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Godly insomnia

Sleeplessness is a terrible affliction. Tiredness seeps into our bones and our capacity drops along with our joy. For some, it cannot be eradicated; it is a lasting affliction similar to the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh of 2 Cor 12 used by God to display his power in our weakness. For others, however it can be cured when the cause is identified and fixed. But what if the cause springs from our devotion to the LORD?

That is what we find in Ps 4 (our passage for this coming Sunday). King David is in need of relief from his distress (v1) which is causing sleeplessness (v8). The problem is that David’s distress comes from his love of God; it is a distress of devotion. v2 explains how this can be so: just as in our day, many around David ignore the God of the Bible and prefer false gods (v2), and such is David’s love of the one true God of the Bible, that it causes him a deep distress. Rather like Paul in Athens who is provoked in his spirit when he sees the idolatry around him (Acts 17:16), David’s love for God is so deep that he cannot sleep easily whilst others don’t share in that love. We may know the same feeling.

The rest of the Psalm gives two responses which seem to come from within people who – at least call themselves – believers. The first is the true response of the cynic, the second of the Christian.

The Cynic

The cynic doesn’t believe that God will act; if he were going to act surely he would have done so already. How else are the men of v2 getting away with their rejection of God? Therefore, the first thing the cynic does is to take revenge themselves (hence David’s advice to them in vv4-5). They don’t “trust in the LORD” (v5); by inference they trust in themselves. This is so tempting for us when our beloved Saviour and gospel are under attack in the public square and amongst our friends, family and colleagues. It can be tempting to lash out in anger, but to do so is to follow the cynic who doesn’t trust the LORD to act in his good timing. It is no surprise to see that such cynicism bleeds into a lack of belief in God’s fundamental goodness towards believers (v6a).

The response of the cynic here is a salutary reminder that the godly distress David felt in v1 that so many are rejecting our LORD, can lead to a spiritually bankrupt cynicism. We must remain wary of that.

The Christian

Instead, we would do well to follow David’s personal response (vv6b-7). In contrast to the cynic’s rejection of God, he turns to God afresh: “Let the light of your face shine upon us O Lord.” And the result? v7: “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and wine abound.” As he lies in bed and revels in God’s character again, he is brought more joy than that brought by a good meal with some good vino to his enemies. Surprisingly, the answer to David’s prayer (v1) for relief is found in returning again to the One who is the cause of his distress. As he focusses on who the LORD is again, and how his personal safety is to be found solely and supremely in HIM, so his eyelids drop, and the sleeplessness flees. It turns out that godly insomnia can be cured, by looking again to the one who caused it.


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