Being an early riser by nature, it’s not an unusual time for me to be up.
But those particular red numbers from the digital clock are now permanently etched in my brain.
That’s what happens when four rapid-fire gunshots so loud they could be in the next room serve as your wake-up call.
There was this fellow named Pierce Lee Gaddy who decided to search the cars in the parking lot of my hotel…except he failed to get the owners’ permission. Spotted by an alert guest who called 911, the would-be thief was interrupted by Wilmington police arriving on scene.
So he got the bright idea to jump in his car and use it as a battering ram to escape the cops. Attempting to run over officers precipitated the gunfire from one standing just below a window in my room. That was the moment my sleep ended for the night…5:10 AM.
Mr. Gaddy was later arrested and is currently re-thinking his choices from the comfort of a North Carolina jail cell. But for me the whole thing was a rude awakening…in more than one way.
I was reminded how easy it is to be lulled into slumber even in a world filled with broken people trying desperately to deal with life apart from the love of the Father. When we are blessed with faith that embraces the beautiful freedom of grace, it isn’t hard to disconnect from the ugly frustration of the world around us.
- The anesthetic of life sheltered from the harsh and brutal emptiness of our real world can rock us into a state of complacency with cradle-like effectiveness.
- The numbing effective of incessant media–social and otherwise–can cause the cries of modern culture to sound like the ignorable “wah-wah-wah” of Charlie Brown’s parents.
- The deadening power of overwork and hypnotic pursuit of success can incite an emotional coma that protects us like a cocoon from the disturbing needs around us.
In short, we can quickly fall into a deep spiritual sleep even when everything around us heaves and rages like a cyclone. Insulated by self-protection; isolated by self-absorption. Life as it is often creates a kind of tunnel vision focused on getting by, getting ahead or just getting through.
When that happens, God is not averse to rude awakenings.
John experienced it when Jesus trumpeted a volatile message to His church in Sardis. “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1-2)
You see, grace actively works to create Divine fullness in us–wholeness, integration, maturity. Jesus’ vision is to see us live our highest lives–be our best selves by leaving the fingerprints of the Kingdom wherever we go. He died not only to free our hearts from the grip of sin and death, but to make us agents of that same grace to the broken and dying all around us.
Jesus wants us to be as alive to the world as He was.
Compassion keeps us awake and alert–alive with the life of His Spirit. Contemporary culture seems bent on snuffing out the stirring cries of that compassion within us. God isn’t shocked by darkness, but He is when we choose to lie down and sleep in it.
The enemy of our souls despises the fullness of life Jesus offers and will oppose it by any means at his disposal.
- He kills: snuffing out the life-potential of the Seed of God within us.
- He steals: co-opting and wasting the inherent gifts knit into us at conception.
- He destroys: utterly ruining our impact and subverting our purpose on the earth.
This is his stated and only objective. (John 10:10a) He doesn’t always do this by direct assault or frontal attack. More often than not, He uses soul-numbing tactics that leave us asleep at the wheel.
If he can disconnect us from relational union with Jesus, distract us from the work of grace or distort the way we see and respond to those around us who are strangers to that grace, he can accomplish his aim with the slow efficiency of the frog in a kettle.
Jesus’ purpose is the polemic opposite of this deadness. Jesus is obsessed with us experiencing and expressing abundant life: living every day full of hope, compassion, significance, impact, and fully realized love. It is the fire in His heart. (John 10:10b)
Paul reminded the Christians in Thessalonica, “…let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober…For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 9)
Grace rescues destiny. Grace redeems purpose. Grace fills us with an intense awareness of the love and life of God flowing in our veins. We see what He sees, feel what He feels and act as He acts. We live His life through His Spirit who inhabits us in His grace.
This grace is serious about keeping us awake to people and alive to God.
So when we begin to drift into soul-sleep, our Father will do what He can to nudge us into awareness again. His Spirit loves to whisper into our spirits, inciting and nursing in us the compassions of Jesus. With the sweet touch of a mother softly waking a sleepy child, He gently calls us from our protective complacency.
But if that doesn’t work, He becomes the God of the rude awakening.
His deep and burning passion is to actualize everything He made us to be and He will do what is necessary to make sure we do not sabotage that beautiful end. Scripture is replete with His calls for us to wake up to the reality around us and to the work of God in that reality.
“‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:13-16)
“…The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” (Romans 13:11-12)
I have personally experienced the life interruption of God’s aggressive grace. For that, I live in thankfulness that grows with the expanding awareness grace releases in my life. But the awakening was startling, unsettling and disruptively painful at the time.
One thing is absolutely clear to me now. If we slip into slumber and sleep-walk through our lives in a disaffected spiritual hypnosis, God will do what He can to rouse us. It is so much better to wake up now rather than later!
Otherwise, one day there will really be a rude awakening.