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Waking up is hard to do

Several years ago I heard James Ryle speak on the subject of “Why waking up is hard to do.”   It was a powerful word; about midway through the message, I could sense the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church. It was a small, mainline church filled with kind, earnest people who loved God. T…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Several years ago I heard James Ryle speak on the subject of “Why waking up is hard to do.”
It was a powerful word; about midway through the message, I could sense the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church. It was a small, mainline church filled with kind, earnest people who loved God. Their eyes were glued on the speaker – they were with him. I sensed that they knew he was calling them out and wanted to make changes in their lives. They wanted to wake up.
So as Ryle wrapped up his message, I felt a big opportunity for the church – the word was clear; how would they respond? Ryle gave the microphone to the pastor – whatever call to action might be issued, it was in his hands. All he had to do was open up the altar and I sensed the congregation would come forward for prayer. Instead, he prayed a polite prayer and ended the service. The moment was lost and people went back to their normal lives.
“What irony,” I thought. It just proves Ryle’s point: waking up is hard to do.
Ryle took his message from Rom:13:11 “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our
salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The point is, we all go through cycles of spiritual alertness. God speaks to us, touches our hearts, and we repent. But time passes and we start to slouch, becoming numb to our call.  We need to wake up.

The story of Rip Van Winkle is a good example of one who falls asleep and needs to wake up. Rip Van Winkle symbolized the superficial patriots who slept through the American Revolution, never committing themselves while the whole world changed around them.  King George was in power when he went to sleep and when he awoke, George Washington had become President.

Staying awake to injustice and need can be an energy-sapping proposition. We grow weary in well-doing and long for a little rest. We go through phases in our lives of pouring out, seasons where we fall exhausted into bed. Life’s edges are too sharp, and our sleep is too short. We long to have our batteries recharged.

And in that place of tension, we begin to veer toward comfortable places and times of spiritual slumber. And it’s then that the devil’s chief occupation is to “rock the cradle lest we wake.”

Ryle referenced a couple of people in Scripture who were awakened – Jacob and Lazarus. Jacob woke up from a dream and said, “Surely the Lord the Lord was in this
place and I did not know it!.”  Yes, he had been asleep in a literal way, but he’d also been asleep spiritually, feeling isolated and missing the presence of God.

In the story of Lazarus, Lazarus’ name means “without help.”  When Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come forth!” his voice carries across the valley; so he also calls to Jerusalem, a city that is without help. And over the centuries, his call is the same to each of us, “Come out of hiding, come out of obscurity, come out of bondage and into the light, into a life of freedom.”

Jesus did three things to wake up Lazarus that he does with each of us. 

First, he gives sheep ability to hear his voice. He is calling us, but we have to use our God-given listening skills; we have to respond. Lazarus heard his name and responded. We don’t know how he came out, still wrapped in grave clothes as he was. Maybe he shuffled, maybe he hopped – the point is, he responded to Jesus’ call.
Second, he gave Lazarus and he gives us all the power to live free lives. He wants us become what he’s called us to be. We all come to Christ like a mummy, bound up.  We have issues and habits. We need him to set us free from our grave clothes.
Third, he placed Lazarus and he places us in community.  He asks the people standing there to unwrap him and set him free. Too many of us slumber outside the life-giving circle of community. We may go to a legalistic church only to realize that we’ve really just traded one set of rags for another. 
At times in my life, I’ve felt like I’ve been asleep and I’ve longed to awaken. I knew I wasn’t living according to his call and I wanted to wake up to his purpose for my life. How about you? William Wallace said it well, “All men die, but how many truly live?”
It’s time to wake up.

Comments (7)

  • Seth I loved this posting because you are a friend and so is James Ryle.

    Beyond that is a deep personal conviction we have “Christian Zombies” walking through the world muttering what they believe are the words of Jesus.

    I know.

    Because I was one.

    But deep spiritual slumber induced by the sprinkled fairy dust of popular self preoccupied faith has given way to the wonder of it all.

    I love the work of AIM (in part) because it teaches and coaches people to shut up and listen.

    I am.

  • I love the image and idea of Lazarus’ grave clothes being taken off by the community… there’s so much there.

  • I’m reminded of a recent blog by my daughter, Keturah Weathers, called Break the silence, Wake the Dead, where she quotes a song I’m not familiar with by a group I’m equally not familiar with, being an old fogey, I guess. The group is Comeback Kid and the song follows.

    Waiting for the calling
    Anticipation in the air
    We hope and dream of difference
    City sleeping, unaware

    Break the silence, WAKE THE DEAD
    Running through these streets alone
    I’ll kick and scream, let’s break this hold
    Cuz I swear, and this won’t render useless
    I promise you, we’ve come this far
    And I’m not stopping, I’m not stopping now…

    We said, we said, we said

    This time was gonna be different


    There seems to be a theme going on in the Kingdom these days.

  • I love the William Wallace quote. That’s been something running through me mind and heart lately. The difference between breathing and REALLY LIVING. The life we quite often settle for is not what what we were created for.

  • Loved this Seth. Thank you for sharing the experience of James Ryle’s message and the pastor’s response (or lack thereof?) The wake-up most people respond to is a jolt to their system—either through loss of some kind, or a shock to the system.

    If only it didn’t require extensive measures. But God knows how to reach each of His kids. What awakens one does nothing for another. Now that He has my full attention my desire is to stay awake and follow close.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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