Have you ever come to church exhausted? You might easily stay awake during the singing. But then comes a long prayer. And a longer sermon. Incoming data starts to jumble. Your eyelids grow heavy. Your head nods. Suddenly, like you’ve received an electric shock, you snap to attention. You wonder, how long was I sleeping? Did anyone notice?
There are plenty of good reasons to come to worship well-rested and to fight sleepiness in the presence of almighty God. But that isn’t the point of Acts 20:1–16. In fact, the passage argues in favor of the kind of tiredness that led a young man to fall asleep in church.
There Are Good Reasons to Be Tired
Acts 20 starts with Paul’s departure from Ephesus. And it is an exhausting tale. After two years of continuous teaching, Paul left, as usual, in disgrace. As he passed through Macedonia he encouraged the saints and made plans to deliver to Jerusalem a monetary collection. From Corinth, Paul made time to write his glorious Epistle to the Romans. He worked constantly, “night and day” (1 Thess. 2:9). As Paul was preparing to leave Greece, a plot against his life was discovered. So he changed course once again and pressed on.
In Troas, Paul met with believers who had gathered by custom on the first day of the week to worship and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. With few days to spare, Paul preached long. He “talked with them … prolong[ing] his speech until midnight” and “talked still longer” (Acts 20:7–9). A young man named Eutychus went to an open window, perhaps to seek relief from the “many lamps in the upper room” (Acts 20:8). Unable to stay awake, he plummeted three stories to hard-packed earth. You can imagine the worshipers’ response. Some cried. Some rushed down the stairs to find their worst fears. God graciously restored Eutychus (Acts 20:10, 12). But what a scary, stressful ordeal!
This story isn’t a warning against sleeping in church. Of course, worship should be joyful—and no one enjoys fighting sleep. Believers gather “to learn what God’s word teaches.” Drowsiness makes focusing hard. But Luke isn’t criticizing Eutychus. After all, “He was overcome by sleep” (Acts 20:9). He was young and it was late. His story reminds us of the disciples in the hours leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. They fell asleep “for their eyes were heavy” (Matt. 26:42). Jesus understood. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
Almost every part of this story shows dedicated believers getting tired in their service of the Lord Jesus. From Troas, Paul went to Assos, passing by Ephesus in order to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost; he didn’t have time to wrangle with another angry mob. Paul spent himself “to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4). There are good reasons to be tired. Do not fear a demanding faith.
There Is Help for Tired People
Jesus invites weary people to rest in him (Matt. 11:28). How do we do that?
Be Present for Congregational Worship
Are you sometimes too tired to go to church? Too busy? Too discouraged? These are reasons to gather! The early church established Sunday as a day of worship even though the services were exhausting and the meetings increased the risk of persecution. But worship revives believers’ spirits; we come away “not a little comforted” (Acts 20:12). Come to church even when tired, discouraged, or disinterested. Come find rest in Jesus.
Receive Jesus’s Resurrection Power
Luke doesn’t present Eutychus’s fall as a funny side-bar about sleeping in church. The story tracks a young man beset by weakness trying to follow Jesus. In fact, he was literally, and completely exhausted. But God’s Spirit revived him. In your own strength you cannot serve God. But “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10).
Anticipate the Gift of a New Body
Only the bodily resurrection guarantees that all of our efforts for Jesus are not in vain. Paul wondered, “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” (1 Cor. 15:32; see Acts 19:21–41). Why fight sin? Why believe unpopular truth? Why serve others? Why wear out your body living for God? Because God promises you a new body. The resurrection of Eutychus was the most powerful sermon illustration imaginable. As God raised Eutychus from the dead so will he resurrect everyone who clings by faith to the Savior who died and was raised again!
Only because Paul was “restful in Christ” could he be “restless in his devotion to the service of Christ.” Earth is a place of tiring work; heaven is a land of rejuvenating rest (Heb. 4:8–10). And our labors are helped by that promise of rest. Puritan Richard Baxter argued that contemplating resurrection life will invigorate our graces and duties, be our best cordial in all afflictions, and render us most profitable to others. And Baxter belonged to a class of men who “fought their way to the heavenly city… They had chosen their side and they knew that it was worthy of all they could do or suffer for it.” Choose your side. Fight and suffer. Grow tired for Jesus. Rest is coming.
 Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 103.
 G. Campbell Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles, 469.
 Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1833), 253, vi.