A Theology of Sleep

So I am slowly wading my way through the Psalms these days, as well as reading a selection from the Pentateuch and Gospels. I shared some thoughts the other day from Psalm 1:3, particularly pointing out a phrase from the verse that had never previously spoken much to me, but God had highlighted it the other day.

Last night I was reading Psalms 3 and 4, two very short psalms. As a friend of mine had studied the Psalms a few years back, he noticed a particular theme arising in the first few psalms. In Psalms 1-6, it refers a handful of times to what God does in our sleep or on our beds.

  • Psalm 3:5 – I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
  • Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will both lied down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD.
  • Psalm 6:6 – I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.

Thus, my friend entitled these psalms the ‘sleep psalms’.

And when reading Psalm 4 last night, one particular phrase spoke to me – the second part of verse 4:

Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

How many of us lie in bed pondering? Or how many of us live our lives in a perpetual state of pondering? Well, that’s me. I love to ponder. I have a friend who loves to joke with me about it. But I do really like to think and ponder. Though I am an extrovert and very outgoing in public settings, I also am one who likes to roll ideas and thoughts over and over in my mind. A window to gaze out of is an open opportunity for pondering. I am very thankful for a gigantic window in my office so, if need be, I can just sit and stare out the window, contemplating life and God. And sometimes these things end up on my blog.

But, here, in Psalm 4:4, David is encouraging us to be people who ponder in our beds.

Now, I think this is somewhat different than lying awake all night worrying about a particular situation. No doubt this happens to us at times as well. A family member or friend has gone through a tragedy, your at odds with a co-worker and you dread going in to work, your child is struggling as they grow through the adolescent years, and there is a whole assortment of other possibilities.

Yet, in Psalm 4, I sense that David is speaking of something a little different: Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

This seems to speak of peaceful contemplation, not stressful worry. And there is something about lying our heads on our soft pillows, face up, to consider life and all its happenings. For me, I find it hard to ponder when I am on my side. Turning over on my side means it’s time to fall asleep, and I can’t seem to sleep on my back. So, face up, my back to the mattress, opens the way for Psalm 4:4 to become a reality.

Just as in Psalm 5:3 David encourages us to interact with God as we arise in the morning, here in Psalm 4, he encourages us to interact with our Father as we are going to sleep. It’s not a legalistic measure of making sure you have two ‘quiet times’ per day, one when you awake and one before you go to sleep. Rather, these words come in the midst of poems in which David is pouring out his affections and thoughts to the One who loves Him. This is a beautiful relationship.

And, thus, what better way can a day end than just lying in our beds, on our backs and face-up, pondering life and the things of God in our hearts. The verse also says, ‘be silent’, and I don’t imagine that being too difficult for us in such a position.

It’s almost like a meditative measure of communication with God. We think back over the day, think about family and friends, think about life, and all of these thoughts lead to meditations and contemplations and prayers. I don’t suppose great intercession will happen in such a restful state, but I do believe we will interact with the one who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:4).

I suppose this is even possible as we face trial and difficulty, for we definitely will face such things. But, as we do, we can look to embrace the practice of Psalm 4:4 so that we might experience the ‘peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ (Philippians 4:8). The trials probably won’t go away, the difficulties might not immediately phase out. But practicing such contemplative measures will be like a healing balm to one’s wearied and worried mind.

No doubt this is not our de facto mode of operation. We would rather worry than rest. Or, if all is fine and dandy, we might just hit our pillows with the only thoughts being, ‘I’m exhausted.’ And that’s ok (the tired part, not the worrying). But I only write these words to remind us of the great possibilities available to us as we do climb into bed, slipping our feet under the cool covers, and lying our head on our soft pillows. There is opportunity for reflection and interaction with Abba.

And when one enters into such a meditative and restful mode, I can only imagine that they will find themselves drifting into a peaceful sleep, maybe even with Christ being their last thought. And then, seven hours later (or less), you might just find yourself awaking with a continued sense of His nearness, able to, in some measure or other, speak the words of Psalm 3:5:

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

So, be encouraged by these words of Psalm 4:4 – Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. As we know, our God cannot be relegated to times on our knees or only in Sunday gatherings. God is just as present in the night when we go to bed. And He continues to watch over You even as you drift into the land of dreams.

2 thoughts on “A Theology of Sleep

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