These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
When you get ready for bed every night, what is going on? When I wander up to the quiet and dark of our bedroom… Sharon is almost always asleep-I stay up much later than she does. Sometimes she is still awake… it takes longer for her.
But for both of us and I bet for many of you… we are going through some of the same experiences. When I go to bed, in the last few minutes before I go to sleep, I am sort of reviewing the day that has been… the highs, the lows… the unfinished business. Then my mind sort of leaps to the day ahead… the schedule… the issues… the unfinished business to be done. I am thinking about that day and what it will bring forth. Do you do that?
Some evenings, it is sort of hard to go to sleep. The day has been difficult… or I’m worried about the next day or the coming weeks or months. And the harder the day and the more uncertain the future, the harder it is to go to sleep. And counting sheep doesn’t help. My mind is racing… often trying to solve a problem or look for a way out. Do you have that experience? What keeps you awake?
I was talking to our neighbor who owns his own small business-making cabinets and counters. I was asking him how it was going. He said, "You know, before the recession, I lost sleep over how to keep up with all of the orders and we were going to get further behind. Many sleepless nights wondering how to make it work. Since the recession, he has stayed awake at night wondering where the next job would come from. He laid off 2 of his 8 employees and he loses sleep wondering if he can make the next payroll."
He is having a hard time sleeping. What keeps you awake? Is it wondering if your name will be on the next round of layoffs? Is it wondering where the next job will come from or how the interview will go? Is it dealing with the guilt you may feel when you have let someone down-your family or a friend? Or you have just been through a fight and you wonder how to repair the relationship? You wonder if the relationship will survive. Perhaps you have gotten a call from the Dr.-You need to come in. We just got your report. You hear the word-cancer.
Or maybe you are worried about your children… young or adult? What keeps you awake? Is it worry over your safety? Is it a traumatic experience?
If you have a hard time sleeping, then you would not blame the Psalmist if he might have a hard time sleeping as well. At least when you listen to his situation. This is a person who is under personal attack from others. His name has been slandered and his reputation may be ruined in his community. People are lying about him and there seems to be little he can do about it.
Truth is, when you read the Psalms, you can conclude that life is full of experiences that might keep anyone awake at night: there are enemies at your door… there are tribulations… (whatever those are-it can’t be good) there are faith crises-even wondering if God is anywhere to be found… ("My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?")— there is sickness… there is guilt…there is having to walk through dark valleys… through alleys of danger-right through a shadow of death-wouldn’t that keep you awake at night?
The Psalmist had plenty to lose sleep over. And you wouldn’t blame him. What makes it worse is that he didn’t have any sleeping aids to help him: no Tylenol pm-which is what I often take… no doctors prescribing a healthier lifestyle that reduces stress and anxiety… None of that. We might conclude that the Psalmist… in the midst of all of that seems to have little to do about a sleepless night.
But we would be wrong. The Psalmist had a sleep aid. He found something that gave him a peaceful night’s rest. Did you hear him? "I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety."
He has profound trust in God who knows what he is going through… a God who sees a future he cannot see… a God he trusts will lead him there in spite of present circumstances… and in that faith… with that trust… he drifts off to sleep. And in his evening prayer… do you see what he has done… he has reviewed his day… he has had that inner conversation you have with those who are slandering him… but then… he has turned it over to God…
What is so striking to me about this Psalm is that it is so real. It is so real about the problems… this is religion that glosses over the reality of life… it tackles it head on… but then through his praying… he finds his peace.
Prayer. Evening prayer. Something happened that gave him peace. What happens?
When we pray, what we do, I think, is to think a lot of deep, hard and good thoughts about God. And if I’m thinking about God, who am I not thinking about? I’m not thinking about me. And it turns out that thinking too much about me is not a real healthy thing for human beings to do.
John Ortberg got me thinking about this. He asked a question of his congregation I want to ask of you. Since the end of the Second World War, how much do you think the incidence of depression has changed? Do you think it has stayed about the same, gone up 10%, down 20%? If you don’t mind, turn to the person next to you and just take a guess at this. How much do you think the incidence of depression has changed since the end of the Second World War? Go ahead and make a guess. There’s been a lot of research on depression, as you all know, in our day. The best estimates are that since WW II depression has gone up about 1000%. It is ten times more prevalent in our day than it was not even a lifetime ago. This is a huge epidemic in our day, and, of course, it’s led to lots and lots (of sleepless nights) and lots and lots of folks asking the question: Why has depression become so much more widely diagnosed, so much more prominent?
There are lots of thoughts about it, but maybe the primary theory behind it comes from a guy by the name of Martin Seligman, one of the most prominent psychologists in our day. Seligman says, That as a society we have lost a sense of connection to something that is greater than ourselves, to something that is transcendent and good, to something that can command our devotion, our allegiance. We would say, our turning to God.
Seligman says, We have, kind of in our day, reduced all of life into the single, most common denominator and that is the self.
And the self is just too small a package to carry the weight of human anxieties… of the human hunger for meaning and peace and even transcendence. When I pray, my mind is on something besides me (and my problems) because my mind was not made to dwell primarily on my own self.
Maybe that’s why boredom has become so pervasive in our day. When I am thinking about me and my own little life and my own little agenda and how I am doing, it is crushing. We were made to think about something more… something better, bigger, richer than ourselves. 1.
Long ago the Christian theologian St. Augustine, who after having lived a very self centered and self absorbent life until he turned to God– Augustine put it this way: O Lord, you have made us for thyself and our hearts are restless unti
l they find rest in thee. Did you hear him? our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee. That realization was the turning point for Augustine.
The Psalmist today would agree: "I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety."
As I close this sermon I want to encourage you to see this Psalm as a model for your evening prayer… for that is what this Psalm is: an evening prayer. Every night he would take the day to God in prayer. I would invite you to reflect upon your prayer life and for you parents, the prayer life you are teaching your kids.
I have my parents to thank for the fact that I cannot go to sleep without saying at least a short prayer to God. When I was young, my parents would close the day with a short devotion and a prayer. They bought devotional books like: One Minute with God. And we’d say a short prayer. It was our routine.
Today, I prefer to have my devotional time in the morning. But you know what… when I put my head on the pillow at night, I cannot go to sleep without at least saying a little prayer. A prayer to thank God for the day… a prayer for my family… a prayer to release me from the problems of the day… and a prayer to be with me in the day ahead. It’s not a long prayer and to be honest… sometimes I drift off to sleep before I can say, "Amen."
Thanks to my parents, that is a daily habit… and yes it is a habit. We all have them. I know some of you have habits of going to basketball games. Others play golf on Fridays. I eat 3 meals a day. You know, not all habits are bad… eating the right foods… exercising… good habits. Perhaps the habit of prayer may be just what the Psalmist recommend to us at the end of a long, difficult day. A habit that might lead to a good nights sleep.
Do you remember a prayer many of us learned as children? Now I lay me down to sleep… I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.
The Psalmist would say… God will. No matter what. You can trust in that. Sweet dreams. Amen.
1. Reflections on depression and the self come from John Ortberg sermon "The Wonder of Worship" April 2008.