A Psalm for Restful Sleep

Image by  Karyn Easton

Image by Karyn Easton

Unless the LORD builds the house,
        those who build it labor in vain.
     Unless the LORD watches over the city,
        the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
        and go late to rest,
     eating the bread of anxious toil;
        for he gives to his beloved sleep.
(Psalm 127:1-2)

Do you have trouble sleeping? Paradoxically, the busier life gets, the more tired we are and yet the harder it is to get good rest! We don’t have time for it, or when we finally do lay our heads down at night there are so many things racing around in our minds that we can’t fall asleep. Work is meant to be fulfilling, but ever since the fall it can often be tiresome; or as Psalm 127 puts it, it can feel like “toil.”

We’re exhausted keeping up with it all.

We burn the candle on both ends, and we end up being burnt out because of it. It may not be a normal nine-to-five job that’s wearing you down, either. It could be the work of motherhood, the stress of dealing with relatives, the unending demands on your schedule of school and sports and society. It’s exhausting to keep up with it all—but we do our best! Shouldn’t we get some credit for that? 

Actually, no.

According to Psalm 127, any of our striving apart from God is “vain” or useless. There’s no sticker for trying hard apart from God. There’s just toil and anxiety. Just restlessness. But that’s not God’s desire for us. He wants us to trust him with the labors of the day: getting the kids lunch, running that board meeting, taking care of mom, doing the laundry—whatever we do, we do for the Lord (Col. 3:23-24).

Rest is actually a gift from God.

When we give over these duties and responsibilities to God (as opposed to attempting them in our own strength), God gives us something in return: sleep. Rest is actually a gift from God! One that he reserves for his beloved children. That’s his desire for us: that we would find rest in him, no matter how busy our lives are. The pattern is reversed when God is put first: no matter how busy we are, we will have rest. These words from the psalmist anticipate Jesus’ words on the same subject in Matthew:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28–30)

God’s children have spiritual rest that spills over into the rest of their lives.

Are you finding rest? Or are you laboring in vain? As Christians, we should be considered (in a sense) the most well-rested people in the world, because we have been given spiritual rest from God! That spiritual rest will spill over into every aspect of our lives if we allow it. We will be able to lie down at night and fall asleep, for we have committed the cares of the day to the God who has completed all the work that really matters in Jesus Christ. We don’t need to toil. We can, instead, sleep!

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Jonathan Landry Cruse is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI. He is a published hymn author and his works can be viewed at www.HymnsOfDevotion.com.

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