Psalm 56: Tossing and Turning

What keeps you up at night? Work-related worries? Family troubles? Global warming??? Or maybe just a snoring spouse?

Psalm 56 is another lament. The writer has a good reason for sleeplessness. He is under assault by those who would harm him. He states, “Be gracious to me, O God, for men trample upon me; all day long foemen oppress me; my enemies trample upon me all day long, for many fight against me proudly.” (1-2) “All day long they seek to injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They band themselves together, they lurk, they watch my steps.” (5-6)

They are seeking his life. “As they have waited for my life, so recompense them for their crime,” (6b-7a) he pleads.

These concerns keep him tossing and turning throughout the night, yet the psalmist remains convinced of God’s care, who not only keeps a record of his sleepless nights, but counts all of his tears. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle! Are they not in your book!” (8) God knows all of our trials; God keeps track.

What a wonderful image of God collecting all of our tears in a bottle where they may be safely preserved. Not a tear is lost. In Isaiah and again in Revelations, we are reminded that, “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Is 25:8, Rev. 7:17, 21:4) Our God is not uncaring, watching people from afar, but actively involved in people’s lives.

The psalm ends with a confident assertion of trust in the Lord, “in God I trust without a fear. What can man do to me?” (11) Following the lament format, he makes a vow to God, “My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” (13)

Chances are you are not being beset by those who would kill you, but all of us have experienced sleepless nights. This psalm offers words of comfort. When we can’t sleep, give it all to God who not only counts every hair on our head, but every tear. Rather than brood over whatever is keeping you awake, wasting time trying to solve all the problems of the world, turn to prayer. It works better than counting sheep. Even if we fail to fall asleep, we will have used the time well, and God will remember.

So, what keeps you awake and what works for you when you can’t sleep?

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