By Gregg Matte
It’s 3:47 AM on Tuesday morning. My Apple Watch says my heartbeat is up. Why in the world am I awake and stressed? A week ago, yesterday and today were considered on the calendar to be vacation. Somehow the thoughts have swamped my rest. Is there really ever a day off for a leader? How do you tell your mind to no longer have thoughts, how do you tell your heart to no longer have passion, how do you walk the life of faith without waking up in the wee hours realizing the risk?
Leaders don’t sleep well, leaders think and care deeply, regardless of the clock.
I’m not sure how many times through the years the house has been quiet and my mind has been active. Finally, at some point, I give-in to the restless ache and roll out of bed. I head to the sofa with my Bible and journal, I say a prayer on my knees, asking the Lord what’s going on and what does He want to tell me.
I don’t think you can lead well without burning the midnight oil. We hear of the great saints praying through the night but somehow we think we will escape. Sleepless nights are inevitable and unavoidable for someone in leadership. I wish I could say all of these prayer times were remembrance of my blessings, deepening faith or at least celebration of the goodness of God. But more often than not they are times the weeds of worry grow faster than I can uproot.
These late-night trepidations are typically washed away by the sunrise. The issues are not as pronounced in the daylight is they seemed in the dark. But it doesn’t mean this was wasted time. It is a place of spiritual growth. The place from which the power of a true leader comes. Many may wake up and worry throughout the night, surf the Internet or try to read a book until they fall asleep. But the leader wakes up to callous his knees and call upon God to meet him. He declares one more time, “Not my will but Yours be done.” Tears in the eyes and prayers released from the lips in the midst of walking into the unknown. How tomorrow will turn out is not truly the issue. The issue is will I wake up and call upon God in the middle of yet another night. Is Christ more important than sleep? Will I trust Him with tomorrow’s energy as I’ve pleaded tonight’s sleep away in prayer?
These are the places in which great leaders are formed. It’s not on the stage or the award ceremony or at the end of a productive meeting. Leaders are formed where no one sees. Leaders are formed at 3:47 AM. It’s in the soil of the dark night of the soul that the seeds of the morning flowers will blossom.
The prayers of the night are the sincerest calling out far beyond eloquent words and “bless this food to the good of our bodies…”. The unscripted ache is more precious in the sight of God than the crafted sentence.
If you want to sleep well, don’t become a leader. Not just because leaders worry but because leaders care. They ache, they cry, they hurt and sometimes, many times, they celebrate more deeply than those who sleep peacefully.
This morning I’ve been in leadership for over 25 years and seen God perform more than I could ever have imagine and yet I ache, pray, and wonder what will He do next. Jesus is better than sleep. Prayers are better than dreams. Kneeling is preferable to laying down. The leader must understand the sleepless night has great consequence upon their character, great influence upon their tomorrow and great impact upon eternity.
“Thank you Lord for waking me up. Every hour is Yours and You can call me to prayer anytime You want. Inconvenient hours are Yours, my sleep is Yours, and thankfully my problems are Yours as well. So I take the late night ache in my heart and give it to You in full trust and confidence that you’re at work.”
Ahh, I feel better already. At the end of writing this according to my Apple Watch my heart rate has slowed. An hour of sleep missed but seeds of prayer and deeper character development captured.
Leaders don’t sleep well…
Gregg Matte (MA, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church and founder of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M University, one of the largest college Bible studies in the nation. He is the author of Finding God’s Will and I AM Changes Who I Am, and Unstoppable Gospel. An energetic communicator, he and his wife, Kelly, have a son and a daughter and live in Houston, Texas.