More Than...

Awake Thou that Sleepest - A Devotional Paraphrase

(Sermon 3 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley, written by Charles Wesley)
By: Michael Roberts

“Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Our natural state of existence could be described as a deep sleep of the soul. In this spiritual slumber, we see no need for the one thing needful – that inward transformation, that sanctification of spirit and body, without which we cannot see the Lord. In this state, we can know so much about the world. We can consume ourselves with trivia and trash, but know so little about ourselves. We do not know that our only business in this present world is to regain that image of God in which we were created.

In this darkness of spiritual night, we can fantasize that we are in perfect health, while full of disease. Bound in misery, we can think that we are free. We can believe that we are at peace, even as the pit of hell opens its mouth to swallow us up. We hear no alarm to “flee from the wrath to come.” We do not cry out “what must I do to be saved?”

And it must be noted that this sleep may be at its deepest when we move through life with a sense of our own goodness, always in comparison to others. In this state, we might find ourselves as zealous and orthodox Pharisees who work hard to justify ourselves and establish our own righteousness. We cry out, “I’m glad I’m not like that guy.” “Lord, look at me.” We may be like painted tombs, to use another scriptural image from Jesus, beautiful on the outside but full of dead bones, with no breath of Spirit to give life.

Our Savior sounds the alarm and cries out: Awake! Arise from the dead! Stir yourself up and shake off the dust. In Acts, we read the story of Paul and Silas singing and praying in prison. When the Lord shakes loose the shackles, they have an opportunity to escape. Instead, they stay in the cell, out of concern for the jailor who had been keeping watch over them. In thanksgiving, this prison guard cries out, “What must I do to be saved? To have this same peace? The same sense of the eternal? This same freedom from fear?” He is awakened to truth and his life, and the life of his family, is transformed. This act of love opened his heart to hear the call.

This alarm can come in the form of soul-stirring questions. How is it with your soul? Have you secured the one thing needful? Have you recovered the image of God, and desire to live by true holiness? Have you cast off the old and put on the new, and clothed yourself with Christ? Have you received the Holy Spirit?

Do you know what true religion is? It is participation in the divine nature, the life of God in your soul, Christ formed in your heart. It is holiness and happiness, indeed heaven begun on earth. It is a kingdom of God within you. It is not “meat or drink, or any outward thing. Instead it is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is an everlasting kingdom planted within bringing a peace that passes all human understanding.”

I believe that this is what all of us want, deep within. In our fallen state, we try to save ourselves and justify ourselves. We look for this salvation in dangerous places, in our dreams of worldly happiness. But even here there is a sign of hope, for we are stirring in our sleep. We all hope to be saved.

The story of the prodigal son is inspiring at many levels. Here is a son who leaves home with his inheritance to make it on his own. In the midst of his struggle to make it, the scripture says that “he came to himself.” He was awakened. He remembered home. He remembered that he is loved. And as he turned towards home, he discovered his father, not just waiting and watching, but running to meet him. That’s the promise for us as well. God has this same love for us. May we “come to ourselves.” May we be so awakened.

Our conscience bears witness, deep within, that God is there for us. Search inside and see if this is not so for you. God’s gifts of eternal life and love are there for you. Deep within the Spirit of truth dwells with you and in you. (John 14:17). Search inside and see if this is not so for you. This (heart) is where we know God. Hear the alarm. May all who are spiritually asleep wake up.

There are those who deny this idea of the inspiration of the Spirit. They say that the Spirit comforts and assists, perhaps, but does not move us or stir within us. Our church knows nothing of this devilish distinction. Our church speaks of being moved by the Holy Spirit and prays for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We choose to listen to the “foolishness” of God over the “wise” among us who ridicule this desire for inspiration as madness and enthusiasm. We don’t want this apostasy to numb us to God’s work within us and turn faith into something to be studied and not lived.

Just look around! Our own land mourns under the floods of ungodliness? What keeps our hearts from being pierced in the wake of such profaneness, blasphemies, lying, slandering, Sabbath-breaking, gluttony, drunkenness, revenge, adulteries, frauds, injustice, and extortion -- as such conditions spread over our land like a flood? There is a raging flood among us, fueled by our own desires for luxury and self-indulgence, our own thirst for praise and power, our own outside shows of righteousness where we become like painted tombs, shiny on the outside yet filled with fear and death on the inside, lacking in spiritual power.

Sisters and brothers, it is high time for us to awaken out of this sleep. The great trumpet of the Lord blows. O may we speedily see the things that make for peace before they are hid from our eyes. Stir up repentance within and awaken in us the principles of the Reformation, the truth and simplicity of the gospel. May the bones within come to life with the breath of your Holy Spirit. Bear witness with our Spirits that we are children of God. It is who we are. It is our calling in the world. Come Holy Spirit, awaken your church! Amen.