Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah. But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:1-8)
My alarm has gone off. I drag myself out of bed. It has only been a couple of hours since I laid down. Last night was haunted by the ghosts of my failure, past and present. Last night, I heard the voice of the accuser of the brethren reminding me of my sin and my shame. And yet as I wake up, sit at my desk and look out the window I am greeted by the sunrise. Blues, oranges, and pinks fill the sky, and I am struck by the beauty of it all, by the magnitude of it. God knew that I would have a rough night, full of doubt, full of fear. He knew that sleep would not come easily. So this morning, he kissed the sky for me. But last night, as I laid there in the dark, my heart was flooded with fear. I know God has forgiven me because he promised to (1 John 1:9; Isaiah 1:18). I know that he cares for me, that everything that happens is for my good and that he loves me to the end (Matthew 6:25–34; Romans 8:28–39; John 13:1). And yet, there I was in the dark wondering, “What will happen tomorrow? Will I wake up and remember? Will I be able to sleep tonight?”
This psalm is often referred to as an evening psalm and is supposed to read along with Psalm 3, a morning psalm. Where Psalm 3 speaks of the grace of God that sustains us in the morning, here in Psalm 4 we read of David’s words as he lays down and sleeps.
He starts with this affirmation of the faithfulness of God, “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!” David cries out with this cry, this ugly prayer. This is not the type of prayer that comes after a nice, easy day, where everything goes well. This is an ugly prayer. It is the sort of prayer that is not safe. It comes in the dark, in the middle of the night, when darkness is pressing in. This is not the sort of prayer that the pastor prays in church—you know, the safe prayers. God, heal this person. God, make that ministry go well. This is not the sort of prayer that we read later, prayers of sheer joy. No, this is the sort of prayer that gets prayed when you are laying on your side, in the fetal position, in a pile of tissues and a puddle of tears. Oh God, you are the one who has made me righteous. Answer me. Please, God, answer me.
David reminds himself of the nearness of God in the middle of his past suffering: “You have given me relief in the past when I was in distress. Now do that again, please. Be gracious to me and hear me!” Have you been in this sort of place—this place where all you have to hold onto is a distant remembrance of the deliverance of God? Notice, though, that this is exactly what David calls to mind. For David, it was less distant and yet here as he records this dark season, he calls to mind the work of God in the past.
He now turns to his accusers: “O men, how long …” David meets the accusations of those around him with the confidence that comes with the salvation that Christ gives him. John Calvin, the great reformer, says, “The sum is, that since God was determined to defend David by his own power, it was in vain for all the men in the world to endeavor to destroy him; however great the power which they otherwise might have of doing him injury.”(1)
This is the hope that kept David through the night, this the hope that we have as we face those who accuse us. God has “set apart the godly for himself.” He has done this through the person and work of Christ. Christ has come. He has lived the way you should live, he died the death that you deserve, taking God’s wrath away from you, and then he was raised from the dead. In the middle of all of this, there was this incredibly important event. The curtain that separated humans from God, that kept God in the holy of holies, that very curtain was torn in two. God broke into the midst of our pain and allows us to bring our requests to him as those who are counted as “godly.” This glorious truth is what gives you, dear believer, “confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19–22).
“Who will show us good?” (v. 6). Who will show you good, dear child of God? In the dark, in the midst of depression, in the middle of suffering and pain, notice what David says: “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” This benediction language brings to us the comfort that comes as we live in the light of God’s loving presence. In his is presence is joy forevermore, more so than even a good harvest of grain and a lot of good bottles of wine. Again Calvin says, “The faithful, although they are tossed amidst many troubles, are truly happy, were there no other ground for it but this, that God’s fatherly countenance shines upon them, which turns darkness into light, and, as I may say, quickens even death itself.”(2)
Dear believer, are you waylaid by doubt and fear? Are you saddened by the way things go, the things people say? Can I encourage you to ugly pray, to come to God with all the brokenness of your heart? Then know that the “God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Lay down and sleep, dear one, for God alone makes you dwell in safety. Those who accuse you cannot ultimately harm you.