My boys and I tuned in the other Monday night for the highly anticipated Monday Night Football matchup between the Bills and Bengals. We were watching when a routine-looking football play turned into a frightening life-or-death moment for Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on the field after a cardiac event. We joined the rest of America in praying for him as first responders worked to resuscitate him back to life. We went to bed that night not knowing his fate.
Thankfully, Damar Hamlin is out of the hospital and recovering well. But powerful images from that night remain etched in my mind. In those moments of human helplessness, it seemed that millions of people simultaneously awoke to the reality of God. We saw players on their hands and knees praying on the football field. Others were huddled in groups praying. Social media was filled with prayers from all sorts of people. In something I’ve never seen before, an ESPN commentator prayed on the air. Damar Hamlin must have been the most prayed-for man in the world.
In moments of crisis, human beings instinctually turn to God. We realize in those dire instants that our normal ways of accounting for reality are insufficient. We wake up to God’s involvement, and we hope for his intervention. Sadly, for many, that God-awareness is short-lived. By now, I’m sure, many of those who prayed for Hamlin are back to normal, back to the status quo, back to seeing the world as a closed system of human cause-and-effect occurrences.
However, for Christians, this awakened-to-God state should be the norm. We live with constant awareness of God’s presence. In fact, one way to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian is that a Christian is someone who has been awakened by God’s grace to the reality of God in Christ. Our eyes have been opened. We live by faith awakened to realities that those who lack faith cannot see. C.S. Lewis once described his conversion using this same image: “It was like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is awake.”
If conversion to Christ is first waking up to the reality of God, then discipleship and growth can be described as learning to live in an awakened state. The Christian life is the struggle to stay awake to God’s presence in a world that constantly obscures him. That’s why we see the New Testament persistently calling the church to wake up (Eph 5:14; Rom 13:11; 1 Thess 5:6; Rev 3:2-3; Luke 22:46). These reminders are necessary because we are prone to sleepiness and indifference.
We naturally wonder, upon pondering such a topic, how to do it. How do we stay awake to God? How do we live coram Deo, before the face of God, in such a world as ours? The Bible offers instruction on this very matter, but we do not naturally resonate with it. In 1 Peter 1:13, the apostle writes, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter believes that God has granted us a measure of control over our thoughts. He’s calling us here away from passivity when it comes to our inner lives and toward action.
These instructions are radically counter-cultural. Our age teaches us that we are passive when it comes to our thoughts and feelings. We don’t control our thoughts; we listen. What gender are you? Listen to yourself and find out. Do you love that person? What does your heart say? But Peter is giving opposite instruction. He’s saying, if we want to live awake to the reality of God and his love for us, we’re going to have to quit listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves. We’re going to have to take control of the narrative. When our inner selves obscure God’s presence and accuse and condemn us, we must replace those lies by “setting our hope fully on grace.”
Do you want to stay awake to God? The world will never help you with that. But you’re not on your own. God has given us his Word, his presence, and his people to help us “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Cor 2:5). Welsh minister Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” I’m convinced he was right. If you want to stay joyfully awake to the reality of God, quit listening, and start preaching God’s revealed truth to yourself.