What Keeps You from Sleeping? – Psalm 4

 January 2, 2018

Sleep is truly a precious gift. I always feel better and ready to face the day if I get a good night sleep. If I toss and turn all night, I get up tired and already behind. I never catch up.

There is nothing more peaceful than the sleep of a young child, some say. They sleep deeply, lost in slumber without all the concerns of the adult world. Yet sleep isn’t always filled with peaceful, pleasant images, not even for young children who are known to wake-up terrified and in need of crawling into their parent’s bed. Many of our dreams may be far from pleasant. They may be confusing and strange if not outright nightmares. Dreams at times are where we work out our worst fears.

In C.S. Lewis’ book Voyage of the Dawn Treader (part of the Chronicles of Narnia) the main characters visit an island where dreams come true. At first the children on the Dawn Treader thought this would be the most wonderful place, until they remembered the nightmares that at times haunt their dreams. The island was shrouded in mists. They pulled back in terror before they could be assaulted by their worst nightmares, pulling a man onto their boat before leaving, a mere shell of the man he had been because of his experience on the island. No, we can’t count on our sleeping dreams to be peaceful, when we are able to sleep.

Psalm 4 is an evening meditation which speaks of sleeping in peace. Psalm 3 was a morning thanksgiving of a victorious warrior whereas this is the evening meditations of a God-fearing statesman. Before going to sleep, he reflects on his day and calls upon his God. “Answer me when I call, O God of my right!” (1a) He appeals to his opponents who are bringing shame to his office. “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?” (2) He encourages these people to reflect on the Lord and listen to him.

“When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds and be silent.” (vs. 3) Well might we wish that all political leaders would listen to this passage!

“Fury for propaganda purposes, bitterness engendered by personal jealousies or generated solely to create an opportunity for grasping at power—all this is plain sin.” One commentator states in regards to this passage. (The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4, p. 30-31)

Verse 2 asks “how long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?” How long indeed! Apparently for a very long time as it is still a problem centuries later, in our day and age. People, especially politicians, far too often speak vain words and outright lies. With all of the religious posturing going on by politicians, you have to wonder, what ensures that this person is not another one who tries to use God to justify his own ends?

The psalm goes on to remind us that joy isn’t dependent on everything going right in our lives or prosperity. Verse 6 states that there are many who are quick to respond to life’s problems by saying “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord.” It’s a common human reaction when things are not going our way, to call upon God to rescue us and doubt God when he doesn’t.

The Psalmist responds by saying, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their corn and wine abound.” He has found the possibility of joy even in hard times, when not prospering, or as one saying goes, “Ah! I could have done without my joys, but I could never have done without my sorrows.”

Psalm 4 lets us know that joy isn’t dependent on prosperity–it even at times flourishes during times of suffering and sorrow. The result of this is the ability to sleep in peace regardless of the situation. “The psalm ends with the gentlest of lullabies as if the writer were singing to himself in quietness, I will both lay me down in peace and sleep. He may have been a great statesman, but in the evening he was a child, trusting child of God, one of the beloved to whom God gave greatly in his sleep,” the commentator states (p. 34) A great psalm for today’s generation of politicians, public servants, anyone as it reminds us of the need for a clear conscience in order to sleep well.

What keeps you up at night? What keeps you from sleeping peacefully? Perhaps worries about money, about your health or the health of your loved ones, perhaps the death of a loved one, or perhaps concern over a dispute that needs to be reconciled, a hurt that has not been healed keeps you awake. There are so many reasons why you may be awake at night.

We no longer sleep the innocent sleep of the young, confident that no harm may befall us for we know that that is not true. Harm has befallen us in the past and may again. Yet we can experience a good night’s sleep. Our joy isn’t dependent on everything going right, as the Psalmist tells us. In our darkest times, most difficult experiences, the human spirit prevails, in fact can be even stronger as we reach out to each other, help each other.

Peaceful sleep is a gift. If we life lives of righteousness, truly contemplating God’s word and our own actions to make sure they are in line with God’s word; if we forgive others when they have hurt or wronged us; if, when we are disturbed or angry, we sin not, but rather stand before our God in our need and pray; then we will find the rest we desire, peace in this life, as well as the next.

What about you? What keeps you up at night?


This post is part of a series on the Psalms.   click here to follow blog

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