There is nothing new under the sun. Things that happen today as we worship God have been happening since worship services began. There are those who are excited, others who are in awe, some who are confused, and yes, some who are asleep. We like to think of Paul as a mighty gospel preacher, and he was (Acts 24:25).
However, when Paul preached one Sunday in Troas, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and eventually fell out of a window (Acts 20:7-12). I would like to think that if Paul came to our congregation and preached people would be all ears, but the truth is, that might not happen. As great as God is, and as privileged as we are to be able to worship God, why is it that some people sleep in worship?
They Love God
Some people fall asleep in worship because they love God. There are many elderly members who are on medications that make them sleepy and as a result, they doze off during worship. They could reason that it is better and even more comfortable to sleep at home, but they would rather brave their condition and try to make it through worship even if they do nod off occasionally. They take the command of not abandoning the assembly seriously (Heb. 10:25).
There are mothers with young children who many times have wrestled with a sick child all through the night but realize it is better to bring the child to worship regularly and instill faith than it is to sit home and watch cartoons and catch a few extra hours of sleep. These mothers sometimes struggle to keep their eyes open through a 35-minute lesson. It is not because of a lack of devotion to God, but the exact opposite (Prov. 22:6).
There are others, who work late night shifts and long hours on Saturday night and they struggle to get through the service, but these are people who love God. I am not saying it is virtuous to sleep in worship just for the sake of doing so, but we should take these things into account. Like the disciples in Gethsemane whose eyes were heavy, the flesh is sometimes weak though the spirit is willing (Mk. 14:39-42).
They Are Out of Gas
Sometimes a person sleeps in worship because he or she is out of gas. Between the football game the night before and all the shopping festivities from Saturday, there is just not enough energy left to worship God in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24). Jesus said we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk. 12:29-30). While the love Jesus describes would not be limited to the worship service, it would not exclude such.
We shouldn’t just reserve a little strength and energy in order to worship God but prioritize the worship assembly and be ready to use our energies for that occasion. Sometimes as the songs are sung and the prayers are prayed an individual just drifts off to sleep much like Eutychus because they gave it all away the night before.
There is nothing more important than what we offer up to God on Sunday morning and he does not have to accept it. In Malachi’s day, there were those that thought God was desperate enough to take anything as a sacrifice but they were wrong (Mal. 1:5-8). God is paying attention and he knows where our true allegiance lies. Let us not be guilty of giving the world all we have and expecting God to be content with the leftovers.
The Preacher Rocks them to Sleep
As a preacher, this is not fun for me to say, but it is true. Sometimes the congregation goes into “LaLa land” because the preacher rocks everyone to sleep. It has been said that the preacher should put some fire in his sermon or put his sermon in the fire. Surely, some people’s attention cannot be maintained regardless of who is presenting the message, but the preacher should not aid people in becoming disinterested in the life-saving message of Jesus.
Someone may respond, “people shouldn’t come to worship for the preacher.” This is true, but we are the clay jars which house the message of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:7). A preacher should not try and be flashy or draw unnecessary attention to himself, but it would be a good idea to be prepared, to be passionate, and to be convicted that the gospel can penetrate hearts and minds for good. Preachers who stumble through their message or whip up Saturday night specials are sometimes the cause for people losing interest in the sermon and staring at the back of their eyelids.
They Forget Their Audience
Those who lead in worship have a responsibility to represent God as best they can, but in worship, there is an audience of one. God is seeking those who will worship him properly (Jn. 4:23). Though our lives are filled with distractions, and it can be hard to focus, if we remembered that God is the one we are aiming to please and gratify I believe it would make a difference.
There is a sense in which acceptable worship is hard work. It is not enough to perform the right actions, one must maintain the right attitude. When we allow trivial things to disrupt our worship of the eternal God, we have our priorities out of place. When an individual can come into the presence of the God who saved him and doze off without a second thought, there may be a failure to acknowledge who God really is (Ps. 95:6).
I admit there have been times when preparing to preach when I was thinking about the introduction to my lesson instead of the lyrics to the song we were singing or zoning out during a prayer directed toward God. It is in those times that I have allowed myself to forget that God is the audience and he is looking for those who worship in spirit and in truth. This cannot be accomplished by those who make a habit of sleeping in worship due to boredom and disinterest.
Worship should be enjoyable. We should also be concerned about whether we are doing things to honor God in the way that he says. People have always found worship a comfortable time, and apparently, a time to sleep. I doubt Eutychus was the first and he certainly was not the last. Let us never forget that God is our audience and pleasing him is our ultimate aim.