Today: [Psalms Four] God’s Cure for Sleeplessness. In Psalm four we find David surrounded by negative people and struggling with pressure in his life. He looks back to the faithfulness of God in times past and crafts his prayers to be a reminder to himself and to God that good will come. He rebukes the pessimistic viewpoints around him and focuses on the goodness of God that he understands is not far off and in so doing finds rest and sleep that has escaped him because of worry and fear.
[Psa 4:1-8 KJV] 1 [[To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David.]] Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me [when I was] in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
The book of Psalms is largely among other things an audit of the prayer life of David. The prayer habit is a consistent challenge to those who hold a sincere Christian faith. The apostle Paul considered prayer and the exhortation to pray central to his apostolic calling:
[1Ti 2:7-8 KJV] 7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, [and] lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. 8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
Paul is saying “because I am an apostle I pray and I exhort others to pray”. There was a time in my life as a young pastor that I felt I was more called to pray for my congregation than I was to preach to my congregation. Which would be more impactful in the lives of people – the preaching of their pastor or the prayers of their pastor? I announced this from the pulpit and ignited a firestorm of controversy that almost caused me to be removed as shepherd of that particular flock. They weren’t interested in prayers – they wanted to hear preaching. What an astounding thing that 30 years later still amazes me.
When Paul says that men should pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath or doubting what is he saying? He is saying that you should pray about two things consistently: things that make you mad and things that make you down. Doubt and anger are the bane of Christian culture. Have you interacted with any doubtful Christians lately? Have you interacted with any angry Christians lately? Christians struggle with doubt and anger and unfortunately tend to take to social media before the go to the prayer closet. A great preacher once remarked on his own prayer life saying “I must seek the face of God before I seek the face of man…”
2 O ye sons of men, how long [will ye turn] my glory into shame? [how long] will ye love vanity, [and] seek after leasing? Selah. 3 But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. 4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.
David in delivering this psalm to the chief musician instructs that it should be played on an instrument called a “neginoth”. What is a “neginoth”? It is mentioned 7 times throughout the scriptures, mostly in the psalms and doesn’t refer to one specific instrument but rather what we would term “the string section” of an orchestra. The stringed instrument would include the harp, lyre, psaltry, etc.
When David cries to God he says he is crying to the “God of [his] righteousness”. What does this mean? In David’s day the concept of righteousness called for strict adherence to the law of Moses. David certainly did not disdain Moses’ law but his language here implies that he saw his righteousness as something originating in God Himself as the basis of his whole approach to God in prayer. The concept of prayer itself implies an expectation that we will be heard and get an answer.
On what basis do we expect when we pray that God will actually take the time to hear us and perhaps give us a response? To an Old Testament saint they relied on obedience to the law and animal sacrifice to make up the difference between the laws demand and their inability to fully obey. For us our righteousness from a New Testament standpoint does not originate in a performance based mentality. Romans 5:9 declares we are rendered just before God by the blood of Jesus. In other words it is who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us on Calvary that constitutes covenantally God’s self-imposed obligation to hear and answer prayer. As David we understand that whatever the basis of our entitlement to approach God it originates in Him and not in us, or our ability to leverage Him to act through religious performance.
David makes an interesting statement in this Psalm that is actually an observation he has gain through walking with God and learning something about what God does in our lives when we are in distress. Have you ever been in distress and wondered “God what are you doing?” David says “God – you enlarged me when I was in distress…” What is God doing when you are going through times of challenge and difficulty? If you were to quiet yourself long enough you would hear Him say “relax, I am enlarging you…” Therefore in the difficulty that provoked David to write this psalm he is saying to God “hear my prayer Father because I am struggling – I am coming to you because I know what you will do next, I realize that I am moving into a season of enlargement but I need your mercy to give me grace to endure the pressure”.
This is what Paul wrote of when on his second missionary journey his theme was:
[Act 14:22 KJV] 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
This tribulation that Paul speaks of has nothing to do with disease or anything that Jesus died to take off of you or out of your life by way of the cross. The word tribulation here is “manifold pressure”. When you are feeling pressure in your life it very often is not the enemy but rather a feature of your walk with God that will be an indicator to you that you are about to break out into the kingdom. What is the kingdom? Rom. 14:17 tells us that the kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy. Righteousness is entitlement. As a personal, daily experience righteousness is the phenomena of everything you say and do becoming as effective as if God said it or did it. Because Jesus is your righteousness – when you experience righteousness you are stepping into Him and experience what it is to be a God-man and a God-woman upon the earth.
In verse 2 David rebukes those around him that attempt to define the glory of God in his life in terms of shame and imposed guilt upon David. They are looking at David and thinking “you don’t deserve the blessing of God”. They are judging David by a human measurement and David knows that God measures and looks at us through the eyes of mercy and not malice. David concludes that those who seek to shame and scandalize his testimony are those who love vanity and seek after leasing. What is leasing? The Hebrew word here means delusion. Therefore what David is saying to his critics is that their hope that he will be brought to shame because he trusts in God will be dash. To David his critics in seeking his failure demonstrates that they are acting in futility, chasing the wind and are supremely deluded? Why? Because David knows that times of pressure will only result in his enlargement and promotion and not dismay, shame or destruction.
In verse 3 David gives the answer or basis for his confidence. He says that he knows his enemies and his critics will be brought to shame because God will hear his prayer. He knows that his life is not his own and God will hear him because he is set aside for God’s unique and particular use. In verse 4 David exhorts his own soul saying in effect “don’t look at what others are thinking – just commune with your soul in the night seasons and be still. God is working. Keep your attention on the Father and stand in awe of what you will see He is doing in the midst of your difficulty…”
6 [There be] many that say, Who will shew us [any] good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. 7 Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time [that] their corn and their wine increased. 8 I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.
David looks at those who are pessimistic in nature and say “who will show us any good.” I was raised up with the suggestion “don’t expect anything good to happen and you will never be disappointed”. This is the wisdom of the skeptic and pessimist. The leaders in Jesus’ day were very much of this stripe when they declared “can any good thing come out of Galilee?” We often ask this question – “can any good come out of this circumstance”. And then we go about to twist and pervert our understanding of God to somehow suggest that God wants us to suffer therefore it must be a good thing to be in pain. This is not what David is saying.
We need to extricate ourselves from the company of those who always look for the negative and see things in a negative light. When you find yourself in these conversations we need to fall silent and withdraw ourselves. You will never convince negative people that they have it all wrong. There is an arrogance in the negative that causes pessimistic people to be unteachable. Better to leave them to the consequences of their viewpoint hoping that in time they will be softened up by life’s experience and be willing to be led out of the hardness of heart they are experiencing into a place of humility.
In the company of negative people David found himself in he petitions the Father to “shine the light of [His] countenance upon him and his family. He is saying “God I am standing in a dark place surrounded by people who are full of darkness and criticism and pessimism. The only answer is the light of your countenance”. You don’t have to talk yourself into a positive mental attitude. What we are talking about here is not merely being positive but rather immersing yourself in the presence of God and the promises of God as an antidote for fear and unbelieve and ungodliness that is all around us.
In verse 7 David says that God puts gladness in our hearts the same way farmers put bumper crops in storage in a time of abundant harvest. Did you ever wonder where God stores the surplus of His goodness? We hear many who talk about storage rooms in heaven where answers to prayer are kept and that is a delightsome thought but David brings this much closer to home. He is saying that God stores up the bumper crop of His goodness on the inside of you which is WHY in verse 4 David says “be still and commune with God on your bed…” Because if you get quiet enough and still enough you will find that everything in God you think is so far from you is as Jesus taught regarding the kingdom – right on the inside of your own human heart. With that happy thought David lies down to sleep – thus pronouncing this whole psalm an antidote for insomnia and worried sleep.
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