This verse brought with it a flood of memory and thoughts of the present and future. The flood started with my youth. I was reminded of times when sleeping meant the nightmares would be back and I didn’t want to go to sleep. In what most would see as an odd twist, I often read the book of Revelation for comfort. I still do. I was reminded of times when the ache was so intense that sleep felt like it would never come. I remembered a time, a few days ago, when my thoughts refused to spin to a halt and let me sleep — that happens rather more often than I’d like to admit. There are times when Paul’s statement about my belief — that if Christ is not resurrected then I am the most pitiable of all people for my trust in Christ’s ability to raise me — presses in and I feel the weight of mortality and the questions that inevitably come with that state. I think of the things that concern me about the future and how those concerns will sometimes fill my mind to the breaking point and I will not sleep, but stare at the numbers on my alarm clock. I remember all of this and think of more still.
What does all of that have to do with the verse? Quite a bit. See, I cannot sleep if I do not feel safe; secure. If my mind refuses to calm or my heart is troubled then I am likely to lay awake all night. David, the psalmist responsible for these words, says that he lay down and slept. For a guy who spent a good portion of his adult life fleeing from people who were trying to kill him, that is saying something. For a guy who potentially spent much of his young life in the fields with the sheep, in danger of attack by lion or bear or wolf and exposed to the elements and exhausted because sheep are about the most foolish animal ever to walk the Earth and shepherding them takes energy, that is saying something. David writes these words from a position of understanding. He knew what it was to have your mind so full that sleep ran from you. He knew what it was to be in a dangerous situation and need to sleep. He knew these things and he wrote that he lay down and slept.
David adds this next note almost offhandedly, I awoke. Getting up this morning, I would not sum up what happened as I awoke and leave it there. My getting out of bed involves glaring at the alarm clock for having the audacity to claim it’s time to be up again and sighing and stretching and finding ways to feel human before I try to take on the day. David makes no note of such things. Sometimes, getting out of bed is almost as challenging as getting to sleep in the first place. My eyes open and in flood the things that must be done today. This is especially aggravating when it happens an hour or more before my alarm is set to sound. I’ve woken to a sense that something was wrong and I needed to figure out what it was. David looks at everything that is involved in his mornings and says simply that he awoke.
My experiences are not uncommon, sadly. I live in a society that is obsessed with what we are doing tomorrow, so our thoughts of that mythic day crowd our waking moments. The weight of that looming day can be crushing. How did David get through the worries and concerns and daily struggles of the very basic actions of going to sleep and waking up? He writes that the LORD sustains him. It is God Who chases away the worries and concerns about tomorrow and the fears that come at us when we’re trying to get to sleep. It is God Who pours energy into us to rise the next day (or night, for those who work graveyard shifts). I do not know how much energy it actually takes to bring a person out of sleep and to awake. Science could (and probably does) calculate the biological side, but what other energy may be required can only be calculated by those who can see it — and science cannot. In context, however, these words are about safety. The verses preceding spoke of God being David’s shield and the lifter of his head — implying that David’s head was drooping and hanging down, possibly in discouragement or sadness or a host of potentials — and of David crying out to God and God answering. It is after God answers that David lays down and sleeps and awakens afterward.
Am I worried and losing sleep over it? Then I need to cry out to God and He will give me peace. Am I surrounded by people who intend me harm of any stripe? Then I need to cry out to God and He will remind me that I am safe in Him. Whatever steals my ability to rest in God must be taken to Him in order for things to be put right and for me to be able to lay down and sleep and awaken the next day. Because the LORD sustains me. I can look back on my history and say that the LORD sustained me. I need to drag that truth out of the past and keep it solidly in the now. The LORD sustains me. Therefore I am able to sleep in peace and rise to greet a new day with joy.