October 30, 2013


In the late years of my childhood and early years of adolescence I used to be haunted by a recurrent dream. Eyes closed but my brain alert, I would order my body to move or turn. Nothing would happen. Neurons in my head would frantically seek a solution to this sense of physical constriction, but to no avail. Attempting escape, I would try in desperate sequence to open my eyelids, roll around, raise an arm, or improvise a leg kick.

Ultimately, I fooled my brain by telling my mind to relax and not focus on the movement problem, to think of something totally unrelated. As my body relaxed, I would then suddenly try to move. When the strategy worked, the unanticipated movement found my body unprepared to resist, and I could get myself to move. Christians today run the risk of being in a similar condition, a spiritual deadlock between sleep and wakefulness.

The Perils of Sleep 

Those who are in the vanguard of missionary service and leadership may well dispute the claim; however, our activity is no guarantee that all is well with us and the church. For do we not still sense some disconnect between our calling and our current standing as individuals and as a community of believers? The desire and resolve for growth and transformation are there, but we are stuck. We want to move, but we cannot.

Jesus frequently used this metaphor of sleep and watchfulness to describe the conflict in the Christian’s life. What is it about sleep that makes it a good analogy for our spiritual condition? Is it that when we sleep we are more vulnerable? Maybe the fact that when we sleep we are less productive? The essential aspect captured by the image of sleep is the lack of awareness, our loss of contact with reality. When we sleep, we do not realize the significance of what happens around us. There is no cognition of the passage of time, no perception of the succession of events, no meaningful interaction with the world. As we live
in our dreams, our existence flows motionless, vulnerable, and unproductive.

For this very reason, Jesus warns us not to be asleep: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36, NKJV).*

Jesus is worried that we may become distracted, unaware, asleep. Yet the text does not say “take heed lest you sleep,” but rather “lest your hearts be weighed down.” In using this phrase Jesus reveals that what is at stake is the very essence of our mission. We all have felt the call to do something special for the Lord. We all have been given a vision, and guided to fulfill that specific plan tailored exactly for us. And we have intensely prayed that God’s will be manifested in our lives. So often we have felt that our happiness could be found only in being exactly where God wanted us to be, doing what He has in mind for us. That secret vision, that very personal calling is our heart. It is our treasure, what we value most, the essence of the meaning of our lives. Because where our treasure is, there is our heart also. Today Jesus warns us that our hearts, our identities, our calling, is at risk.

Satan wants to suppress this calling, to weigh us down. He fears that God’s servants may reach the fullness of their vision. His action is a strategy of suffocation, a compression of the spirit, a constriction of movement. Thus we find ourselves in a struggle between sleep and watch, at the center of two forces moving in opposite directions: one toward awakening, the other toward drowsiness; one urging us to rise, the other trying to weigh us down.

Satan carries out his side of operations with a smart and flexible method. However, his products are basically just variations of three major approaches. Jesus reveals them for our benefit and gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves, to think of the dangers that threaten our Christian life.

intoxication is much more than a bottle of wine.


The first of these is carousing: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing” (verse 34). The Greek word used by Jesus (kraipale) appears only once in the Bible. It is a composite of two Greek words for “head” and “to toss about.” It therefore means the swaying of the head, the headache that comes with a hangover, gluttony, or dissolution. Kraipale represents a lifestyle based on excess and exaggeration, and lacking self-restraint. It may start as the inability to follow the rules that lead to our well-being, but it develops into a conscious and intentional search for excitement and transgression. This desire may rise from a legitimate search for knowledge, and an impulse of vitality, but it can also hide a loss of purpose and, ultimately, a contempt for the garden God has left us to care.

Kraipale need not be connected to major, spectacular events. It also finds its way in the small choices of everyday life. Kraipale can be your need for approval, your quest for success, the thrill at being applauded. Your leadership, your very work for the Lord, can be a form of kraipale if based on being at the center of attention in powerful positions, instead of being based on humble service. Kraipale is the need to be constantly entertained, the craving for new mail, my preoccupation with social media profiles, the sports arena, glamour and the fashion industry, movie productions. It is the search for new excitement and strong emotions that save me from boredom and being alone. But it comes at a cost. A strong headache after the party is over, and a need to begin all over again. In other words, kraipale is a form of addiction and dependency.


Drunkenness is the second product in Satan’s cart. Beware of drunkenness, Jesus warns. The Greek word He uses is methe. This word was used for strong alcoholic beverages. In using it, Jesus is placing emphasis on its intoxicating and inebriating effect.

Methe, therefore, represents any experience that lowers the level of our ability to think, feel, and experience. Our vision is no longer crisp, but blurred. Our perceptions are no longer sharp, but confused. Our system of beliefs is no longer defined, but relativized. Why would Satan like to see our minds in this state? Why would he long to see our church in that state?

God’s gifts of reason, emotion, and sense are so remarkable, elegant, and profound that Satan knows it deeply grieves God’s heart when His children disregard these treasures and voluntarily choose to anesthetize these abilities. There is something majestic and divine in a mind working at its fullest potential, because our intellect is the place of a special encounter, where we find communion with God. Our minds are the space where we can think His thoughts and He can dwell in us through the Holy Spirit.

But we trade this experience for a soup of lentils. Because lentils are warm, tasty, easy. Eating soup requires no effort. It’s time to relax.

Think of all the things we do to switch off our brains. Television is the first that comes to mind. How many Adventists thought this passage didn’t apply to us, because we don’t drink? But intoxication is much more than a bottle of wine. 

Why are we so allured by this desire and need to switch off? Maybe because we live unbalanced lives; lives full of stress, endless schedules, board meetings, deadlines, and innumerable reminders. An artificial life with no natural rhythm, no breaks, no recreation, no light of sun and sound of wind, no steps in the forest nor walk along the shore. So please, give me my remote, my couch, my Internet connection, and my playlist. Let me switch the world off.

Cares of This Life

“Cares of this life” is the third and last danger Jesus mentions. The Greek word is merimna, which can be translated as worries, cares, anxieties. The emphasis is not on the cares themselves, but on the fear, uncertainty and preoccupation they generate in us. Jesus is not denying that this world is full of difficulties. He is, instead, reminding us that our vision, our hearts, can be burdened and impeded if we adopt a self-reliant lifestyle and have difficulties in recognizing God’s leadership when facing cares. 

First Peter 5:7 calls us to cast all our merimna upon Him. Our real problem lies not in the existence of preoccupations but in our response to them. We have consciously or unconsciously decided to take them upon ourselves. We start to behave as if we were alone and in charge of our destiny, while on the outside we profess to be servants of God. By doing that, we miss the most beautiful and exciting experience: feeling the presence of the Omnipotent coming down on us. We trade it for our analytical calculations, scared projections, worried surveys.

Imperiled People

The spiritual dangers we face as individuals translate into the very same challenges we face as a people. As a collective institution, our church faces the risk of a community attracted by the sensational, disturbed by rules, impulsive and in search for approval, but without a solid and deep vision of her calling; a church that follows the ups and downs of the market, in the field of ideas and initiatives, ever seeking its energy in some new bombastic slogan; an intoxicated church conscious of mission and identity, but moving mechanically with no clear sense of her horizon; a church worried by the challenges of the modern world, economic uncertainty, secularization, and thought trends, struggling to find solutions, because it has lost its connection with the divine; a church that does not remember how to seek heaven’s guidance, and no longer experiences the feeling of being a simple instrument in God’s omnipotent hand.

Thus we find ourselves, half-sleeping, fleeing, in fear, to the Lord, to ask for revival and reformation. But what kind of revival and reformation do we seek? An adrenaline-rush revival? An intoxicating revival? A reformation motivated by fear and anxiety? The road that leads from sleep to watch is the road of awareness—awareness of who we are, what our heart is, what our mission is. Revival and reformation are but the very seed of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 13:19-23.

He speaks there of three categories of spiritual sleep. The hard soil by the wayside is like the intoxicated, who do not feel anything. The rocky soil is the dopaminic experience, all excitement and no deep roots. The third soil represents us who, choked by the merimna of the world, live in between watch and sleep.

But while Satan wants to weigh our hearts down, suffocate our calling, the seed of God’s Word breaks the boundaries and keeps expanding. Revival and growth are not a sudden twist like my attempts to get out of sleep, but a force in action that cannot be contained. So strong that it can gradually crack any concrete slab trying to keep it down. So steady that it will inexorably grow until it will bear fruit. Bible-inspired revival and reformation breed unstoppable growth, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold, according to God’s own vision for His cause and His people. n

* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.