Home > Advent > Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call

At some point between the moment I lifted the cup of coffee and the moment it reached my lips, I started to doze. My grip loosened, the cup slipped, and…somehow the cup landed back on the table with a small splash. I jolted wide awake.

How can you fall asleep while drinking a hot cup of coffee? Apparently, I can fall asleep almost anywhere at anytime.

When my sister studied at the University of Tennessee, she was walking across campus one day when she saw a body in the middle of the field. At first she was concerned that someone had passed out or had a heart attack. When she walked up to the body, she realized it was me sleeping. While walking to class, I felt dozy and sat down minute. Then I stretched out and went straight to sleep.

It seems early morning prayer in a coffee shop is particularly conducive to sleeping.

Sometimes the short doze is exactly what I need. I awake with a renewed clarity. Other times, I’m sleeping in my wakefulness.

I was wide awake on a recent morning, when I felt the Lord convict me of sleep, but I was not asleep. I was convicted of a sleep that might understood as distraction, as numbness. This kind of sleep is what some of the Church Fathers might call “sloth.”

Sloth may be indicative of our era. We all are bombarded with so much information that it causes a certain deadness, a certain of loss of focus, a certain emptying of presence. Like falling under an evil spell, we fall into a waking slumber. This slumber is full of motion, activity, busy-ness. This sloth may even be full of prayer, meditation, and study.

Constant motion hides our numbness to existence, our absence of attention or awareness. We exist, but we don’t really see, we don’t really hear, we don’t really live. The world around us and the life within us is dulled and darkened. Our vision grows dim. We lose heart. We become dis-couraged.

In the middle of prayer, the Spirit convicted me of coldness, of self-sufficiency. Beneath this self-sufficiency hides the dehumanizing power of idolatry. This conviction brought to mind something Ole Hallesby says in his classic book called, Prayer. He writes, “Only those who are helpless can truly pray.” As I heard these words echo in my memory, I knew that sloth had sapped me of helplessness.

Hallesby continues, “Prayer therefore consists simply in telling God day by day in what ways we feel that we are helpless. We are moved to pray every time the Spirit of God, which is the spirit of prayer, emphasizes anew to us our helplessness, and we realize how impotent we are by nature to believe, to love, to hope, to serve, to sacrifice, to suffer, to read the Bible, to pray and to struggle against our sinful desires.”

He recognizes that our realization of helplessness is a gift of the Spirit. When the Spirit penetrated my heart, I felt like I had been jolted awake by almost dropping the cup of coffee. Right in the middle of prayer, my soul was sleeping, drifting, dozing. Suddenly I was awake. “Oh God, I don’t want to be cold. To be absent. To be numb.”

Listening to Rickie Lee Jones respond in song to the Gospel on her album, “Sermon on Exposition Boulevard,” deepened this sense of call from the Lord. She asks, “How do you pray in a world like this?” Then later she cries out like the Publican, “I’m down here too, I’m down here too, I’m down here too.” In her cry, I hear the posture of helplessness.

How do we maintain this posture in the midst of the land of plenty? Or how do we maintain a sense of hunger and desperation for God while seeking to live with daily intention? Even the pattern of daily devotion can become the place where our sinfulness hides. We cannot find the answer within ourselves, within our methods of prayer, within our theologies. The answer is beyond us, above us.

During Advent we are looking up. We are looking for the Coming One. Only our Lord can save us from our idolatries. The Spirit compels us to look for the Coming One, the Savior who convicts and redeems. Even in His prodding, His convicting, His exposing, He is healing us of the deadening numbness of a world immersed in self-sufficiency.

He is calling us beyond ourselves. Hallesby writes,
“Jesus comes to sinners, awakens them from their sleep in sin, converts them, forgives their sins and makes them His children. Then He takes the weak hand of the sinner and places it in His own strong, nail-pierced hand and says: “Come now, I am going with you all the way and will bring you safe home to heaven. If you ever get into trouble or difficulty, just tell me about it. I will give you, without reproach, everything you need, and more besides, day by day, as long as you live.”

In His gentle and fiery provocations, our Lord turns us much the like he turns the planets. He orients us around His life, His strength, His love. In Him, we are turning into humans, into lovers. By His Spirit we become lamps lit, burning out in the darkness with the oil of lovingkindness.

I am grateful for His wake up call. Repentance comes as the gift of resurrection for we are turning from death to life. During this Advent season of waiting and watching, I pray that we may hear His call to turn away from our numbness, our coldness, our blindness, our hopelessness. By His Spirit, may we turn toward His redeeming power, His transforming love, His sudden appearing.

Categories: Advent
  1. December 7, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Very challenging Doug—My resolve is to make more time to “hear” in the New Year.

  2. December 9, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Thanks for this fresh interpretation of how sloth hides itself in our minds and habits. Wakefulness takes so much energy and work, but thanks for reminding us that strength comes from mercy in prayer. I really like the Ole Hallesby quotes, too.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: