I am most susceptible to sin at night. I suspect it is that way for most Christians. We are tired and at our weakest as the day comes to a close. In the quiet, as we lay down and try to go to sleep, our fears, anger and frustration have room to surface. We’ve been too busy to think about them throughout the day, but when work stops, they come back. In the waning moments of the day we are most tempted to reach for our idols, our addictions, anything to give us relief. So as we fight to get to sleep, we often drift into sin: obsessive worrying, thoughts of rage, or something to anesthetize us: excessive amounts of alcohol, TV or mindless and sometimes dangerous internet browsing
The ancients learned to reclaim the night with prayer and their teaching has been preserved in the book of Psalms. At the beginning are two short prayers: Psalm 4, a prayer for the night and Psalm 5, a prayer for the morning. The Israelites of old understood that our prayer lives need to maintain a rhythm if we are to live in this broken world. It is a rhythm that keeps us in step with the beat of Creation.
There was evening (Psalm 4) and there was morning (Psalm 5) – the first day. (Genesis 1:5)
So how do we reclaim the night? What do we do with the thoughts of fear, anger and frustration that swirl around in our head? Psalm 4 points the way. It is a prayer that opens with a raw and loud honesty.
Answer me, when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long, O men, will you glory in my shame … (Psalm 4:1-2)
As you lived life today, you witnessed things that have made you angry. You’ve seen injustice either in the media or in person. Plans have been frustrated. Urgent prayers have gone unanswered. You’ve been sinned against. You have failed. There are demands placed on you that you are unable to meet. Whatever it is, lift them to heaven. Complain about them to God. Yell if you have to. Don’t keep them in. Don’t hide them. Don’t obsess over them. Lift them heavenward.
That’s where the night prayer begins. A desperate cry to God. God here is what is wrong with the world. Here is what is wrong with my life. Do something. The night prayer starts loudly, but moves into a time of reflection:
In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD. (Psalm 4:4)
It was Alexander Solzhenitsyn who wrote, “the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.” It is important to acknowledge the evils and injustices in or world. We should hate them. They should make us angry. But we also must acknowledge the sin in our own hearts. The time before we drift out to sleep is the time to “search our hearts” and ask ourselves the question “where in my life am I struggling to trust God?” Anger is often a symptom of a lack of trust in God. Confess those areas of unbelief to God. Be quiet. Sit in his presence and ask for the faith to trust him.
As you tune your heart to God’s move your thoughts to the hope of the gospel that cannot be overcome by the brokenness of the world.
Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’ Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. (Psalm 4:6)
In our world, it looks like the wicked prosper and inflict misery with impunity. But our hope is not in this world. It is fleeting and it is temporary. Our real life is with Christ and one day he will return and he will live forever with us on earth. That is in an inheritance greater than anything the world has ever witnessed. It is a treasure that nothing in this world can take away. Not even death. That is our true hope and security as we drift off into sleep and the psalm draws to a close.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)
May God grant you the space to cry out to him at night. May He give you insight into your own sin. In the end may he grant you the peace and sleep knowing that your life is in His hands.
* I am indebted to the writings of Eugene Peterson for what I have learned about prayer and the psalms. If you would like learn more about “praying the psalms” I encourage you to get his book, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer.