Reaching into the Psalms: 23. Total Security (end of Psa 4)
Psa 4:8 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Process: This psalm starts with David calling to the Lord to answer him in his distress and ends in him declaring his complete sense of peace. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There is a process there: anxiety, prayer, peace, and we see the same thing in the process of this psalm.
David cried out to the Lord with request (v.1), and yet affirms his sure knowledge through experience that when he prays, the Lord hears (v.3). In between he addresses those who are causing his grief, those who demean the Lord and worship idols (v.2) and counsels them to check themselves out as they lie in bed (v.4) and to be faithful to the covenant and offer right sacrifices, trusting in the Lord’s mercy (v.5). He focuses on their wrong thinking, implying that the Lord is not there for them (v.6a) and so he prays that the Lord will let His face shine on this people (v.6b) and bring blessing that will transform grumbling into joy (v.7).
It is difficult to know exactly what is personal testimony and what is challenge to his detractors, but whatever it is, by the time he has off-loaded it all to the Lord, he is left with a sense of complete peace, total security. Yes, the opposition is there, but so is the Lord! Moreover he knows that the Lord is not only with him but also for him, and that means total security so at the end of the day when he goes to lie down, he is at peace.
Product = Peace: It is always good to unburden ourselves by sharing our concerns with someone near us, and the Lord is the obvious starting place to do that and, as Paul said, when we do that there comes a peace that goes beyond understanding. I think the very process of unloading to another lifts the burden, but as we do it in prayer, there comes a mystical exchange.
The Message paraphrase version puts it quite well, “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.” Look at that. A ‘sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down’. That’s a nice way of putting it.
Beyond Explanation: Well that is nice but actually the translations speak about a peace “which surpasses all understanding,” (ESV & NKJV & NRSV) or “transcends all understanding” (NIV). Surpasses means exceeds or goes beyond, while transcends means rises above. The product of our offloading our anxieties to the Lord in prayer is a peace that is inexplicable, you can’t explain it. For us it should be rooted in what the Message ended with: “Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life”, i.e. encountering him means we encounter the very source of our peace, the One who is, the One who is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), who is in total control and who is for us (Rom 8:31). Rooted in that, when it happens we just find this peace coming which just is and is beyond understanding or description.
Approaching Sleep: How we go to bed at night is quite significant. I know someone, a friend, who has to have an audio-book story playing quietly in the background to still their over-active mind. For many the thought of going to bed at night is not greeted with pleasurable anticipation. Many go with the worries of the day bearing down heavily upon them. For others, like my friend, they have had a day full of mental (or perhaps spiritual) activity and their mind is still full of it. The experts say beware the blue screen syndrome, the need to play games on some hand-held device for that lit-up screen works against sleep. Perhaps we should learn from David and Paul: off-load the day to the Lord, pour it all out before Him but remember, with Paul, to add thanksgiving for all the good bits of the day.
The possibilities of sleep: Sleep (after having offloaded to the Lord!) can be a time of recreation (Gen 2:21), even a time of revelation (Gen 28:11-), a time of guidance (Mt 1:20), a time of learning (Mt 27:19), a time of the Spirit’s blessing (Joel 2:28). It is interesting in the last quote that it is ‘old men’ (repeated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost – Acts 2:17). Young people tend to sleep more deeply and therefore dreams tend not to be so near the surface to be remembered on waking, but older people tend to need less sleep and it is often broken or shallower and dreams are nearer the surface, able to be remembered. All of these things – blessings in sleep – are rare when the mind is filled with worries, so good dreams become nightmares and not a blessing. Thus our suggested approach to sleep – offloading the day to the Lord – is an approach of wisdom that perhaps many should heed.
David – and us! David has prayed, has expressed his concerns, addressed his detractors, affirmed the Lord’s goodness and ends the day retiring to bed in peace with a strong assurance of complete security in the Lord. Perhaps we might add to end-of-the-day prayer the suggestion of reading a short passage of scripture that releases faith and encouragement. Some may drink certain sleep-helping beverages – fine! – but what cocktail could be better than a time with the Lord, offloading concerns, giving thanks for the good, and declaring the truths of His word? As we pray, like David and like Paul, peace descends and so sometimes we may not be able to get to the reading part, the peace just sweeps us into unconsciousness and a time of refreshing and blessing. May it be so.