Insomnia is a whirlwind of bewilderment. Why can’t I sleep—is it fear? Worry? Elevated cortisol? Hormones? Not enough light during the day? Loud upstairs neighbors? I’ve got no less than five friends under a “sleep troubles” heading in my prayer journal right now. I maintain that the Lord in His sovereignty can handle insomnia, and so did King David, whose friends liked to sneer, “What’s good?”
Here’s the Psalm I like to pray over friends who can’t sleep. (It’s not really about insomnia, by the way. I could go on about how Jesus probably went around Jerusalem thinking about verse 2, but I really just want to focus on the end bit, because NO ONE IS SLEEPING!)
I mean, okay, not everyone. That was hyperbole. Lots of people wander off to the Land of Counterpane and stay there, but I’m not cool with people thinking that insomnia is something to be suffered like a plague. David knew plenty of sleepless nights, nights when his own heart was deceitful and the accusations against him weren’t fake. Nights when the accusations were fake and his bad guys were not metaphorical. Let’s take a look at how he addresses trials worthy of keeping him up all night:
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
4 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
7 You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
“Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” is the best advice no one wants to hear. When we consider our own hearts, what do we find? Here’s what we find: the newborn we just can’t bond with, the seven year-old with the hard heart, the fight we can’t resolve with the person we can’t avoid, the yes we wish we’d said no to, the ends that don’t meet, the children who walked away from the faith, the hard-drinking husband who thinks it’s perfectly fine, the sermon that wasn’t quite right but we don’t know exactly why. And that’s just the externals. What about the parts of our hearts that wish sin were not sin, that turn a blind eye to guilt, that hate and fear and worry and long for ashes? We all have plenty of reasons to offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. Let’s not pretend otherwise. A right sacrifice—the only right sacrifice—has already been given and accepted upon our behalf; He who is our righteousness is also the one who shapes and molds our hearts from hungry and broken to overflowing with joy.
OVERFLOWING with joy. Is that how you feel in the night? Then go back and be silent some more, Selah!
It sounds like you’re saying that all our sleep problems can be solved with confession and a single bible verse.
Nope. Go to your doctor and tell her you can’t sleep. There might be something physically wrong with you, some combination of your what-ifs and “but dusts” that needs to be addressed. But that’s the easy part—we do that first, we do that quickly, we do that and discuss what worked for us and what worked for someone else and the tests that can be done. None of that is wrong or ill-advised. In fact, I use a device to combat sleep apnea. Sometimes I get racing thoughts or an attack of the hormones and can’t fall asleep. Sometimes I snap awake at 3am, unable to get back to sleep. (The thing that helps the most with that one is to say to the Lord, “Who needs intercession?” and then someone pops into my head and I pray for them and then voila! I fall right back asleep.)
So, no, this isn’t a trite fix-it offering. I’m writing this blog post because I want to say: Has anyone told you that GOD HEARS YOU?! He hears you and he longs to answer you. Search your own heart to see if there is indeed anything remiss, and then be silent.
What is God going to say?
I don’t know! That’s between the two of you. But it’s not going to be eternal condemnation, that’s for sure. It’s not going to be an aggrieved sigh or a sharp word. Instead, He will lift the light of His face upon you. There’s glory there. And then HE WILL PUT gladness in your heart in such a way that it’s better than the best earthly party you’ve ever been to.
(A few readers are secretly thinking, “Christian parties wish they could be earthly parties!” Carefree, lavish, fun, not burdened by someone else’s morality, no guest list, lots of wine and not even a hint of cheapskatery on the snacks table….and yet the truth is that the most extravagant feast you attended before you were saved cannot compare to the table God prepares before you in the presence of your enemies. The table He has right now at the wedding feast of the Lamb. The table where you eat the bread and drink the wine to remember Him. Those tables put joy in our heart. If you can’t say verse 7 along with David, ask God for help. You are not being asked to fake joy.)
And then we get to crash!! Maybe you ponder in your own heart and there is nothing to confess. No burdensome yoke to trade for His. Hooray! You get to skip right to trusting in the Lord’s graciousness to you. In peace we get to both lie down AND sleep! Sometimes it feels like we can only have one, but the Psalmist testifies that both are possible. “You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” is a confident, true statement. If David claimed to be safe apart from Yahweh that would be a very large fib! It is true for us, too. Even in a war zone, our souls are not at risk. But sometimes it feels like we could have faith for the war zone, and it is much harder to just close our eyes. Dr. Hawker (he of the Poor Man’s Commentary) encourages us thusly: “Yes, my heart is fixed, O Lord, my heart is fixed; Jesus is my hope and righteousness; the Lord will hear me when I call. And henceforth will I both lay me down in peace and sleep securely in Jesus, accepted in the Beloved; for this is the rest wherewith the Lord causeth the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing.”
I’m going to keep praying for everyone on my “can’t sleep” list the same way I have faith for the “single and does not want to be” list and the “wants a baby” list and all the other lists. But when I pray, I pray believing that the One who made you, the One who is your righteousness, will be gracious to you and hear your prayer. Don’t love vain words and seek after lies. Trust in the Lord. Let me know if you need to be on a list, and we will praise the Lord together when you can claim Psalm 4 on a regular basis!