Sermon: Lying Down and Sleeping Like Jesus

A sermon for the second week after Pentecost from Psalm 4 — you can watch/listen here starting around 27:14

The last verse of Psalm 4 is one of the most well known lines of any Psalm:

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)

Here is the question I want to think about with you this morning: Why is it that the psalmist can lie down and sleep in peace? We can all see the second half of verse 8: “For you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” But how does that work? We also know the answer that’s found in the second half of verse 5 — we should put our trust in God — but how? How can we trust God and just lay down and sleep in peace?

I think everyone can relate to this question, whether you are 8 or 80. Since I help put my kids to bed at night, I know that bed time can be difficult, and that’s not just because they have left over energy. I myself might be the world’s best sleeper. I’ve never physically struggled with anything like insomnia, but I also know that I still struggle to go to bed a lot of nights. Despite knowing that restorative sleep would be best for me and that my whole perspective on life would be more hopeful in the morning, I feel the pull to stay up late and run from the stresses of life.

This is not just a kiddo problem or a mid-life problem. The issues of sleep and anxiety are human problems, and the Lord has some grace to speak to us from Psalm 4 this morning. There’s a Christ-shaped pattern of life laid out in this psalm, and I want to help you see it.

What it’s not: All his prayers are answered now

Notice what verse 1 says:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

Why can the psalmist lay down and sleep? Well, it is not because all of his prayers are currently answered. We do believe in prayer — we even have a book for it. We do believe that every single prayer is heard and welcomed. We do believe that no prayer will ultimately be unanswered, but we can’t tell God that his timing must be our timing. It’s clear that for the psalmist himself, presumably David, his prayer is not yet answered.

Are you ever tempted to think that if God were real, then surely he would have answered your prayer requests by now? It’s OK to confess that we doubt because we know where to take our doubts. We don’t push them down and ignore them. We take them to Jesus and pray, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Jesus heard those words from a man once, and do you know what he did? He stepped toward that man with help; he did not turn away.

Why can the psalmist lie down and sleep at night? It is not because all of his prayers are answered right now (4:1).

What it’s not: Everyone treats him how he likes

Let’s look at verse two:

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?

From these words it is clear that some people don’t treat the psalmist how he likes to be treated and how he should be treated. Because of how he is treated, he experiences shame. He should receive honor, but instead he gets shame. He is misunderstood.

Do you believe that Jesus can relate to you in this place? “What does God know about shame?” Surely you hear the answer to this question already. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus not only felt and experienced shame, but he felt and experienced shame to the point that he despised it. He despised the shame. Can you push your imagination far enough to imagine Jesus feeling shame such that he hated it? He knows that feeling.

It is so important for you to know that in the darkest hours of your day — whether this is at night or at 10am when everything is supposed to be OK — Jesus can understand. You can come to him. You can say something as simple as “Help me, Lord,” or you can open the prayer book and just start reading the Daily Office. He will meet you there with grace.

Why can the psalmist lay down and sleep in peace?

  1. It is not because all of his prayers are answered right now (4:1), and
  2. it isn’t because everyone treats him like he wants to be treated (4:2).

What he knows: God has given relief

There are some things that are true, and this is where the psalmist ultimately rests. Don’t you wish in those darker moments of doubt and shame and misunderstanding that the true things would shine through brighter than the darkness?

Take a look back at verse 1:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

Did you hear it? The Lord has answered his prayers in the past. He said, “You have given me relief when I was in distress.” Can you remember times in your life when the Lord has given you relief? Whether you can remember it or not, it has happened. Whether you call yourself a Christian or not, he has done it. James says every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights. Matthew tells us that the Father causes his sunshine and life giving rain to fall on us all, just and unjust.

This truth is the basis for our faith. God’s faithful acts in your life and beyond are the basis for our future looking hope. Have you thought about this before? I know Leslie has because before we were married, in Gastonia, N.C., I taught a class at church on a precious little book called Future Grace. It expounds this truth in various ways chapter by chapter. What truth? The simple fact that all that God has done in the past — in creation, in the covenants, in Jesus, in preserving the church, in your life — all of it is designed to help us look forward to tomorrow with faith and hope.

When you think of God’s grace to you in the past, you might be tempted to think that all that good you’ve already experienced probably means you are due for some hard times to balance it out. Have you ever heard that bouncing around in your head? I know I have. It’s crazy, but in the moment it’s persuasive. Listen to this prayer from Lamentations 3:22–24, from the depths of crisis and heartache:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

What he knows: God cares about his people

Look at another truth from verse 3:

But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

Two things in this verse that are essentially one:

  1. The Lord has set apart the godly (that’s us — I know you might object, but stay with me. I’m coming back to that) for himself, and
  2. The Lord will hear when he calls.

These two truths are essentially one truth: God is for us. To put it more poignantly: God is for you.

Now, let’s address this “godly” problem. If each of us were to write a few words of description about who we are — something like a social media profile — I doubt many people would be bold enough to use the word godly to describe themselves. I get it; I don’t think I would either. But if this sort of reflex causes you to be unable to apply the words of scripture to yourself, well, that’s another level. That’s an issue.

You see, we are free to identify as the godly not because we have it all together but because we are in Christ. In one of the first sections of Morning and Evening Prayer, we read the words: “Restore all those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to all people in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You see, “in Christ” is a very important way of talking about who we are. It is Bible-talk through and through:

  • Romans 8:1 — There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:30 — And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption …
  • And Paul closes the letter, “My love be with all of you who are in Christ Jesus.”

You don’t have to shutter at words like righteous and saint and godly. Don’t hesitate to apply these verses to yourself any more than you would hesitate to apply them to Jesus. Let me tell you some good news this morning:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).

Now, let’s hear the verse one more time. The psalmist says in verse 3,

But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

The psalmist can lie down and sleep in peace not

  1. because all of his prayers are answered right now (4:1), and
  2. it it isn’t because everyone treats him like he wants to be treated (4:2).

He knows

  1. God has given him relief in the past, and
  2. here, he knows God is for him.

The call: Be quiet

So where do we go from here? Knowing the truth — as important as that is — doesn’t always fix our problems. The Lord, through the psalmist, has some help for us here. Look at verse 4:

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

There is a call here. Whether you are angry or misunderstood, whether shame-filled or scared, there is a call to be quiet. How often do we try to fix our problem with our words? How often do we lash out at someone or try to fix the people in our life, yet the Lord calls us here to be silent. It isn’t the only call of scripture, but it is the call here.

I recognize that it is difficult for us modern people to be quiet, but the idea here isn’t necessarily solitude and rest. Sabbath rest is wonderful, but consider another model from Exodus 14. Do you remember what Moses said to Israel as they were hard pressed against the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s army on the other? Exodus 14:14:

The LORD will fight for you, and you only have to be silent.

Moses said be quiet, but he didn’t say you need a Sabbath. There is another type of silence that involves allowing God to fight our battles for us. We desperately need to hear this truth: the Lord will fight for us. We don’t have to fight other people — whether those people are those people, whatever that means for you, or it is the people within our own family. We don’t have to fight. Even a king’s heart is like the banks of a river in the Lord’s hand. He can turn the heart of a king like the banks of a river turn the river, says Proverbs 21:1, so how much more capable is God of directing the thoughts and desires of our children and siblings and spouses?

The call: Ponder

Verse four also calls us to ponder. Ponder what? You can start with the truths of this chapter. Think about how he has worked for you in the past, and dare to imagine how he can and will work for you again. Ponder the fact that he is for you, even in your current situation. Ponder how if verse 8 is true and he is our safety, then that means he doesn’t sleep when we sleep. Ponder the creeds. Ponder the words of the Daily Office that are saturated with scripture and there for you at every hour of the day.

This isn’t the power of positive thinking; it’s stepping into the promise and power of the Spirit, who says in Isaiah 26:3,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

The call: Act

There is a call to be silent and wait, there is a call to ponder and think deeply, and there is also a call to do the next right thing. Look at verse five:

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.

This pattern that we are laying out — though misunderstood and mistreated, hold your tongue, direct your attention to what is true, and do the next right act of service — does this rhythm not have a familiar beat? The call is to embrace the life of Christ. His whole life was an act of trusting the Father to declare to the world that he was right, and the Father did it for him in the resurrection!

In the meantime, Jesus stepped forward by the power of the Spirit and served people who did not deserve it, and he lived this way because he said this is what the abundant life looks like. Jesus’s life shows us that true joy and fulfillment is found in living a life of service to people who don’t deserve it. We have four Gospels partly because we need not one or two or three but four visions of that beautiful, abundant, joyful life of service we see in our Lord.

Sometimes it is hard to lie down and sleep because we know that in the morning we have to get up and do this or that. This anxiety doesn’t have to stop us. Jesus was hard pressed on every side, and he rested and he quietly waited on the Father. He got up day in and day out and did the next right thing. Yes, I’m using words from the Book of Elsa to describe the life of Christ because I know those words are meaningful to my wife.

The call: You Have People to Help

We are coming to a close, but this point is one that I find so helpful day-to-day. Look at verse six:

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

It is not clear in the orignal language whether the quotation should end after the question, “Who will show us some good?” or after the response, “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” I tend to read the question as words spoken of “the many.” Many people ask, “Who will show us what is good?” The psalmist hears these words, and then turns to God for help asking God to lift up the light of his face upon them. This is how the prayer book does the punctuation. The ESV, however, puts the whole thing in quotes so that “the many” both ask the question and they say “Lift up the light of your face upon us” to the Lord.

Either way ultimately makes sense because we all, the world and the church, need help seeing and knowing what is good. Don’t you feel it? Aren’t you sometimes overwhelmed with the bad and just want to cry out, “Will someone please show me what is true and good and beautiful in the world?” Every person looks for good, and every person in their pursuit of good, whether directly or indirectly, is crying out to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

And this is where you come in. You have to lie down and sleep at night because you have something to do in the morning! We are the light of the world, Jesus says, and you might think, “No! I can’t do that! That is grandiose and hard!” But don’t you remember Jesus’s words. This light of the world thing happens in little ways every day, in little deeds. Jesus says,

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).

There is a supernatural cause and effect built into acts of kindness. Kindess and love — just listen to those words. Does a preacher really have to convince you that kindness and love are in short supply? That they might be perceived as strange and other worldly in this day and time? Jesus promises that God lifts drooping heads through our little good deeds, as simple as kindness.

Conclusion

Why can the psalmist lie down and sleep at night?

It’s not because all his prayers are answered right now, and it’s not because everyone treats him like he wants to be treated. He knows that God has given him relief in the past, and this helps him look to tomorrow with hope. He knows that God is for him. Ultimately, as verses five and eight say, he trust that God is his safety.

Redeemer, may God give us grace to step into this Christ-shaped pattern of living by embracing the call to be quiet and wait for the Lord to fight for us. May the Spirit help us ponder the many truths that scripture holds out to us and thereby stabilize us when we are hit with the uneasy feeling that comes from wave after wave of life’s difficulties. May we, like Jesus, get up and do the next right thing, trusting that our ordinary life will point people to the Father and lift drooping heads towards true hope.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.