23. Total Security

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.

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13. Security

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 13. Security

Psa 3:5    I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me

Watched Over: I have struggled with this verse. As you are probably aware as you read these notes, often I find the paraphrase versions shed light on my ponderings, and I often like the way the Message version expresses it, but in this instance there is something crucial missing: “I stretch myself out. I sleep. Then I’m up again—rested, tall and steady,” i.e. there is no mention of the Lord! The Living Bible is better: “Then I lay down and slept in peace and woke up safely, for the Lord was watching over me.” That, I think, conveys more of the sense of what David is writing here.

But to backtrack, it’s an odd verse because you might think that the Message version is right in that that is how things are, surely, we get tired, we go to sleep and wake refreshed; that is what is called common grace, that is what happens to all of us. If only! Modern man seems to be more self-aware than his predecessors and sleep is one of those things you can read about in abundance. But the mere fact that so much is written about it, with changing ideas appearing from ‘experts’, suggests that sleep is not always as simple and straight forward as we just suggested.

The truth is that we can have difficulties with sleep. Yes, we can have trouble getting to sleep and we are told it may be an over-active mind, or eating or drinking too much too late, or we may be turning over worries of the day in our mind. I know of someone who has music or a story playing quietly in the background to help overcome the concerns of the day. When we do eventually get to sleep it can be just as bad and we may only have shallow sleep, sleep that is broken and comes to wakefulness from time to time, or that semi-wakefulness can be invaded by particular concerns that go round and round and just won’t stop. When that happens I now get up go downstairs, look at the stars, make a cup of decaffeinated tea, sit at my computer for half an hour and then invariably go back and sleep soundly. There is one school of thought that suggests that our ancestors tended to usually have two-periods sleep just like this.  The older you get, they say, the less sleep you need, and you certainly worry less about broken nights. In sleep, bad dreams can be an indication of worries (as well as eating wrong food before going to bed!). And so we could go on. The fact is that mind and body work together and, when we are not careful, conspire together to cause all these various problems.

But David is testifying to the Lord’s presence and provision. He has said He is like a shield who surrounds him, sheds His light on him and encourages him (v.3), that he can cry to the Lord and knows that the Lord will answer him (v.4). Yes, he may be on the run from Absalom, his throne has been taken, his rule may be ended, and he may never see Jerusalem again – and indeed his very life is under threat – but he has learned that although the Lord is disciplining him, He is still on his side and so he can further testify, “I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” (v.6) He knows, as Job had come to learn, that the Lord may discipline him and even use Satan and his agents to come against him, but the instruction to the enemy is always summarised as, “Thus far and no further.” God has been there for him in the past, and although he has sinned and is under discipline, David has learned something we need to learn – God has not given up on him. God is still in the business of redeeming his life and He hasn’t finished with David.  Whatever your failure, as long as your heart is still pointed in God’s direction, He has not given up on you.

I like even more the ‘Easy-to-Read Bible version of verse 5: “I can lie down to rest and know that I will wake up, because the Lord covers and protects me.” That touches on something that is peculiar to David’s situation.  David has known by past experience that it is possible to creep into an enemy’s camp in the middle of the night with the possibility of assassinating the leader. (1 Sam 26:7) Not only is David secure in the knowledge that if a mass-army turns up, the Lord will still be there on his side, but that divine protection extends to keeping him secure from assassins.  Physical strength restored, mental peace assured, spiritual resources recharged, these are all part of the design and work of the Lord and now, as well, complete security.

Perhaps nowhere is this assurance conveyed more clearly in Psa 121 which starts, I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?” The mountains could be a source of threat, for surrounding Canaan were mountain tribes and peoples who would sometimes come down and invade. In the mountains so often Israel had the so-called ‘high-places’, places where images (idols) were set up and worshipped, false idols, false worship. These were the possibilities open to the psalmist as he wrote that psalm.

But he will not be put in a state of fear by such threats and he will not turn to false gods, for, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v.2) Yahweh, the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, He is his source of security. “He will not let your foot slip.” (v.3a) i.e. he will make me secure so I can stand firm in the face of all threats. But there is something wonderful about the Lord – He is on the job twenty-four hours a day: “he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” (v.3b,4) and so he could say, “The Lord watches over you,” (v.5a) but God doesn’t watch inactively, He watches to protect.

So, continues the psalmist, it doesn’t matter what is going on around you because, “the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v.5b,6) i.e. total protection. Indeed, “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (v.7,8) The Lord watches over His children to keep them from harm. (This is not to say we can’t walk out from under His protection foolishly and suffer harm). Yes, persecution may come but whatever threats come, nothing can take you away from the Lord’s love (read Rom 8). In the midst of ‘whatever’, the Lord is there and His command to the world is “thus far and no further”. For David under God’s discipline that was the sense of security that he had and thus he can testify as he has. May we be able to do the same.

3.5 Security or Supply

Short Meditations in Psalms: 3.5  Security or Supply

Psa 3:5  I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Whether David means this is the Lord’s response to his prayer or is what he normally knows as the Lord’s provision is unclear. It is perhaps both; he normally knows the Lord’s provision but when he prays that provision is intensified if you like, for that surely is how it is so often.

As a verse it sounds so simple – unless you are someone who is kept awake by worries!  Worries must be one of the prime reasons we cannot sleep. When we have anxieties they seem to go round and round and round and just do not stop. When your life is under threat, as David’s is at this time, that must be doubly so.

Worries, concerns, anxieties, call them what you will, are a natural response when life turns bad, when things go wrong, when accidents occur and when people turn hostile. All of these things are difficult to handle and so all of them raise the emotional temperature of life. This is especially so when we can do nothing to change the situation except wait. If you read David’s story in respect of Absalom, he had to run, but he also trusted an old counsellor back in Absalom’s court to slow things down. There will no doubt come a battle sometime as Absalom will bring his forces against David but until then all he can do is wait, and waiting times are sometimes the worst; uncertainty is a real cause for concern, i.e. worry!

So, yes, David has every reason to sleep badly! The thing is with life, we need sleep! We can cut back on the hours we sleep but only for a limited time before it starts having a physical impact on us in our waking hours. But now, whether it is the result of his prayers or his long term knowledge of the Lord, he is able to say, “I lie down and sleep.”  That is actually a testimony. It says, “I have peace”. If you are someone who really sleeps well, don’t take it for granted; thank the Lord for it.

But he adds, “I wake again.” Again, so simple, but it says, ”I have survived the night.” It sounds so obvious but knowing his own experience in the past with Saul, he knows it is possible for an enemy to creep in during the night and kill. But, no, he is secure!

And why? “because the LORD sustains me.”  The word sustains suggests not so much protection as a supply that resources him. The Lord as his shield (v.3) is his protector, but now there is something more than that, the Lord is the provider of peace and peace is the assurance of security, isn’t it. When we are at peace we feel secure. Perhaps part of it is the assurance that the Lord is in control and He will look after me. With that sure knowledge I can sleep.