Top 10 Tips for Sleep Deprived Prayer

There are so many reasons for losing sleep it’s not really worth listing them. You’re either getting enough sleep or you’re not. And if you aren’t, an awful lot of the Christian life can feel very difficult indeed. Shorter tempers, less self-control, sense of life being out of control, feeling sorry for oneself, irritable, unkind, not listening… Sleep is such a good gift from God if only because it makes so many, many things easier. Prayer is one such thing. What can we do when we aren’t praying because we aren’t getting the sleep we need?

Here are some ideas; please add your own. (And excuse the excessive use of the imperative, I wrote this first for myself and writing in imperatives helps me).

10. Stop feeling guilty about not praying well. Unless you’re different from just about everyone else, you won’t be able to concentrate, remember or prioritize properly. And all of these affect prayer, as much as they affect other areas of life. Prayer isn’t about your performance; it’s you, trusting God your Father, for all of life, out loud.

9. Thank God for things. Survival mode makes us demanding in all kinds of ways. God calls us to contentment via cultivated thankfulness. And one way to engender thankfulness in our hearts is to thank God for things; all kind of things, all the time. Don’t waste time feeling guilty for not thanking God enough; enjoy his generosity and say ‘thank you’.

8. Don’t stop be interested in your godliness. Tired people are grumpy, easily irritated, unloving people. We can only do this part of our lives in a way which glorifies our Saviour if he intervenes and transforms us here and now, in these circumstances. Praying for this demonstrates that you really need God to change you and are trusting in his kindness to do so.

7. Expect to pray short prayers. Face the fact that your concentration span is fragmented at the moment and don’t use a strategy for prayer which involves long periods of time. Try and pray often and expect to pray for not much. And be encouraged by the Spirit’s work in you that you are continuing to call God ‘Abba Father’ and come to him for mercy and grace in your time of need.

6. Pray for your friends, family, church and government leaders. Write a list somewhere you’ll see it and let your eye pick one and pray for them. Don’t try and do the whole list. But don’t give up on praying for others because you’re in survival mode. They need your prayers, and you need to love them in this way.

5. Choose a time when you might actually remember to pray and try and plan to pray then. Keep it simple. And if you happen to be a mother in this situation, you may find it helpful to choose something that doesn’t involve anything complex, like pen and paper. My favourite is my hand. I can’t lose it. I always have it; I even have a spare. It always has five fingers. Each finger has a ‘thing’. It goes like this: Praise God for who he is (choose something, there’s lots to choose from); Thank God for something; Pray for a family member; Pray for a friend; Say sorry for my sin and ask God for what I need right now. But even this is more complex than the Lord’s Prayer…

4. Keep asking God to help you to trust him, and to teach you how to trust him in your situation. It’s just something we always need to do when we’re his children. And ask God for comfort and the strength to endure; you need both and he is the source of both.

3. Read the Bible. Memorize the Bible. Don’t be ambitious. Just go for two verses a day, and memorize one verse a month. And if that is too ambitious, cut back to what is slightly more than achievable. On very good days, you’ll achieve it. And when the bottom falls out, just start again. But don’t give up reading and thinking about Scripture. The word of God prompts us to pray, because it is the word of God, and by his Spirit through his word, God faithfully transforms us into the image of his Son.

2. Pray with someone. This keeps you awake, helps you remember to pray for things aside from your desperate need for sleep, and is in itself encouraging. And it means you are actually praying at some point in the day.

1. Pray. Whenever you remember you should pray, just do it. Don’t mess around trying to think of what to pray for or wishing you prayed more. Start praying for something right now.

5 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for Sleep Deprived Prayer

  1. Oh Jennie, such a good post, and exactly what I needed to read at the moment! It’s been six days since I gave birth and, of course, prayer has been as intermittent as my sleep. Fortunately before birth, I was using this system with six index cards (six cards because seven felt like I had to get through one card a day, seven days a week), and the system seems to have translated okay to life with baby. Each card lists a bunch of people/organisations to pray for, and they go something like this:

    1. Family, and friends from high school
    2. Blogroll friends and (*a bit embarrassed*) the comics industry
    3. Church
    4. University ministries—specifically at the University of Wollongong and the University of New South Wales (and people I know through them)
    5. Moore College and Matthias Media (and people I know through them)
    6. Missionaries and mission organisations

    I find the cards help me focus, so if I completely lose my train of thought, I know where I’m up to and can pick it up again fairly easily. Sometimes I don’t get through the card in one day, but I don’t worry too much if I don’t; I just pick it up again later.

    I’ve been trying to get through one card per day during feeds. It’s sort of working, even if I fall asleep in the middle of praying!

    Bible reading isn’t going so well, but I’m hoping to fix that—once again, during feeds when I need something to read (I often do feeds in front of the computer). It doesn’t really help that I was in the middle of Isaiah just before birth ;P

  2. Thanks for a clear, practical and compassionate post, Jennie. There are several stressed, struggling and sleep-deprived mothers in my Bible study group and I’m wondering if you would be happy for me to print off what you’ve written (with proper acknowledgement, of course). I figure it’s something they could then keep handy for those lonely hours at night spent feeding and settling wakeful babies. smile

  3. Dear Karen,
    Thanks for such a great contribution! I love your system, and am impressed that you still pray for high school friends; so faithful.

    Your comment about Bible reading reminded me that I would often listen to the Bible rather than read it in JD’s first year.

    …And Daniel and Revelation go even better with sleep deprivation than Isaiah. Lots of bizarre images to make you wonder whether you’re awake or asleep… wink

    Dear Lee,

    Yes, and welcome. If you think this would be useful for people, by all means please use it.  And if the women in your group have other ideas to add to this list, we’d love to hear them.

    It might be useful for the struggling ones to know that the imperatives that clutter my little list were meant to motivate me rather than condemn others. 

    It was part of trying to train my thinking into seeing even loss of sleep as something planned by God as the current context for his transformation of me by his Spirit through his Word. So, rather than feel defeated I should work out how to best co-operate with his Spirit! 

    Thanks for your encouragement,

  4. Hey Jennie!

    It was part of trying to train my thinking into seeing even loss of sleep as something planned by God as the current context for his transformation of me by his Spirit through his Word. So, rather than feel defeated I should work out how to best co-operate with his Spirit!

    Such a good way of putting it! Many thanks!

    RE my high school friends: it helps we still keep in touch and meet up every now and then. There’s something about that school though; my sister-in-law, mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law all went there and managed to form fast friendships that lasted throughout their lives. My grandmother-in-law was still meeting up with her high school buddies well into her 80s. It probably helped that the school had a strong ISCF presence (and a history of such), but most of my high school friends aren’t Christian.

  5. Hi Jennie!

    Just passing on a comment from someone on my blog who saw a link to your wonderful post:

    “As a shift-working newlywed who is still adjusting to sleeping next to an asthmatic husband, I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to come across these posts giving a Christian perspective on the sometimes all-encompassing state of sleep deprivation. So I’m not the only one battling to hold my tongue and wondering where my supplies of Christian charity and patience have flown to on 3 hour’s sleep! Thank you for your honesty, and the practical tips on re-establishing prayer life. Such a timely blessing indeed.”

    Thanks so much for your reflections, on behalf of everyone who’s struggled with sleep deprivation, mums and others.

    Love Jean.

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