When sleep would be a comfort and relief from the burdens and anxieties of the day—a true rest from the shackles of suffering—instead I lay awake in the void of the dark night, alone with my thoughts while the world slumbers. The Lord gives sleep to his beloved (Psalm 127:2), so why am I awake at three-thirty?
The truth is, you can’t escape the reality of a kind of suffering that touches every facet of who you are—including your sleep. Since Davin’s death this has been the norm. Awake at two or three or four, exhausted but wishing it was morning because at least then you would feel somehow sane about your condition.
Last night at three forty-five I paced through the living room for some water, thinking about one verse: “I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop” (Psalm 102:6-7).
As I re-read Psalm 102, I was comforted by a few things. First, sleeplessness is a normative reaction in Scripture to intense tribulation. I may feel alone in the black ethereal night, but I’m not the first of God’s children to go sleepless. It’s not that it’s good or a direct blessing in itself, but it is normal. I’m on familiar ground for a child of God, including the saints who wrote the Bible. God knew we’d go through these pains, and in his wisdom appointed these very words to bring us comfort.
Second, these restless nights are a God-appointed opportunity to pray and meditate on who God is. When David was in the wilderness and in great pain thirsting for God, he calmed his soul by looking forward to the night: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:5-6). The abnormality of the occasion gives way to God’s roundabout purpose—he has brought you to the desolate place to prepare a feast of himself for your joy (Psalm 23:5). He called Elijah to the wilderness to feed him by ravens, and so he calls you.
Consider the pattern of God’s redemptive work—he leads his people through the waters of deliverance into the wilderness (think desolation, not 21st century yuppie vacation), and in their great hunger and thirst satisfies them with Christ, who is the manna from heaven (John 6). “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. For whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:37-38).
The desolate places are also the places of abundant provision; if God leads you out, he will also supply. So finally, when God calls a man into the wilderness trial, his aim is your satisfaction in Christ. I want to set this thought above others in my heart today, namely, that my joy is founded on the unshakeable truth that God is most glorified in the praise of his people, which he pursues relentlessly. He is working round the clock without sleep to bring me joy through my appointed trials (Psalm 121:3-4), so great is his love.
All the works of God culminate in the praises of his redeemed people. The climax of his happiness is the delight he takes in the echoes of his excellence in the praises of the saints. This praise is the consummation of our own joy in God. Therefore, God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are the same pursuit (Desiring God, 50).
May our restlessness in trial be a constant reminder that God’s work of pursuing our everlasting joy in Him—even to the point of giving up his own Son on the Cross and as a High Priest who now lives and prays for us in all our affliction—never takes a break. God is restless in his pursuit of our joy in him. Hallelujah!