What Thoughts Keep You Up at Night?

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Guest Contributor

I refer to them as my “3 a.m. moments.” Something stirs me from slumber, and a slew of thoughts compete for space in my mind. The minutes crawl, sleep seems distant, and the light of dawn is heavily cloaked.

Some nights, I’m assaulted by memories of past sins: careless words, lingering glances, simmering bitterness. Other nights, I worry about the future: the demands of the next day, the uncertainties of the next decade.

In these moments, my carefully constructed façade crumbles, my soul is laid bare, and my hidden fears are exposed. My mind is overwhelmed by a cacophony of questions that demand answers.

And it’s in these moments that God is teaching me to sing with the psalmist:

When I remember God, I moan;
   when I meditate, my spirit faints.
You hold my eyelids open;
   I am so troubled that I cannot speak. (Psalm 77:3–4)

A Cry for Help

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God,
   and he will hear me. (Psalm 77:1)

“If we are to slay dragons of fear in the night, we must remember God’s faithfulness to us throughout the day.”

The darkness disorients us. Try walking through an unfamiliar room with no light to aid you. Your stride will shorten to a shuffle, outstretched arms will try to compensate for useless eyes, and every step will seem fraught with a sense of danger. It is of little advantage to seek help from someone who is equally unfamiliar with the surroundings as you are. The company might be appreciated, but you’re still wandering in the dark.

In psalms of lament like Psalm 77, the psalmist looks to God for aid. When darkness settles over the soul and we cry out for help, it’s paramount that we direct our cries to one who is faithful and trustworthy to provide what we need. Rather than a mere companion to wander with, we need a Guide.

The rightly oriented lament begins with a Godward cry, however confidently or feebly it may pass over the lips. In Psalm 77, the confident cry of verse 1 (“he will hear me”) is followed by admissions of utter helplessness. And yet, this lament is aimed toward an ear that will hear.

In the darkest of nights, the Psalms establish a pattern of prayer. It begins with a cry to the God who is with us and will never leave us or forsake us. He surely hears our prayer and intimately knows our every sorrow.

Whose Song Will We Sing?

I said, “Let me remember my song in the night.” (Psalm 77:6)

There’s something about the stillness and the darkness of the night. Lying in bed, the body is motionless and the eyes cannot see. The mind is idle and demands to be stimulated, starving for something to meditate on. Will we reach for the paltry or the plentiful? The fleeting or the firm? The weak or the weighty?

This is no time to browse our own greatest hits. This isn’t the place to attempt to summon a song from personal experience. The weary psalmist tries it out, looking for solid ground in the subjective, but he finds no strength for a fainting heart. The only fruits borne by his diligent search are more questions, doubts, and fears. His most fervent prayer returns only intensified uncertainty until he lifts his gaze to the Rock that is higher.

Remember Him in Your Darkness

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
   yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
   and meditate on your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:11–12)

In the Psalms, confidence is bolstered by remembrance. It is never simply snatched out of the air. It’s built up by remembering the steadfast love and faithfulness of our covenant-keeping God — our refuge and our strength.

“The Psalms are meant to be sung with and to one another, repeated until their lyrics saturate our minds.”

We are a desperately forgetful people, and those lonely 3 a.m. moments amplify our forgetfulness. If we are to slay dragons of doubt and fear in the night, our churches and our families must become communities of remembrance throughout the day. Together, we must meditate on the mighty deeds and everlasting faithfulness of our Father. We should recall the finished work of the Son on the cross and his present intercession for his people. And we must hold fast to the powerful and life-giving work of the Spirit in our lives.

The Psalms are meant to be sung with one another and to one another, repeated again and again until their lyrics so saturate our minds that they become our song in the night.

Saturated with Hope

Your way was through the sea,
   your path through the great waters;
   yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
   by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:19–20)

Psalms of lament exist because of sin, but steadfast hope attends our cries because of Jesus: obedient, stricken, smitten, afflicted, crucified, dead, buried, risen, victorious, ascended, reigning, coming again — knowing that, one day, he will wipe away every last tear.

Lament and confidence are never mutually exclusive in the Psalms, and they ought not to be in our lives. Lyrics of sorrow mingle with lyrics of joy; the people of God sing through tears and trials, on the mountaintop or in the valley.

God is faithful to give the sweetest of songs in the blackest of nights. He gives us the strength to sing them when all we can muster is moaning. He is teaching us to sing, taking us by the hand, leading his people all the way home. He is the God of those 3 a.m. moments. He is preparing his saints to sing an everlasting song of unrestrained joy, offering full-throated praise to the glory of the Lamb who was slain.

As we wait for the day when darkness will be no more, he gives us a song in the night.

He is our song in the night.

lives outside of Ann Arbor, MI with his wife and four children.