to see what happened.  I was so embarrassed watching some of the people around me trying not to laugh, while the others looked on with disapproval. 

How I escaped getting into trouble that day is beyond me, but my mother never said anything.  Now everyone knew my “little” secret, because I had openly displayed it so well.  Sitting almost mid-center of the church I suppose she felt the sudden outburst that drew everyone’s attention was enough punishment. 

Among Disciples 

This subject was preying on my mind all week; not that it was bugging me about others, but because of me.  Sleeping in church thankfully is a behavior the Lord has helped me curtail, but at times I still find myself struggling with it in my private prayer life.   

I’m not picking on those who have slept during sermons or during their time in fellowship with God in prayer.  Many people blame it on the message saying they’re boring or too long, but what about when you’re home and fall asleep while studying the Word or praying?  That would make you the bore wouldn’t it? 

There are tons of reasons why this happens and I won’t go into those now, but some are valid and others not so much.  Not enough sleep, work or health related issues, emergencies, etc. are reasons why we tend to fall asleep at the most inappropriate times. Let’s suffice it to say, no one is exempt when it comes to being attentive all the time. 

The truth is falling asleep during prayer isn’t something new for believers.  If you’ve done this I’d like to tell you that you’re one of the crowd when it comes to falling asleep on God.  I’ve even heard of a pastor who fell asleep while standing and dropped his hymnal in front of the congregation.  

As a matter of fact, you are among many Disciples of Christ who have fallen asleep on the Master.  At a critical point in the life of Jesus, He asked disciples Peter, James and John if they would watch and pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 26) 

How could they possibly fall asleep on Jesus Himself?  Who knows all the details, but we know this … they did and not just once! 

Can’t you picture Paul’s face when he was preaching and a man in the balcony fell asleep plunging to his death during the service?  Thankfully due to his own personal prayer life, the anointing of the Holy Spirit was on Paul and the story has a good ending. 

Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘he’s alive!’ Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together. Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left. Meanwhile, the young man was taken home alive and well …”  (Acts 20:10-12a NLT)

I expect Eutychus didn’t fall asleep during any sermon or prayer after that day. (from Acts 20:7-12)   

Our Faith, God’s Favor 

When Jesus asked the disciples to stay awake to pray, He was asking for them to pray in agreement through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  The Lord’s faith was strong enough to see Him through, but Jesus was trying to teach them several things.  One of them was that together the power of God was multiplied because their faith supported one another as a strong cord.

“Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NKJV)

Our prayers of faith are weapons of warfare that enable us to fight spiritual battles in the heavens.  We don’t think of it, but falling asleep during prayer is a battle the devil wants us to lose.  If we don’t stay in favor with God, prayers won’t get answered and our faith walk is destroyed.

Staying awake keeps our minds focused on the right things, therefore, the stronghold of sin is brought into captivity.  Falling asleep may not necessarily be a sin, but it is rude and destructive to a believer.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,  and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.”
(2 Corinthians 10:3-6 NKJV)

My husband reminded me of a verse that he thought of when we discussed sleeping in church.  James 5 states that the prayers of the saints have tremendous power available to them.  It is effectual through the power given to us by the Holy Spirit, which is part of the grace/favor benefits we received upon salvation.   

It was Paul’s faith mixed with the Holy Spirit’s power that produced favor on that man’s (Eutychus) life.  The Amplified Bible says it like this: 

“The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God - it is dynamic and can have tremendous power]. (James 5:16b AMP) 

Unless we spend time in prayer on a regular basis we will not receive such an anointing like Paul or others of faith have experienced, because our faith just isn’t on level with the favor God wants to give.  I think that’s a pretty good reason to make an effort of staying awake in times of worship and prayer. 

There’s much power in prayer. God knows it, satan knows it … do you? 

This Week’s Challenge:
Staying Awake During Prayer 

When my husband and I discussed this topic he admitted his knees went out from him one time while standing during prayer.  He had fallen asleep and they hit the pew in front of him making a bang.  See, you never know everything about your spouse. 

Rounding out our prayer segment I felt that this may be something others are having difficulty with, and so I didn’t want to leave the subject without at least touching on it. 

This week when I fell asleep on hubby it was because I had suffered from heat exhaustion and was still feeling the results of it.  Even so, there are things I do now to help me remain awake during prayer whether I’m out or at home spending time alone with the Lord. 

Our challenge this week is to try these 10 things to stay awake during prayer or church services.  If you know someone with this problem, instead of judging them, try helping by sharing these tips. 

Ten Things to Help Stay Awake During Prayer & Church 

1 - It may be obvious, but getting a good night’s sleep can help us avoid falling asleep during prayer or in church.

2 - Try moving around more if possible.  Become more active during the song service by moving your arms or legs for stimulation. 

3 - Put a piece of candy or gum in your mouth.  The movement of chewing gum will help you stay awake. 

4 - Offer to have a child sit with you during the service. Parents with several young ones welcome this act of kindness.  No one dare close their eyes when watching someone else’s loved one. 

5 - Participate in the service as an usher or sanctuary server/guide.  If you’re standing you probably won’t fall asleep, well maybe. 

6 - Be active in the choir or special services in the church.  Even though these are for a short time during the service, it is enough activity to keep you alert for the rest of the service. 

7 - Pray over your mind that it is receptive to receive what God is revealing to you through His servant before any service.   

8 - Actually take notes and jot down phrases that speak to your spirit. 

9 - Bring a “real” bible to church and turn to each passage.  Physically following along with the passages will help you stay alert. 

10 – If you find yourself falling asleep on the Lord at home, stand up and walk around the area while remaining in prayer.  Getting out of bed shows God that He is your “Dear Heavenly Father” and what He says matters to you. 

By developing a different mindset you will find that your prayer life will be more fulfilling, powerful and effective.   

One more thing before you leave …

Remember when I fell asleep at the computer?  Well, I didn’t realize that something or someone (not mentioning the kitty) hit certain keys that froze the computer.  Hubby had to do a total restore … so leaving him to it I retreated to the bedroom to pray before falling asleep!  Thanks honey.

If this article has encouraged or helped you, please consider sharing it by using the social media icons provided at the end of this post. 

Until next time, remember that Holy Spirit favor is powerful! 

“Favor is distributed through my Spirit.”
Jesus Christ 

*Unless noted, the names in articles are changed to protect the individual(s) privacy. 

Note: Emphasis is given in some scriptures to show clarity or understanding and is not to take away from the inspirited Word of God. 

When used, the words satan or devil are not capitalized deliberately, because we give him no place in our lives.

Disclaimer: Article information is not meant to be used as treatment for mental or physical issues, but geared toward spiritual awareness. 

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Six Sessions on the Transforming Power of Prayer
by Jim Cymbala
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