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The Difference Between Being Woke and Awake

My hand-me-down religion wasn’t working too well. It was a hard time, a time where I felt broken and needy. Now I see that it was a good thing – God wanted to use the pain in my life to wake me up.
By Seth Barnes

I pulled an old box out of my closet. In it were old notes from the last 30 years of ministry. As I looked through them, I saw myself as a young man with five small children, struggling just to wake up to God’s perspective. I was becoming aware of a spiritual reality that I had been asleep to. Back then, I didn’t realize that God wanted a personal relationship with me, that he wanted to talk. I only dimly sensed his call on my life.

My hand-me-down religion wasn’t working too well. It was a hard time, a time where I felt broken and needy. Now I see that it was a good thing – God wanted to use the pain in my life to wake me up.

Yes, I was already awake to social injustice – I saw inequality and the poverty of others. But I needed to wake up to my own poverty. I needed to wake up to a God who didn’t come to make me religious, but to make me real.

Ever since then, I’ve felt an urgency to help young people go through the same experience of waking up. It’s an urgency that many seem to feel these days as we look at a status quo in our society that needs to change.

In fact, this seems to be a popular subject. We hear the word “woke” a lot. Those who recognize the reality of a need for social justice are sometimes characterized as being “woke.”

If we follow Jesus, we should embrace this desire for justice. After all, he came to earth to overthrow one kingdom and establish another. In Revelations 3, he tells the church, “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…” 

The original alarm clock

Jesus was the original alarm clock. Instead of connecting with the religious establishment or the political order, he began by connecting with those on the margins – the outcasts and disenfranchised.

The Bible is full of prophetic calls for sleeping believers to wake up. “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber,” Paul says to the Christians in Rome. (Rom:13:11).

The Lazarus story is a great example of how Jesus wakes up the dead. He refers to Lazarus as being “asleep” and comes to Lazarus’s tomb four days late. Next, we see him do three things:

1. Let the light in. Jesus removed the stone in front of the grave. Sometimes there are impediments that keep us from waking up. We can’t see spiritual reality because of the things in our lives that block the light. It might be our attachment to something else – entertainment, sports, even friendships can lull us to sleep. Asking God to show us the things that block his light may be a good first step to waking up.

2. Take action. John tells us “Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43) Yes, Jesus prayed. And then he acted. The difference between Jesus’s prayers and many of ours is that he followed his prayer with action. As followers of his, when we step out, we are exercising the faith that pleases God so much.

3. Take off the grave clothes. Then Jesus told his friends to take off Lazarus’s grave clothes. His grave clothes were the garments of a dead man. Some of us who desire to wake up to God’s will for our lives need to change what we’re wearing. Are we wearing the habits of a person who has been asleep? Jesus wants to dress us in a new way of living if we’re to walk as those who are awake. Ask him what behavior he may want you to change now that you are awake.

A big difference

There is a difference between an awareness of social injustice and a lifestyle of love that addresses the roots of the problem. Some who proclaim that they are “woke” are working at the program level, not the people level. They still need to wake up to Jesus’s plan for the world and their part in it.

Yes, all of us need to wake up to Jesus’s desire to see the problems around us. But that’s just the beginning! What he’s really after is our heart. All of us need to wake up to Jesus’s desire to partner with us to address the injustice in society. Waking up means stepping out of our place of slumber, seeing what’s around us and walking a new road.

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