Chrys Jones

The Good Shepherd Gives and Takes Sleep

The Good Shepherd is with us in our sleepless nights, and your lack of sleep is no reason to think otherwise. When your anxious thoughts or fiery darts from the enemy assail you, remember your Good Shepherd. Remember how he cried tears of blood and hung on the cross to pay for your sins. Remember how he rose from the dead on the third day. Remember that he didn’t leave you as an orphan, even on your darkest, longest nights.  

It’s 2:34 a.m. My room is faintly lit by tiny, glowing LED lights recharging for tomorrow. I wish I could shut down, plug myself in, and crawl my way toward 100% capacity like my phone. Instead, the adrenaline surges through my now awake body with an inescapable sense of dread. Not again. Yes, it’s happening again. The loneliness of this dark room grips me in its clutches as I notice the hum of the refrigerator, the swooshing car that just sped past, and my dog obnoxiously lapping water from his dish. I fail to get comfortable, and my body and mind are ready for a new day to begin. The clock tells me otherwise—it’s now 3:45 am.
This doesn’t happen every night, but insomnia has become a friend who tries to stick closer than a brother. Some nights I’m tired enough to drift off after a couple of hours of listless tossing and turning. On other nights, I simply get out of bed at 3:00 a.m. and start my day. There’s a faint hope that my body will realize the time and start the cascade of falling asleep again before my 6:30 a.m. alarm. Usually, this happens. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Insomnia filters the world with a darker hue. Yet, the light shines in the darkness.
Though I keep the lights dim while I’m limping through these middle-of-the-night adventures, the Light of the world shines bright. On the verge of tears, I often utter the weak prayer, “Lord, help me get through this.” The Holy Spirit groans on my behalf with groanings too deep for words, and I know my Good Shepherd doesn’t leave me to wander in the pitch-black shadows all alone. He is here with me.
When insomnia creeps in at 3:00 a.m., my theology becomes more concrete than ever. The Good Shepherd tells me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Having a good theology of suffering is easy when I’m feeling strong and self-sufficient. I think to myself, “Look at God pouring out abundant grace” in my successful and prosperous days. Leaning on the everlasting arm comes when I’m sleep-deprived, irritable, and just want to get some shuteye before our little ones start stirring tomorrow morning.
Though my struggles with poor sleep are minuscule when compared to the intense suffering of many other believers, they still draw me to rely on God. I’m forced to cling to biblical promises and cry out in faith for the Lord’s help. When sleep becomes an infrequent visitor who leaves in a hurry, I remember my God who never sleeps (Ps. 121:4). He lingers to keep me company, even during the night watch. He comforts me until I drift off and greets me as the sunbeams burst through my curtains, beckoning me to look for new mercies.
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I Meet Him Most in Weakness: How God Became My Joy

I was the healthiest sick person you could’ve met. From my grade school years, I mastered perfect attendance, never missing a minute of school unless I was truly too sick to be in the classroom. Once we moved up to letter grades, the only letter I was satisfied with was “A.” Anything less brought deep disappointment and a strong will to push harder.

In track and field, I studied the technique of the world’s greatest triple jumpers and ferociously hunted down the state records, even with a torn quadriceps muscle. I was also the “good” church boy who went to youth group — though mainly to play basketball, eat pizza, and meet girls. I can even remember our basketball team warming up to one of my rap songs before home games. I had it all together.

Yet my soul was desperately sick. And I had no idea.

‘Why Don’t You Rap About Jesus?’

As a 17-year-old track star with multiple Division I track-and-field offers, and everything going for me in the classroom, God used a new friend to change my eternity. Just after “the merge” of my senior year — when the two local school districts in my county became one single district — I started eating lunch with a kid named Josh. He was a pastor’s kid who had such a deep love for Christian hip-hop that he would preorder nearly every major release at our local Christian bookstore. He heard some of my music and asked a simple question: “If you’re a Christian, why don’t you rap about Jesus?”

“I was the healthiest sick person you could’ve met.”

I was floored. What kind of question was that? I was too cool for Christian rap. I listened to it a little bit during middle school, but it just wasn’t my taste. I responded with a very common response: “Christian rap is corny, and the beats are wack.” The next day, he gave me some CDs from Lecrae, Trip Lee, and Tedashii. As soon as school let out, I slid Lecrae’s After the Music Stops into my car stereo and heard “Jesus Muzik” for the first time. As I listened to this album, I couldn’t help but notice the love Lecrae and the other Reach artists had for Jesus. They had a joy in him that I desperately needed.

Diagnosed — and Healed

One question reverberated in my mind during this season: “Why don’t you know Christ like these guys do?” For years, I had prayed a rapid-fire prayer every night before bed that went something like, “Dear God, thank you for this day. Please forgive me for all my sins. In Jesus’s name, Amen.” Yet my formal, shallow version of Christianity was no match for the real faith I was hearing in these albums.

I realized that I didn’t know God, and if I wanted eternal life, something drastic needed to happen. I didn’t know what else to do besides open my Bible to the red letters and see exactly what Jesus said and how Jesus lived. During that season of life, Jesus spoke these words to me: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12–13). At the moment that Jesus showed me that I was terminally sick, his healing touch brought me eternal life.

As a 17-year-old boy, I came to abide in the true vine and know true union with Christ (John 15:1–11). As the years progress, I continue to learn what Jesus meant when he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full’ (John 15:11).

Ruined Dreams and a Present God

From the outside, my life may have still looked picture-perfect, but the Shepherd of my soul carried me through some trials and taught me how to be joyful in both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

Two years after being saved, Jesus carried me through a torn hamstring that ultimately shattered my track-and-field dreams, a broken engagement after three years of dating, and a shift in my college from premed to sociology. All of this happened within a twelve-month span. So much of my identity suddenly came to a crashing halt. Once again, God was showing me sickness so he could bring deeper healing.

In the years that followed, depression was a stubborn darkness that put my life in grayscale on most days. Anxiety tinged every negative experience and brought an edginess in the few moments when the darkness seemed to lift a bit. Yet God never left me. In fact, he felt nearer to me in those tear-filled nights than I had ever experienced. In the valley of the shadow of death, I felt the gentle rod of correction as God was uprooting my idols (Psalm 23:4), but I also felt the healing balm of the gentle and lowly Savior who wouldn’t break the bruised reed or quench the smoking wick (Matthew 12:20).

In that adversity, I finally understood what Lecrae meant in his song “Grateful” when he rapped,

Lord, I’m lowlyYou chose meTo witness Your glory by being made holyYou know me, my ins and outsYou calm all of my anxieties and end my doubts

For the first time, I felt those lyrics in my soul, and they resonated so deeply.

Desiring Him in Every Season

It was also during that season of adversity that I discovered John Piper’s vision for deep Christ-centered joy. I devoured his teaching and preaching through the sermons, podcasts, and articles at Desiring God, but the depression often consumed me so much that there seemed to be no joy at the end of the tether. I wondered if I was truly saved. I didn’t know if my gnawing stomach pain and aching heart would ever dissipate so I could be enraptured by the joy of Christ. I was fearful that I’d always desire relief from my pain more than joy in God himself.

But God never let me down. Through the books When I Don’t Desire God, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, and The Dangerous Duty of Delight, I was given a fresh vision of God-centered joy that would fuel my spiritual life. Rather than merely desiring an escape from the cage of depression and anxiety, I was captured by a more beautiful view of God than I had ever seen. I was captivated by the glory of Christ and the pursuit of infinite joy in him for my complete satisfaction.

I began to see that God could be glorified in my lifelong pursuit to glorify him by enjoying him forever — even in the place of pain and adversity. This isn’t something I’ve arrived at; it’s something that I’m learning day in and day out.

Weakness Is Where I Meet Him

After more than a decade of battling seasons of depression and anxiety, the God-centered God is still giving me joy both on the mountaintop and in the valley. Whether it’s a rough night of sleep, fears about the pandemic, anxiety about impending global war, or the daily struggles of marriage and parenting, I am faced with my weaknesses. And yet, God is teaching me to say with Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“Rather than resisting my weakness, I am learning to commune with God in that weakness.”

No matter the circumstance, I can’t rely on my intellect, athletic ability, skill with words, or any other natural talent I could try to muster up. I’m faced with the joyful reality that God uses me despite the gifts he gave me so that my life can be a true testament to the power of Christ resting upon me. It terrifies me to say this, but I need to be weak. I need to be confronted with my utter helplessness apart from Christ lest I forget the God who brought me out of darkness and into marvelous light. I need it lest I forget to find my confidence and joy in him. A branch cannot bear fruit in itself unless it abides in the vine.

Rather than resisting my weakness, I am learning to commune with God in that weakness. Rather than clinging to self-help strategies to fix me up, I am learning that God is my rock. Rather than living in fear of what may happen tomorrow, I am learning that God gave me a spirit of love, power, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). He is teaching me these lessons through the ordinary means of grace. As I exercise the spiritual disciplines, attend corporate worship, receive the Lord’s Supper, and pursue discipleship in the local church, God is teaching me to draw near to him as he draws near to me.

God continues to draw me to himself for true joy. For me, this often requires humbling me in the areas that seem like my strengths. But by tearing them away, he enables me to receive what he is offering to me. For God opposes the proud, but gives grace — and joy — to the humble.

Prone to Wander, Prone to Leave the Gospel We Love

Something similar happened in Corinth during Paul’s missionary days (circa AD 53–54). Just a few short years after Paul brought the gospel to these saints, they were already out of the honeymoon phase. One group in the church favored Paul, the apostle and planter of the church. Others sided with Apollos, the eloquent Alexandrian (Acts 18:24). They were caught up in mere men rather than the God-man, and it was bringing deadly sepsis to their local body. In addition to the division there was grievous sin, idolatry, impure worship, and false teaching threatening to flatline the Corinthian church.
A Fresh Application of the Gospel
Paul, under the guidance of the Great Physician, sought to bring healing to the Corinthian church. Near the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, he urged them to focus on what was “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). As a way of reminder, he once again declared the gospel to the Corinthians. They needed a fresh application of the message that brought them from death to life. As redeemed people, we too are prone to forget the most powerful message in all of the universe. We need to be constantly drawn back to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Before expounding the gospel to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them of four aspects of the gospel that are equally relevant for the bride of Christ today:

The gospel message was preached to them. Who can hear the gospel message without a preacher (Rom. 10:14)? It was Paul himself who “planted” the gospel seeds by preaching to them, and he stood so firmly in the message that he could call it “my gospel” (1 Cor. 1:6; Rom. 16:25).

The gospel message was received by them. The Corinthians had welcomed Paul and received the words he preached, and he was confident to call them brothers and sisters in the Lord. He addressed them as the church at Corinth because he was confident that the gospel had transformed them and made them new creatures.

They made their stand in the gospel message. When they heard the gospel, they responded and found their standing in that message, and they were still standing in that message when Paul wrote to them. They continued to stand firm as they trusted the work of Christ on their behalf.

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Death Comes in Slow Drips

I have an affection for coffee that stems back to childhood. One of my grandmothers used to sip sweet, creamy coffee from a faded red plastic coffee mug. Even just a few drops of lukewarm coffee from the top of her mug were a welcome treat when I was a little guy. That began my love for a rich, creamy cup of steaming java.
Most days, I go through my coffee-making routine without much consciousness of what I’m doing, but one day I noticed something that probably drives my wife insane. I find it nearly impossible to make coffee without leaving a trail of brown drops behind me. No matter the brewing method, I can’t seem to keep from dripping coffee on the counter, the kitchen table, or wherever I land with my next cup of Joe.
What if I simply decided to leave them? For better and worse and sickness and health, and all that, right? A few drops of coffee aren’t such a big deal after all. Most people would never notice them unless they were looking. A spilled cup of coffee would get your attention, but a few drops are harmless. It seems that way, at least.
Demas and the Slow Drip of Sin
Demas looked the part of a true servant of Christ. After something of a conversion experience, he decided to lay his life down for the cause of Christ and give himself to the work of a missionary. Heeding the call to make disciples of all nations, he somehow got linked up with a daring, well-known persecutor turned missionary—Saul of Tarsus. Demas didn’t just seek sound doctrine, he sought to serve in partnership with Mark, Luke, and others to spread the name and fame of Christ throughout the world.
Over time, however, Demas began wondering about an easier, more comfortable life. Perhaps he dreamed of having more money. Maybe he longed to settle down and live a normal life. Another life appealed to Demas so much that his thoughts sometimes drifted toward the possibilities of jumping ship and trying something else. He didn’t notice, but sinful thoughts were dripping from his cup more and more as the days progressed.

The Gold Mine in the Local Church

Keith Hamilton is a 69-year-old member of our local church. After church on Sunday, we made plans to meet up in the next few days to discuss life and Scripture. A couple of nights earlier he sent a text asking, “What are some big topics or needs you’d like to discuss on Wednesday morning?” I took about a day to think about it and responded, “Fatherhood and unity are always good topics.” We settled on fatherhood and made arrangements to meet at The Hub, a favorite local coffee shop, at 7 a.m.
On that Wednesday morning we were greeted by the familiar smoky smell of freshly roasted coffee. We ordered our java, grabbed a hearty breakfast, and sat at a table next to the window. The air conditioning was chilly and the ambient music particularly upbeat. I grabbed my pocket-sized leather notebook, my favorite Pilot G-2 .05 ink pen, and my Bible to learn from this missionary and father of three. We opened with a word of prayer before digging into our breakfast.
After some brief small talk, Keith opened up his iPad, propped it up on a neat little tablet stand, and shifted the screen so I could see it. He had prepared a page of Scripture notes for us to discuss. The notes were focused around two simple and familiar passages. Though I knew them by heart, I wasn’t prepared for how impactful these verses would be that morning. Keith said, “The first two passages that came to mind for the topic of fatherhood were Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21. Here are some of the word study notes I came up with. Sorry I didn’t quite have time to get to the application points yet.”
At that moment, I was astonished that Mr. Hamilton, a man who also teaches Bible classes online, took time out of his busy schedule, full of responsibilities, to prepare a Bible study to help me grow as a father. He didn’t opt for his own opinions. He also didn’t choose a good book from his shelf. Instead, he humbly opened God’s Word to help me. Keith modeled the discipleship I have so earnestly desired.
A Lesson in Failure and Success
In contrast to the brisk air in the room, my time with Keith was warm. Though I’d read and preached those fatherhood passages numerous times, they were a fresh and welcome word from this seasoned saint. He weaved his own stories of successes, failures, and lessons learned from his own experience of fatherhood on the mission field, the times when ministry and work separated him from his family. He didn’t mince words either. I listened as Keith said, “In that season, I failed.” He didn’t dress his failures with excuses about his calling or the necessary sacrifices he needed to make for the cause of the gospel. He was honest. Painfully honest. I needed to hear that.
He shared specific memories from the early 90s when his kids, like me, were just toddlers running around.
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