Insomnia is an unpleasant experience which can afflict us all from time to time. Our cat Sally never used to have any difficulty in sleeping. We humans though are not quite like that.
It can be as though the whole world is peacefully asleep, but we are awake, tossing and turning. The anxieties of the day — and perhaps bodily pain — can prevent our falling asleep at night.
Acts 12 relates a time when the apostle Peter was put into prison. Peter was a leader in the infant church of Christ. It was a period of church growth, with many coming to saving faith in Christ. But it was also a time of anxiety. Stephen had been martyred for the faith, as had James the brother of John.
King Herod, keen to keep in with the Jews, had decided to make life difficult for Christians. Hence he had Peter arrested and put into a Jerusalem jail. Acts 12:6 however is a revealing verse. It tells us, ‘The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison’.
Peter’s sleep was so deep, that it took a sharp strike from an angel of God to wake him up, so that he could be miraculously released from jail and continue the work God had set him to do.
So Peter slept soundly in jail. He had every reason to experience insomnia: concerns for the church without — how it was faring in the tumultuous times — and concerns for himself within. For all he knew, the next day he would be executed, leaving the church bereft of a leader, and his own family to fend for themselves without a husband and father.
But Peter had no anxious insomnia. He slept just like a baby, as though all was well with the world in general and with himself in particular. How do we explain this? The Bible gives us two clues. These are Peter’s friends and Peter’s faith.
Acts 12:5 tells us that ‘Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church’. Peter had praying friends; they brought Peter’s plight to the ears of almighty God.
God heard their earnest supplications. He ministered his grace and peace to Peter, enabling him to sleep peacefully amidst the current storm. Then, in response to the prayers of Peter’s friends, God saw fit to release Peter from prison. Humanly, this was impossible, as the prison was a fortress. But Omnipotence was not, and is not, hindered by human impossibilities.
Peter next made his way to the gathering of believers, who were praying for him, and, to their amazement, appeared at the doorway. When the excited commotion calmed down, he related how God had heard and answered the prayers they had made. Peter had praying friends. Thank God for praying friends!
Peter’s sleeping in the storm can also be explained by Peter’s faith. He knew God. He was a recipient of the saving grace of God in Christ. He knew that whatever his circumstances, no matter how tumultuous, he was safely under the love and care of his almighty Father in heaven. God was the one who was actually on the throne, not wicked King Herod.
The absolute sovereignty of God is, ultimately, the only comfort for the soul when times seem harsh and hard. Some years later, Peter wrote the following exhortation, ‘Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you’ (1 Peter 5:7). The Greek here can also be translated as, ‘It matters to him about you’.
Peter, therefore, knew no stressful anxiety, because he was able to cast all his anxieties on a God who was well able to bear them all for him. And he would have every Christian do the same. ‘Cast all your anxieties on [the Lord], for he cares about you’.
There is a children’s hymn which is highly suitable for adults too. It takes up Peter’s sentiments:
God, who made the earth,
The air, the sky, the sea;
Who gave the light its birth,
Careth for me.
God, who sent his Son
To die on Calvary,
He, if I lean on him,
Will care for me.
So Peter’s peaceful prison sleep is explicable because of his friends who prayed and because of his trust in God. And, if we belong to Jesus, it is the same with us. Whatever our circumstances, we too may trust our Father in heaven, assured of his loving, providential care and knowing his peace in our souls. ‘He cares about you’.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, ‘Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee. Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock’ (Isaiah 26:3-4).
So continue to trust in God — and sleep well!
Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC (www.TimothyJCross.org)