Stillness in the Night

Stillness in the Night

Stillness in the Night.

“Know that the Lord has set apart for Himself the faithful one. The Lord will hear when I call to Him. Be angry and do not sin; Meditate within your heart on your bed and be still.” (Psalm 4:3-4, NKJ).

Holy. Evidently there are various interpretations to this first part of verse 3, due to conflicting manuscripts. Many scholars agree that it refers to the Lord setting apart those who are faithful, who are godly. Believers are called to be saints, which means set apart for His purposes while being separate from sin. We are called to be His priests, to serve God in the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Because God is holy, is set apart, we are to be holy and set apart. We are to live in  such a way as to flesh out His holiness, His goodness and wisdom. As priests we are God’s people “in the middle:” We represent God to the people, and we intercede for the people to God. We bring God to others, and we bring others to God. We acknowledge and applaud His glory and splendor, and we extend His mercy and kindness. In our call to holiness we, through His Spirit, are asked to make progress toward moral and spiritual maturity as we follow Him. We are set apart by God so we can make Him set apart in His character. We are in the process of being cleansed in order to increase our usefulness to God. As set apart holy ones, we are partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4; Hebrews 3:14), and we share in His holy life.

Receptive. God listens. Even when we can’t put two words together in our confused mind, God hears our spirit’s groans. The Lord keeps an open ear to our complaints and our requests and our praises. Jesus receives our prayers and intercedes for us with the Father on His throne. If it seems like our prayers don’t rise higher than the ceiling, don’t believe it. God hears our heart and reads our mind even if we have nothing particularly intelligent to say. It is good to pray the words of David in all humility in Psalm 17:6, “I call to you, God, because I’m sure of an answer. So – answer! Bend your ear! Listen sharp!” (MSG). As it turns out, God loves for us to bend His ear. He is eternally patient.

Anger. Righteous indignation is one thing… consider Jesus clearing out the Temple. But sinful anger is another thing altogether. The Hebrew word for anger means to tremble in agitation. Sad to say, but most of our anger is on the sinful side of things. Our hearts and motives are generally not pure enough to be righteously indignant, so be careful if you find yourself lashing out at others in anger, even if it’s for justice. This verse in Psalm 4 seems to be in the context of meditation on our beds at night. One translator wrote that this verse is referring mostly to the fact that we should shrink from offending God in our agitation, and that we need to keep silence on our beds and pray to Him in the calm stillness of adoration. St. Paul tells us clearly in Ephesians 4:31 to “put away all anger.” And he quoted this psalm in Ephesians 4:26 when he wrote, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” So aiming for self-control, we are advised here to settle our issues with others peacefully before we try to rest at night. And if that’s not possible, be at peace with leaving it in God’s hands for the night till you tackle it the next day. Going to bed with anger against another person usually means we wake up with a root of bitterness in our spirit. Stewing in our juices at night means we’ll be boiling mad when we wake up, which does not lead to resting in peace.

Stillness. Silence and stillness are increasingly improbable in our technology-driven culture. How does one follow the psalmist’s advice and remain still and silent upon one’s bed? After all, we continue to be bombarded all day with noise and distraction. We have developed a habit of noisy restlessness through smartphone surfing, texting and chatting; social media; internet news updates; video games; sports events on the screen; ipods and ear buds; television programs and cable news; movies; radio and music channels. We are hit with a tsunami of noise and commotion, so much so that when there is a possibility of silence, we don’t know what to do with ourselves and we seek out group chats or friendly banter. How can we settle down, be still, remain quiet, when we’ve been doing exactly the opposite in all the hours leading up to our nightly rest?

Perhaps we can achieve a measure of stillness and silence by declaring an hour of fasting from technology in the hour leading up to bedtime. Unplug everything, refrain from talking, and instead read, write, pray, think, take a nature walk, sit on the porch. This mini-sabbath each night will go far in dialing down the busyness, the noise, the distractions. As Eugene Peterson recommends, when it comes to bedtime, “Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking.”

“People who live by faith have always welcomed the evening hour for prayer, disengaging themselves from the discordant, arrhythmic confusion of voices, and sinking into the quiet rhythms of God’s words. It’s there, in the night, that we experience a will greater than our own – the will of God, whose answers precede our prompting. Our God works while we sleep. Without our help. Without even our awareness that He’s working. And that should help us all rest a lot easier.” (Eugene Peterson, Answering God).