Where Is God When Sleep Won’t Come?

Psalm 77

Asaph a poet / psalmist for the common man. Tells it like it is in everyday language, writing about experience nearly everyone can relate to. It’s been one of those days, or perhaps weeks or months. The kind you hear about and hope and pray never comes your way. It’s just been one thing after another – next challenge to be faced shows up before previous one is fully resolved. You make it to the end of the day, exhausted in both body and soul. Fall into bed, anticipating the rest and refreshing a good night’s sleep will bring.

But sleep refuses to come. Toss and turn, brain won’t shut off, can’t find either resolution to problems of the day or key to restful sleep. Begin second guessing, then wondering “where is God in all this? What did I do to deserve this? Why is God not answering? Why do I still feel the way I do? Is God angry with me?” Can probably add some of your own questions to the list. So how does Asaph describe his experience, how he deals with this kind of circumstance?

See a progression here: begins by pleading with God (1-3), moves to arguing with self (4-9). In first 9 verses references to self outnumber references to God almost 2:1 (21:12). Second half of psalm, attention shifts: Asaph progresses to meditating on God and his character (10-15) and then beholding him in his wondrous works (16-20). In this portion of psalm references to God outnumber references to self almost 4:1 (26:7)!

A. pleading v.1-3

begins with right source of help – cry out to God (1a)

Elohim (“God”, all-powerful creator God), verses 1, 3, 13, 16

Adonai (“Lord”, Master and majestic Lord), verses 2, 7

El (“God”, the true God of Israel), verses 9, 14

Elyon (“the Most High”, all-powerful God over all), verse 10

Yah (“the LORD”, self-existent covenant God who never changes), verse 11

recognizes need for importunity (1b)

psalm begins with voice of one pleading with God for relief (1); ends with God “speaking” with voice of command (18)

confidence that “eventually” God will answer (1c)

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me.” – if he won’t hear, why bother; God listening and responding the whole point of crying out to him

no evidence of delay – “in the day” (2a)

as soon as need was apparent, had recourse to God; didn’t rely on self for while first, then prayer

“posture” of prayer throughout the night (2b)

“Now, when he affirms that he sought the Lord in the day of his trouble, and that his hands were stretched out to him in the night season, this denotes that prayer was his continual exercise, — that his heart was so earnestly and unweariedly engaged in that exercise, that he could not desist from it.” Calvin

but without expected response (2c)

had found comfort and rest and strength through diligent prayer before, but not this time,… yet

remembering cause-effect from past causes mental distress (3a)

crying out to God in past (both personal and national) had brought response from God; what’s the problem, where’s the hangup – have I done wrong, is God displeased with me?

response to that: more crying out to God (3b)

even when strength fails, soul is overwhelmed, seemingly no word from God, have to keep going back to him

B. arguing v.4-9

can’t sleep – eyes wide open, can’t close even when I try (4a)

“Oh, how wearisome a thing it is to spend the long night in tossing up and down in a restless bed, in the chase of sleep; which the more eagerly it is followed, flies so much the farther from us! ….When thou canst not sleep with thine eyes, labour to see him that is invisible: one glimpse of that sight is more worth than all the sleep that thine eyes can be capable of.” Joseph Hall

can’t speak either – at a loss for words, cannot express thoughts and feelings (4b)

so overwhelmed with magnitude of trouble words escape, cannot formulate any kind of verbal expression

let me think of how it’s gone in distant past (5)

rather than be at mercy of over-active mind, will direct it to mediate on God and his past actions

now how about in my own past (6)

this is out of character for God, not what I have experienced previously; something’s not right here

self, think about it: has God stopped being God? (7-9)

6 serious questions about character of God – if any get a yes answer, God ceases to be God

C. meditating v.10-15

if there’s a problem it is with me, not God (10)

considering that God might have changed, that he’s no longer the God of the covenant, more troubling than psalmist or the Christian can bear; if there is a problem here, it’s not on God’s side

very possible there isn’t a “problem”, rather an opportunity God is using to bring about growth in his child

proper solution: meditate on God

his works of history (11)

what has been recorded in Bible, stories through church history – events that clearly demonstrate God’s character and attributes – power, compassion, goodness and mercy; enough for more than one sleepless night

his works of present experience (12)

what have you experienced of God’s wonders, times when God was clearly moving and acting

his holiness (13a)

God is holy, just, righteous in himself and all his doings; same is true of the purpose of all he does – the end of all his works is holiness and justice and righteousness

his majesty (13b)

he is incomparably good and great; holiness and majesty must go together – good but not great = powerless; great but not good = tyrant

his power (14)

of all gods someone could have on “god shelf”, only one actually does things, miracles, wonders; God of the Bible the only one who has clearly demonstrated his power

redemption (15)

God’s greatest work, greater even than original creation – re-creation, restoring the image of God in the children of God, conforming them to image of Lord Jesus rather than image of Adam

“this power most brightly shines in redeeming His own from the powers of darkness, and saving them from the chains of the arch-enemy of souls.” Henry Law

D. beholding v.16-20

God’s supremacy in nature

over waters of Red Sea (16) over clouds and rain (17) over the wind (18)

natural world responds without question or resistance to God’s command, even his mere presence – shame on mankind for being so dense

reiterated again in NT: “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” Mark 4:41

the mystery of his ways (19)

“You walked through the sea; you passed through the surging waters, but left no footprints.” NET

often we recognize God at work, are absolutely clueless how he brought his purpose about – far more important to know/recognize the who than the how or why

The ways of the Lord are past finding out. It is our wisdom to trust His heart, when we have no skill to trace His hand. Henry Law

his tender care of his people (20)

not a remote, distant, unfeeling God; have clear witness of history – God’s provision in all respects for his people

Two conclusions:

1 – God can be trusted even when he can’t be explained.

most times would not be good for us to know what comes next, how God is going to meet our needs

don’t have the capacity to understand all of the why and how even if we’re told

If God is God and does not change, he can be trusted.

2 – God uses affliction (testing) to help us know him better.

most of time, not about knowing ourselves better or knowing the why of our circumstances

about knowing God more fully, loving him more, being able to worship him better

“Tis well when a consideration of the divine goodness and greatness silences all complaining, and creates a childlike acquiescence.” CHS

The way to grow in times of affliction, sleeplessness – get the pronouns into the right order! It’s ok to express our feelings to God, to cry out to him for help. Shouldn’t stay there, though, focused on circumstances and challenges; should move to next level, meditation on God and his perfections. We will surely find rest in God that we will not find in answers to our questions.


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