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  • Writer's pictureStephen Percy

There's Parasomnia Among Us

Old habits die hard. Having been passionate about all things Criminal Justice for many years, my passion for that area of life remains. I’m still keen to read reports and articles and watch documentaries about issues around crime and Criminal Justice. Watching a recent BBC documentary, I came across something I’d not encountered previously.

The documentary explored a victim’s experience of a life-changing crime, the defendant’s arrest and charge, and the Crown Prosecution Service’s eventual decision not to proceed to trial. The reason for this decision was the insinuation that the victim was asleep at the time of the offence, but looked and acted sufficiently awake as to allow the defendant to believe she was.

Sleep experts suggest that it is possible to be in a state of deep sleep but engaging in normal day-to-day activities. Obvious examples include sleep walking and sleep talking.

You can look awake, act awake, but be asleep.

Now there’s a thought. Could it be that there’s a spiritual parallel to this sleep phenomenon?

Writing to the believers in the metropolitan city of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul bellowed loud a rallying call: “Wake up, o sleeper!”

Ephesus was a seat of power for the Romans, and where the Romans went, their customs and practices – including religious ideas – followed. “Caesar is Lord” was the declaration of most ordinary citizens under Roman rule. Little room was left for profession of the Lordship fo Christ. Life was played out under the shadow of the gargantuan Temple of Artemis (also known as Diana).

Ephesus was also a major port city. Routes from across the region converged there, meaning it was, positively, a breeding ground of innovation, ideas, wealth and advancement, but negatively, of ungodly beliefs and debaucherous behaviour. Amulets, charms and invocations were commonly used for gaining spiritual power.

A pagan people, saved by the miraculous power of God, but still living amidst the external pressures that once constituted their old life. Old habits die hard.

Paul knew that some of the “saints at Ephesus” (1:1) were still stuck in old ways of thinking and acting. Their salvation wasn’t in doubt, but their lifestyle was yet to catch up with that new reality. Others had experienced a dramatic conversion and accelerated period of change, but over time had ‘lapsed’ or regressed into their former ways of life. Does either sound familiar?

What was going on? The Ephesians had the appearance of being awake but many had actually been lulled to sleep.

If you were waging war on a bunch of people, wouldn’t you prefer it if they were all fast asleep so you could raid without resistance? Pick off those you wanted gone?

Paul’s pastoral concern for the Ephesians meant that he wouldn’t stand by and let this continue. “Wake up, o sleeper!”, he penned as a wake-up, a warning siren.

It strikes me that there is a challenge that we, like the Ephesians, need to hear. The challenge of guarding against slumber. The challenge to ensure that the soporific effects of the world’s lullaby are drowned out by the glorious symphony of the Gospel (read Ephesians 1-3 to stoke your fires!). The challenge to neither accommodate nor embrace the old nature, but to hate sin and sinful inclinations passionately. The challenge to be awake. Genuinely awake, not just the appearance of awake.

It's easy to kid ourselves – we’re attending church, we must be doing alright. We’re serving in [whatever] ministry, so we can overlook that pattern of sin. We’re supporting [whichever] mission, so God won’t be as bothered about this sin.

We run the risk of napping but looking to those around us like we’re still awake.

Beyond the instruction to wake up, Paul would remind the Ephesians of the reality of the spiritual battle they were in and the need, therefore, to put on the full armour of God. Soldiers didn’t sleep in their armour, they took it off.

Friend, is it possible that we have taken off our armour in order to get comfy as we hunker down for a snooze, complacent in our sin? A little slumber, a little sleep, a little folding of the hands.

“Wake up, o sleeper!”

Heed the warning, hear the wake-up call. Be urgent and relentless in your battle against sin. Don’t settle. Don’t get comfortable. Don’t accept defeat; previous patterns do not dictate today’s behaviour. Years of defeat do not limit the Gospel’s power today. Wake up!

Don’t be seduced into believing that your activity – the appearance of being awake – means there’s no possibility of you actually being asleep.

Resist the lie that ‘it’s only [this sin]’ or ‘it’s not as bad as [that sin]’. Wake up!

You may appear awake. Everything about what I do might create the impression that I’m awake, but take stock. Are you sleeping in certain areas of life? If so, wake up and put your armour on – there’s a battle raging around you.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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