Nobody sings it anymore.
Today we’re going to look at one of the oldies, a New Testament refrain that’s fallen off everyone’s playlist. Jesus penned the original, a somber warning song, and it was faithfully covered by each of his back-up singers in their solo careers – Peter, Paul, and … John.
Reading or hearing it today evokes an apathetic shrug from believers: thanks for the concern, guys. Don’t worry; I’m doing fine.
What is this refrain, a household tune among our ancestors in the faith but is now considered outdated and irrelevant?
Paul summed it up well in his letter to the Ephesians: Wake up O Sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Here are some of the other variations on the same tune.
From Jesus: Be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch! Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.
From Paul: The hour has come for you to be awake from your slumber. Be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded.
From Peter: Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
From John in Revelation, quoting Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis: I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. *
Another forgotten refrain from our Monastic Sisters and Brothers is called the Seven Deadly sins. One of the sins is acedia, which literally means a lack of care or concern, like apathy. Often translated as sloth, too often we think of it as laziness, or doing nothing.
But acedia more accurately refers to a sense of boredom, distraction, or a lack of motivation. Hmmm.
How does this sound to you? How do you react to the claim that we can be asleep while awake?
From 2018 – 2020, I had a morning and evening commute of thirty-five freeway miles between our home and the hospice agency where I worked. Fortunately, traffic moved smoothly in the direction of my travel, so I regularly engaged the cruise control option.
You can probably guess my next statement: I would often arrive at my destination with little memory of the specifics of my just-completed-drive. Focused on reaching my destination, I had little awareness or recollection of the landscape, the weather, or the cities along the way. Why? Because my mind was also on cruise control.
Or maybe I should say: I was asleep at the wheel.
Which can be a description of life – for anyone, but especially for followers of Jesus. It’s so easy to be completely unaware of what God is actively doing in our lives and in our world, as well as what we are called to do and be as his vessels of grace and goodness. How many times have I missed the promptings of God’s spirit? I’ve been asleep at the wheel for much of my life!
Jesus has an ability to see all the dynamics of life with a far greater depth of vision and awareness than we can even imagine. Since he and his closest companions warn us of the dangers of a spiritual stupor, we do well to heed their warnings.
That's what I’ve sought to do with a new energy since the spring of this year (2023). It began with a desire to establish a morning and an evening prayer, the focus of a previous column. Stirring deep within me is a growing desire to truly live into my identity and my purpose, allowing them to be daily guiding principles.
Paul’s morning buzzer to the church in Ephesians 5:1-20 – accented by the already mentioned call Wake up O Sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you – addresses those issues in practical ways:
Our identity: we are God’s dearly loved children of light.
Our purpose: we bring a tender light and love to a confused and stumbling world, as members of God’s global household.
Our goal: to walk with wisdom in the light of God’s presence, avoiding the darker options that we encounter daily.
What about you? Are you spiritually asleep?
This post is not meant to sound the alarm for you to wake up. It’s more like a gentle nudge in your side as I share a couple of helpful resources that have rekindled my own desire to be awake and alert.
First, I took something off the bulletin board above my desk and returned it to my Bible. It’s a small portion of a book of seven-line poetic prayers for each day of the year written by George MacDonald **.
Tis hard for man to rouse his spirit up –
It is the human creative agony,
Though but to hold the heart an empty cup,
Or tighten on the team the rigid rein.
Many will rather lie among the slain
Than creep through narrow ways the light to gain –
Than wake the will, and be born bitterly.
But he who would be born again indeed,
Must wake his soul unnumbered times a day,
And urge himself to life with holy greed;
Now open his bosom to the wind’s free play;
And now, with patience forceful, hard, lie still,
Submiss and ready to the making will,
Athirst and empty, for God’s breath to fill.
I’ve underlined phrases related to our topic. I have a choice each day: will I lie among the slain, or will I wake my soul unnumbered times a day and urge myself to life?
Thanks be to God, it’s not all about my effort or choices. Or yours.
I’ve long marveled at an incredible statement about God’s love for us, buried in the obscure Old Testament book of Zephaniah: The Lord your God … will take great delight in you … (and) will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Taking that statement as truth, I wrote a song. I imagine our Lord singing over me, as I sing it several times each week.
O Child of Light
1. O Child of Light, so dearly loved,
May you be one who gives.
A fragrant scent, you bring to mind
The one for whom you live.
Wake up, O Sleeper, Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you. (repeat)
(2nd ending) … and Christ will shine through you.
2. O Child of Love, walk in God’s ways,
In all you say and do.
Dark paths avoid, and choose instead
The good, the right, the true. Refrain
3. By day the Lord directs his love
His song is yours at night.
With thoughtful wisdom, giving thanks,
You are his Child of Light. Refrain ***
Yes, you can sing this! The verses are in Common Meter (18.104.22.168) and can be sung to the tune of Amazing Grace, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, or In Christ There is No East or West. The tune for the refrain is only in my head at this point, not yet put to sheet music. Sorry. Please make up your own tune like I did.
My closing thoughts begin with a confession/apology.
I had intended to publish this on the last day of October, but a long and wonderful weekend in Chicago with our beloved daughter Sara and her devoted husband Ryan afforded few opportunities to write. Sorry for making you wait on my monthly post for October.
There’s a reason that I wanted to publish it on Halloween. It's a day when people put on costumes. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the great deceiver, Satan, is known for masquerading himself as an angel of light. Psst -- he's never stopped doing that.
Please give careful consideration to the question: Are you spiritually asleep?
Maybe you’ll hear it as a wake-up call. Or possibly you’ll hit the snooze button and think about it some other time. To whom are you listening? The Good Shepherd or a crafty pretender?
Benediction of Blessing:
May you courageously look at yourself and reflect on whether you are spiritually asleep at the wheel.
May you live each day with an unshakeable awareness of your identity, your purpose, and your goal.
May you know that God rejoices over you with singing as you seek to live in the light of Jesus and let his love shine through you.
* Normally I would supply the biblical references for you. But this time I encourage you to do the work of finding them on your own. Here’s a great resource to help you get started. May your search cause you to think and to pray.
** George MacDonald was an obscure Scottish pastor, novelist and poet from the nineteenth century about whom C.S. Lewis said: I know hardly any other writer who seems closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ himself. These are the selections for May 20 and 21 from his book Diary of An Old Soul.
*** Copyright Brian Wiele 2023; (Based on Ephesians 5:1-20 & Psalm 42:8)
Teen asleep: Shutterstock
Acedia representation: Hieronymus Wierix, 16th Century. Wikimedia Commons
Asleep at the Wheel: Shutterstock
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM