“I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety,” Psalm 4.
Psalm 4 is “the evening hymn,” not because of the demands it makes for God’s ear in the first verse, or because of the 12-step program it outlines for those of us who don’t know the Lord (in vs. 3, 4, and 5). Psalm 4 is “the evening hymn” because of this last line, because of David’s enviable drowsiness. Surely, one mark of the “blessedness,” which is at the heart of Psalm 1, is the ability to turn out the lights, shut one’s eyes, and, without a ripple of anxiety, fall off to sleep.
But there is too much spilled blood in the David’s OT stories for me to assume that what he is claiming here is what he felt every last night of his life. I’ll bet the back forty that he wrote this song on one of his good days. In fact, Psalm 6, just two more down, sounds like some other guy altogether (“. . .all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears,” vs. 6).
Last weekend, my son-in-law suffered something he called a migraine. Whether or not it was remains to be seen, but the doctor he saw for the headache calmly suggested that he cut down on stress. We giggled when he told us what the doctor had offered, as if cutting down on stress is as easy as trimming toe nails. Sure, Doc, and just exactly how do you suggest any of us do that?
There is an answer here, of course. What David tells us in this song isn’t a lie or even a half-truth. He doesn’t just say, “Get some rest and call me in the morning.” That’s not what’s going on here.
In truth, sleep is a precarious time because we give ourselves up to something we can’t control. No one wants to snore. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wishes to have nightmares or suffer bizarre, buck naked hikes through public places. No one would choose to do their hair in the style we daily wake up with. I wouldn’t wish insomnia on anyone; but all of us, at one time or another, have trouble sleeping in part because when we’re out cold, we’re simply not in control; and if there’s one thing all of us want in life, it’s control. You don’t have to be a control freak to fear chaos. We all do.
Here—on the night of this particular song—David claims he nods off easily. You alone, Lord, he says, allows me to check out in ease.
That out-of-controlness that we give ourselves to every night is, in David’s mind and heart and soul, a piece of cake because he knows (and that’s a word we employ in the biblical sense) God’s hand is beneath him, gently rocking.
As Shakespeare might say, there’s the rub. For those of us who know the Lord, sleeplessness shouldn’t be a problem—and we know it. We should be able to hit the sack and fall like a rag doll into the arms of the Father. We should be able. . .we should. And saying that is itself a recipe for even more anxiety.
But it’s the goal. That’s the blessedness we all want and ask for in those furtive moments when, in bed, we feel the shakiness we so much wish we didn’t have.
For that malady, David says what we all know but need to hear time and time again. In his testimony there is the brace of faith God himself tells us: “Be still and now that I am God.”
Be still, then go ahead and turn out the light.