Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church
Sermon – Psalm 4 – When You Can’t Sleep
April 26, 2009
Listen to this sermon.
We have all had nights when we cannot sleep. We go to bed but our minds keep on working. We continue to think over the day’s events, the troubles that befell us, our worries and concerns. We close our eyes and try to go to sleep, but we can’t. So we toss and turn, go the bathroom, get some cold chicken from the refrigerator to eat, watch late night television, turn on the radio, or get dressed and go for a walk. We do all of these things hoping that we will become drowsy and go to sleep, but nothing seems to work.
The Psalmist was having one of these nights when he wrote Psalm 4. But before we look at this wonderful Psalm will you pray with me? Father in heaven open our hearts this day to receive that grace you have for us. Bless us with the gift of understanding as we hear your word read and proclaimed. Bless me with the gift of preaching as I proclaim your word to this church. And help us on those nights when we can’t get to sleep with your assurance, peace and love. We pray this in the name of your son and our risen Lord. Amen.
NRS Psalm 4:1
[Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. … You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.]
King David has written a psalm about sleep. David was an expert about sleep. In our first reading today David helped King Saul who was having trouble sleeping. Saul was plagued by an evil spirit which kept him awake at night. David would play the lyre which had the effect of helping Saul get to sleep. So in a way David is an ancient authority on getting to sleep and his wisdom on this subject is contained in the fourth Psalm.
I usually get to sleep pretty well, but occasionally I toss and turn and just can’t get to sleep. My favorite way of dealing with sleeplessness is by drinking some warm milk and then going back to bed. This usually works, but when it doesn’t I turn to prayer and then to some late night television.
I have often wondered why pastors take Mondays off. They could choose any day of the week. But now I know. After meeting people all day Sunday and praying for them I sometimes find it hard to fall asleep Sunday night. The day’s events keep replaying in my mind. I am in a continual conversation with God about those things that are happening to people coming to our church. So sometimes I toss and turn and find that sleep comes much later than normal. If I were to try to work on Mondays I would be dead tired. I have tried, with the help of some coffee, to wakeup and be productive on Monday mornings, but fatigue usually catches up with me and I am not really productive. Thankfully God gives all of us, including pastors, a Sabbath rest.
When David couldn’t sleep he turned to God in prayer. He reminded God of times past when God had relieved him and gave him rest. So he asked God to calm his fears and settle his mind so that he could get some rest. And David was confident that God would listen to his prayer and give him the rest he needed.
This is where we should start when we can’t get to sleep. We join our voices with David and ask God to settle our minds and help us to sleep. But even though we pray for sleep we still can’t sleep. Why?
[How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah - You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.]
We would hope that our prayers would always be heard by and acted upon for our benefit, but that is not the case. When we pray that God will settle us down and let us get to sleep we expect that to happen, but we all have the experience of praying for rest and rest does not come. The reason for this is that prayer from our perspective is different from prayer from God’s perspective.
When we pray we experience gladness in our hearts because we are coming into the presence of our creator. But from God’s perspective God sees us as sinners asking for things we don’t deserve. You see, sin separates us from God, and that separation is also there when we pray. So prayers are not always answered by God the way we hope. This is not a reason to stop praying, but when we pray we should first ask for forgiveness and then petition God to satisfy our needs. Thus, when we pray for rest on sleepless nights rather than get angry at God for ignoring our prayers we should confess our own sin which has displeased God. By humbling ourselves we are more likely to make our case before our supreme judge and receive the gift of rest.
So on those sleepless nights when you toss and turn in bed, honestly confess your sins to God and ask God for forgiveness and a good night’s sleep. Then close your eyes and get some sleep, but as we all know that doesn’t always work either.
[But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him … There are many who say, "O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!"]
The problem is that we and God have different expectations for prayer. God sees prayer as the vehicle were God communicates to us that God loves us very much, and that God has chosen us to be God’s people. God makes us holy, set aside for God’s use. When God hears our prayers God knows that we are ready to be shaped, molded into an instrument God can use for God’s purposes. But we have very different expectations for prayer. We expect that God will do something good for us. We pray to receive some benefit. So, God uses prayer to change us while we use prayer to get God to do something for us. Even though God hears our prayers it appears to us that God does not always answer our prayers. But the reverse is true. God always answers our prayers by making us more holy not by giving us material benefits.
All of us pray for the things we want and need. Some of us pray for our own health, or for the health of a loved one. Some pray for a job or a place to live. Some pray for a relationship or a spouse. These are all good things to pray for. God hears these prayers and will answer them in God’s way. And God’s way is to make us better people. As we become better people we find that the blessings we have prayed for come true because people shaped by God truly live better lives. So when you can’t get to sleep at night, pray to God, but expect not that God will change something for you, rather expect that God will hear your prayers and that you will be changed by God.
[When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.]
David knew that there were some concrete things that you could do to keep yourself from becoming emotionally upset to the point of disturbing your sleep. The first step is to refrain from sinning. Sin will keep you up a night. If your drink too much, or cheat on your spouse, or lie, or steal or do any of the things we know are sinful our consciences will warn us by keeping us up at night. Most of our worries are that our past sins might be catching up with us. But if we refrain from sinning we will sleep better at night because we will not be tormented by what we have done. If we have sinned then a sleepless night is an indication that it is time for us to confess the sin and repent. Then when we have experienced the forgiveness of God we can simply be quiet, lay our heads on the pillow and get the rest we need.
Another way of ensuring that you will get a good night’s sleep is to worship God. I have found that a daily habit of early morning prayers is a great way to ensure a good night’s sleep. Not only am I dead tired around 9PM every night, I can get the rest I need knowing that I will have the opportunity to talk with God about anything bothering me the next morning. This cuts through my worries and lets me get to sleep. By praying every day, by meditating on scripture every day, or by reading a devotional every day we form a habit of bringing all our concerns to God. And once released from the burden of carrying own concerns we can get to sleep. So I urge you to start a daily practice of worship. Join us for early morning prayers or find something that is right for you. Daily worship will free your minds from your concerns because you would have given your concerns to God.
And the final bit of advice that David gives us about getting to sleep is to always put our trust in the Lord. If we depend solely on our own abilities and resources we will surely fail and this concern will keep us up at night. But if we trust in God to care for us this relives us from the burden of depending on ourselves and allows us to get a good night’s sleep. We trust that God will provide for what we need and will guide us in the right paths. All we have to do is to follow God. By following God we can get to sleep.
Lord Jesus, as we follow you we ask that you forgive our sins and help us to lead new lives. Help us to become the people God created us to be. Help us to trust that God will provide for us all that we need. Take all of our cares and concerns on your shoulders and help us to get the sleep we need. Amen.