I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
My father would sometimes say, “I want to sleep on it”. My dad was a steady and deliberate man who when he did not want to make an immediate decision would wait until the next day; he wanted to think and pray about it overnight. Perhaps my dad had heard the old proverb about the pillow being the best counselor. Or perhaps he had pondered today’s passage from the Psalms. But I also have learned how pillow time can be opportune time to listen for God.
David wrote today’s Scripture and he relished the dark of night as a time for meeting with God. Retired from the world, solitary and still, David communed with God on his pillow. David’s many wilderness wanderings and troubles must have often kept him awake. But while others slept, God counseled David, and David’s own heart instructed him.
David writes today’s text in “synonymous parallelism”, which is a characteristic feature of Hebrew poetry. Synonymous parallelism is where the second line of a verse repeats the thought of the first line, but in different terms, using different images. Thus, David’s heart instructing him in the night is another way of David saying that the Lord gives him counsel. In the solitary quiet of night God speaks within David’s innermost being, and David finds his thoughts borne along and prompted by God.
Should the cares of life ever have tempted David to forget God during the day, the silence of night led him to remember his God. David tells us that he thought upon God as he lay on his bed, and meditated on Him in the watches of the night (Psalm 63:5). He remembered God’s character and goodness during the night (Psalm 119:55), and meditated on God’s Word in his wakeful hours (Psalm 1:2). David was often compelled at midnight to rise from his bed and to give thanks (Psalm 119:62). He found the solitude and silence of night to be most congenial to his spiritual growth. He learned to delight in those sleepless nights as times when God would counsel him and make His ways known within David’s heart.
It is interesting that the Hebrew word (kilyah), translated as “heart”, literally means “kidneys”. This is yet another instance when the psychology of the Hebrew Bible is so rich and complex. For the Hebrews the kidneys were metaphor for the deepest, most secret, most hidden recesses of the human person (Psalm 7:9; Jeremiah 11:20). As the kidneys were hidden under the fat of a sacrificial animal so they denoted to the Psalmist the most secret and hidden workings of his soul. It was the kidneys that belonged to God in a sacrifice, and they were to be consumed by God alone (Exodus 19:13). In those parts of himself known only to God, David experiences God teaching him during the night.
My sleep patterns have changed over the years. I was probably sleep deprived when I was father of young children, and often sleep deprived in their teen years. Then there were the lonely nights of lying awake, trying to make sense of life. But now, I seem to be at that stage where I don’t need as much sleep. Or, I wake up at three in the morning and can’t go back to sleep. I am learning to look at the wakeful hours as prime time for meeting with God. I can turn a seeming liability into an asset for my spiritual growth.
I find it helpful before I go to bed to read a few lines of Scripture or a few lines of good literature or poetry. (It’s always better for me than watching the late news!) But reading these few lines seems to plant seeds for thoughts to germinate in my deepest self while I sleep. When I wake I often awake to new insight on a problem, a new understanding of God, or a better way to express myself. My mind is always the most active when at rest. I can make the most of lying awake at night!
It was in the middle of the night that the little boy Samuel learned to pray one of world’s best nighttime prayers: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:1). Yes, God is speaking! Let us listen for Him!
- Can you think of any insights or intuitions that have come to you in the night?
- Can you think of some nights when God’s presence seemed very real to you? Can you think of some nights when God seemed far away or nonexistent? Why not take a few moments to talk with God about this.
- Before you go to bed, read a few verses of Scripture or a few lines of something good.
- As you rest your head on your pillow, pray: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. Then listen!
Grace and peace,
photo by Fernando Revilla