What would it be like, I wonder, to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of God’s voice calling you to step outside and gaze at the stars with Him?
I can’t imagine what Abraham felt like in Genesis 15, walking out of his tent in that foggy, dreamlike state between sleeping and waking; the vision of God as his shield dissolving into that hidden place where dreams go to hibernate when we’re awake. I wonder what it was like for him to lift his gaze into the unpolluted night and see the stars before they were filtered, diluted, and smudged away by the passage of time and city lights.
These were the stars God told Abraham to count. The ones He promised his offspring would outnumber. It was this night, in the middle of the wilderness and away from Abraham’s homeland, that God made one of the greatest covenants of all time. While the rest of the country slept, this intelligent, adventurous, brave, and ordinary person believed God. This person that struggled with fear and failure, who had human ambition and dreams, decided it was enough just to believe God. That moment sparked one of the greatest acts of faith in human history.
As I read this story, I kept coming back to this one thought: does God love to talk to us at night? I’m not saying that God hates the afternoon or is cranky in the morning. However, there have been times in my own life when I simply couldn’t fall asleep. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, or an hour before my alarm clock, for no rhyme or reason. I think all of us can relate to experiences like these.
Often, I disregard these moments and take a melatonin. But as I dive into scripture and discover more ‘nightly encounters’ between God and men, I feel convicted to press into the moment and listen to what He has to say. I wonder what would happen if, instead of falling back asleep, I asked God,
“Is there something you want to say to me?”
Wouldn’t it be tragic if we missed out on an opportunity to encounter God because we chose sleep over listening to Him? I love this quote by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables. He writes about a humble bishop that walked and talked with God every night in his garden.
“A moment later he was walking in the garden, surrendering mind and soul to a dreamy contemplation of these grand and mysterious works that God shows at night to eyes still open.”
Hidden in-between the pages of scripture, God makes known His love for intimate encounters with His people at night. The examples are endlessly woven throughout the Old and New Testament. The Lord called Samuel’s name four times in the middle of the night. Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord until the break of day. God spoke to Joseph several times through his dreams, and Peter walked with Jesus on the water before dawn.
I believe the Lord does this knowing our bodies have a physical and neurological response to darkness. Darkness quiets our mind and removes the external stimuli we experience during the day. As we begin to wind down, we’re less distracted by work, school, and ministry obligations. The whole process of preparing for bed leads us to a place of stillness and quiet. It’s in the quiet that we become more receptive and vulnerable to the voice of God.
On January 27, 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. received a life-threatening phone call at midnight. The person on the other end of the line was threatening to kill him and blow up his house if he continued to fight for racial equality. Deeply shaken, he went to his kitchen, made a cup of coffee, and cried out to God for help. In the stillness, the Lord answered him and said,
“Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness. I will be with you, even until the end of the world.”
His encounter with God that night changed human history forever. It was the spark that launched the civil rights movement.
The hidden beauty of this story is that Martin Luther didn’t wait until the morning to talk to God. If we truly want relational intimacy with God, even our sleep has to be held with open hands. If we can fast from food for days on end, or travel to closed countries to preach the gospel, we can sacrifice 30 minutes of our sleep if it means encountering Him.
I’m not saying that we should negate our eight hours of sleep. Rest is a beautiful gift that’s spiritually, physically, and emotionally necessary. Jesus straight up told Elijah to take a nap in 1 Kings 19 before traveling to Horeb, therefore we know that rest is essential to our wellbeing.
The point is that we should drop everything when He wants to speak, even if that’s in the middle of the night. How can we live in a relationship with God if we only listen to His voice during intercessory prayer or in our quiet times? Truly abiding with God is allowing Him to initiate the conversation on His own terms, in His own time.
God waits for us at night, when all the city lights fade away, the curtains are drawn, and our mind is quiet. His Spirit waits for that one person to climb out of bed, into the unlit streets, the backyard garden, the living room chair, and just listen. Will you surrender your time to Him, no matter what time it is?
“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” – Psalm 27:8