Psalm 4:4, 8 In your anger do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O Lord,
make me dwell in safety.
In my experience, there are three common hindrances to getting good sleep. One is simple jet lag, being physically out of sync with your body’s natural rhythms because of the speed of modern transportation. When you think about it, that’s very much a luxury complaint! Another hindrance is physical pain or discomfort. My wife is all too familiar with that, and she’s not alone in that situation. However, by far the most common source of insomnia seems to be mental or emotional distress, and that’s what David is touching on here. It’s interesting that the Japanese renders the first line of verse four as, “Be respectfully fearful. Do not commit sin.” Paul certainly agreed with how the NIV renders it, when he quoted it in Ephesians 4:26! With either rendering, however, the point remains that when we lie down we need to release things to God, letting Him be the arbiter of everything and not trying to impose our will and desires on situations that concern us. We can get really worked up about a lot of things, and when we essentially try to wrest control away from God, that’s sin. Getting proper sleep is a major factor in our general happiness. The devil wants to steal or destroy that happiness, so he works to disrupt our sleep. As James said, we are to submit to God and resist the devil. (James 4:7) Submitting to God specifically includes releasing to Him all the issues we are worked up about. This sort of thing is why we speak of “sleeping like a baby.” Any parent can tell you that babies don’t necessarily sleep through the night, but if they are in a warm, peaceful home environment, they at least don’t worry about anything, and so generally sleep easily and well. The better we realize that we are children of our heavenly Father, the more we can do that as well.
I have had my times of insomnia, certainly. I’ve had a few times of sleep-inhibiting pain, from broken ribs, kidney stones, and surgery, but those have been a marginally small percentage of my life. Going back and forth across the Pacific, I’m certainly very familiar with jet lag! However, it’s the emotional turmoil I have dealt with most often. Anger is no friend of sleep! As Don and Katie Fortune pointed out to me, we tend to think that “sleeping on an issue” can resolve the anger involved, but it actually just lets it migrate to our subconscious, to build up and come out later. The second half of Ephesians 4:26, where Paul quotes verse four here, says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” I have learned that is superb, practical advice that avoids a lot of trouble down the road. Individuals I can choose to forgive, but when it is societal issues that have me upset, I’ve simply got to release them to God. Things may be a mess now – and they are – but He’s not through! He told me several years ago to rest, relax, and rejoice. That’s in perfect sync with this passage, and will give me the sleep I need.
Father, thank You for this very practical reminder. I was talking with my students just yesterday about their need for sleep. I don’t want them to try to get it in class, but at their age, they tend to prioritize all sorts of things ahead of sleep. I pray that I would always speak the truth in love, so that the devil’s works may be destroyed right and left, (1 John 3:8) for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!