My daughter’s eyes rolled back to the top of her head as she lost consciousness.
Just moments before, she had been crying in my wife’s arms, but now my baby girl was eerily silent. We quickly rushed her to the ER where she experienced 10 seizures in a span of 12 hours as the medical team scrambled to diagnose the problem.
Throughout the next week, she endured two hospital stays, one ambulance ride, a constant IV drip for anti-seizure medicine, and multiple neurological tests. It turned out to be a strong reaction to a virus, but the uncertainty made it so much worse.
That Sunday, I rolled wearily out of the not-so-comfy hospital cot to guest preach at another church. Despite no time to prepare the sermon, I had been living out these truths from Psalm 4 the entire week.
In Psalm 4, David is afraid for his life, yet he shows us how to rightly respond in a tight place. First, we must run to God (v. 1). When my daughter experienced yet another seizure in the waiting room, we were rushed into the ER like a scene from a movie. My wife and I watched helplessly as a team of medical professionals swarmed around her unresponsive body, which seemed so small on that full-sized hospital bed. Although fearful for our daughter’s safety, our natural instinct was to cry out to God. We didn’t have long or well-worded prayers, but simply the expression of urgency: “Help us, Lord! Save our daughter’s life!” Our knowledge of God’s past faithfulness and our confidence in His present character reminded us of His sovereignty even in the storm. In Psalm 4, David then warns us against three symptoms of sinful anxiety.
Shame and Guilt
We can often experience shame and guilt when we listen to the lies of others (v. 2). Once the initial terror wore off, we were tempted to question ourselves as parents: “Should we have brought her in sooner? Did we do something wrong?” We had to refute those lies by remembering our identity in Christ (v. 3). We are chosen and loved. We are protected and cared for. Even when we fail as parents, we are forgiven of sin and cleansed of our guilt. As God’s children, He will never leave our family nor forsake us.
David also warns against unrighteous anger (v. 4a). My wife was hypervigilant that first night as she waited for each new seizure to come. The next night, it was my turn to hold my daughter down as she screamed for hours and tried to rip out her IV. After two nights without sleep and the constant fear of each new setback, my wife and I were ready to snap at each other. We were growing frustrated with the hospital staff and had to hold our tongues to keep from sinful anger (v. 4b). Many times, we repented for our sinful thoughts and placed our trust in God (v. 5). Our anger was rooted in a deep anxiety which only the Lord could take away.
David finally warns against doubting God and letting our anxiety lead us to despair (v. 6a). In those initial hours of uncertainty, we were tempted to fear the worst-case scenario and had to continually remind ourselves to trust in God’s goodness and favor (v. 6b). Only then could we rejoice with God in the midst of our trial (v. 7). Like David (v. 8), we were able to rest in peace on those uncomfortable hospital beds once we trusted the Lord to take care of our daughter. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests His head at night, giving perfect peace.” We continue to be grateful for our daughter’s health, but even more grateful for God’s eternal peace in troubling times.
The following counsel provides wisdom for understanding and applying Psalm 4 when anxiety keeps you up at night.
Understand Psalm 4
In Psalm 4, David runs to the Lord in prayer (v. 1), then addresses three kinds of sinful responses to anxiety before he can rest in peace (v. 8). First, he rebukes the lying wicked (v. 2) by remembering his identity in God (v. 3). Second, he restores the angry (v. 4) by calling them to repentance (v. 5). Third, he reassures the despairing (v. 6a) by rejoicing in the Lord (vv. 6b-7).
David meditates on his covenant identity in the Lord through the promises of Scripture:
- Yahweh, his covenant God, has justified His people (v. 1) and listens to their prayers (v. 3).
- As a son of Israel, David is a covenant child (Exodus 3:14-15) and as the anointed king of Israel he is the nation’s covenant representative (2 Samuel 22:51).
- In addition, “The LORD has set apart the godly for himself” (Psalm 4:3). “The godly” who embrace Yahweh’s steadfast love are “set apart” as distinct from other nations (Exodus 33:16).
- David then calls the people of God to offer Levitical sacrifices (Psalm 4:5) and to receive the priestly benediction (v. 6; Numbers 6:24-26), which are both unique to Israel.
- It is on these promises that David rests in peace.
Apply Psalm 4
As you face trials in your own life, remember your new covenant identity in God through Jesus Christ:
- He is your righteousness who justifies you in salvation.
- You are chosen and loved.
- You are prayed for and protected.
- You are free from sin and forgiven of guilt.
- You are destined for eternal glory.
- You have been called by name.
- Beloved, you are His.
Pray Psalm 4
- Lord, thank You for graciously answering my prayers (v. 1).
- Fill my mind and heart with Your Word whenever I am going to sleep (v. 4).
- Increase the gladness in my heart for all the good You’ve given to me (v. 7).
- Let me be assured of the security I have in You (v. 8).
Counsel Psalm 4
Psalm 4 addresses common temptations for those who are anxious. To combat the suffering of sleepless nights, Godward prayer teaches the counselee to overcome shame and guilt, unrighteous anger, and spiritual doubts.
Projects for Growth
- David’s “distress” literally speaks of being in “a tight spot.” Is the Lord your go-to option in times of distress? Do you naturally turn to Him in prayer before seeking help elsewhere? Recite Psalm 4:1 to remind yourself of where you must turn. Reflect on God’s past faithfulness and His present, unchanging character each night before you sleep.
- List the truths about your identity in Christ which refute the lies of your enemies. For example, if God is your righteousness and salvation, then how can you worry about tomorrow?
- Review when you often become angry (either explosively or in smoldering silence). Can you trace your anger to fearful thoughts? If so, repent of both your anger and its root causes.
- Count your blessings in the Lord whenever you are tempted to despair about your circumstances. Write down a list of both your joys and trials, then compare which eternally matters most.
- Meditate on Psalm 4:8 and thank the Lord for every good night’s sleep.