WHEN YOU CAN’T SLEEP

Someone struggles as soon as he hits the sack. He goes back and forth from crying out to God and sparring with his opponent. He wants relief from his distress and he wishes his adversaries would lay off. They have turned his glory into shame and it has robbed him of sleep.

We’ve been there. We lie down. Our body tries to rest but our mind races on. It is rehearsing an argument we endured eight hours before, an uncomfortable confrontation at work, an annoying exchange with a “friend” who should have known better.

Psalm 3 is a morning prayer, Psalm 4 an evening prayer. It was used in the temple and set to music (see psalm intro).  “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer” (v. 1, aimed toward heaven).

“How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (v. 2, aimed at people he can’t stand). Distress is mental, a result of pain, trouble, or worry. He went from glory (being appreciated, honored) to shame (being humiliated, put down, attacked at the core of his being).

Three things are done to deal with the insomnia:

  1. He reminds himself of his true identity: “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him” (v. 3). He doesn’t feel close to people, but he feels close to God. He expresses confidence in the Lord against the emotional turmoil that threatened to derail him. Good move.
  1. He deals with his emotions. We know how anger steals rest. He does what Jesus did on the cross (see I Peter 2:22,23). First, he keeps his conscience clear: “In your anger do not sin” (v. 4). Anger can make us say or do stupid things. Second, he keeps his heart open: “Search your heart.” And, third, he keeps his mouth shut: “Be silent.” It does not help when we are angry to either repress it or express it; it does help to confess it, to agree with God about our anger. We quietly pray, confessing it and asking Him to take it.

The psalmist is able to “offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord” (v. 5). His anger does not turn him outward in retaliation but upward in trust. Anger is not a wrong response to the folly of people, as long as you do not let it overtake you. If you are going to stay awake, instead of fuming, ask yourself, “Anything I did to cause this?”  Let God shine the searchlight, not to condemn but to convict.

  1. He could get cynical, taken up with imaginary arguments against his accusers: “Many are saying, ‘Who can show us any good?’” (6a). He resists the fight his mind wants to pick with their snide remark, wisely opting for a blessing instead. Heaven responds to his godly request, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord” (v. 6b), and his countenance changes.

The outcome is remarkable. “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound” (v. 7). He is captured with the same kind of joy experienced at an over-abundant harvest (a good memory replacing a bad recent one), and his mind returns to a place of rest: “I will lie down and sleep in peace” (v. 8). Wow! That is not where he started the psalm only moments ago. Good night!

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