Today’s Reading: Acts 20
Nodding off. We have all done it. In church, a board meeting, a lecture, a conference, while someone is talking, in school on all levels.
I have nodded off while praying and while others are praying.
My favorite nodding-off story is from one of my dear friends in Michigan. While he was at university, his friend always slept in one of their large lecture classes, so he decided to play a trick. Right in the middle of the lecture, he nudged his sleeping friend and told him the professor wanted him to close the class in prayer. And in the middle of the lecture, his friend stood and began praying, thanking God for the class. The professor stopped, the students bowed their heads, and class was over.
The worst seems to be nodding off in church. Why do people fall asleep in church? Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll said that people sleep in church for five reasons:
First, because of tradition: when we were youngsters and churches still had pews, we associated sermons with our moms’ laps and we were allowed to sleep on them.
Second are physical factors: the church is stuffy, poorly lit, hot, not ventilated.
Third are personal factors: occasionally we don’t get enough of sleep or we are on medication that makes us drowsy.
Fourth is indifference: our lack of interest in spiritual things. We can get preoccupied; we start texting folks or scrolling through our social media or newsfeeds.
Fifth is because of a boring preacher: poorly organized, rambling, unpassionate, not saying anything. It happens, and it happens too much in our pulpits.
As the great eighteenth-century preacher George Whitefield said, “To preach more than half an hour, a man should be an angel himself or have angels for hearers.”
We get a nodding-off story in today’s reading. And how embarrassing that Luke recorded this story for every generation to read across the world and across history? Can you imagine people reading your nodding-off story? This is the only time you’re mentioned in the Bible and this is the story you get? I might have registered a complaint!
But then again, I am thankful it’s there.
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.” When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted. (Acts 20:7-12)
I love that this nodding-off story is in the Bible.
Do you know that many of the Puritan preachers of the past would preach for two to three hours? Some actually appointed a person to walk around during the sermon with a giant pole (fishing-like) with a string and a wooden ball to hit people on the head who were nodding off. Can you imagine that being a ministry in your church? For some reason I think people would sign up for the wrong reasons.
This is really important that we have a glimpse and not a model of what a New Testament, early-church service looked like. First day of the week, breaking bread, and a long-winded preacher.
Paul preached well into the midnight hour. It’s late, so we need to go easy on the kid, Eutychus. He nodded off during the preaching, fell out of the window, died, Paul prayed and resurrected him . . . and then this is classic . . . they ate more and Paul preached more. Amazing!
I love that Eutychus wasn’t chastised for sleeping during the apostle Paul’s sermon, and I love the resurrection moment after he died. This tells me that if you put yourself in the right place even with the wrong disposition, you are going to get something valuable even if you fall asleep.
Even if you go to church Sunday and nod off, still go! You are going to get something—it could even be a resurrection moment.
Everything worked against poor Eutychus: the preacher was long-winded, it was the middle of the night, he’d just eaten, and he was sitting on a window sill. This was an accident waiting to happen.
You could say the same thing with updated language: the kids were up late, I had to work Saturday, I’m exhausted, the weather is horrible outside . . . Still show up, even being tired, because God will show up.
God still has something for you, even if you nod off.