8. God, My Maker, Who Giveth Me Songs In The Night
NIGHT is a mystery in our life, and remains a mystery. For years together, sleep to most people is a provisional going out from life, in order after some seven or eight hours to come back to it. When they fall asleep, which most people do immediately after their head touches the pillow, they are gone, and when the hand on the dial of the clock has moved on a given number of hours, they rise and resume their part in life. At most they have an occasional remembrance of a dream that entered into their sleep, but for the rest it is all a blank. The seven hours during which they were lost in unconsciousness passed by unobserved, and as far as their remembrance of them goes they amounted to no more than two or at most three hours.
Thus a third of life is taken out of their existence. When they are thirty years of age, they have actually lived but twenty, and the other ten years are wrapped in the haziness of sleep.
This sleep, however, was not devoid of purpose. He who was weary on retiring, rises girded with new strength, though as far as his consciousness goes, he was idle. His thinking, feeling, willing, working, have all been at a stand-still. This absolute surcease of life is the normal state of things, for as long as man is well, in the fullness of his strength and not oppressed by cares, he sleeps as long as nothing disturbs him from without.
Why this was so ordained, remains a riddle. For though it is true that after hours of work our strength becomes exhausted and demands rest to recuperate, this does not solve the problem. For at once the question arises: “Why this exhaustion of strength?” God, our Maker, after Whose Image we are created fainteth not, neither is He weary. The heavenly hosts of angels do not sleep. Of the New Jerusalem we read: “And there shall be no night there” (Rev. 22:5). Thus, a being who does not continually exhaust his strength, and hence is in no need of sleep, is conceivable. Why God, our Maker, appointed a life for us with continual exhaustion of its power to be restored by sleep, remains a mystery. This ordinance of the Lord has not been promulgated without a purpose and a wise design, though no one understands it.
A third part of our earthly existence is subtracted in unconsciousness from life that is known without our knowing or understanding why.
But does not Scripture say that in the night our reins instruct us, and does not sleep obtain from this a higher significance?
Undoubtedly! But though such was the case with David, it is by no means ordinary experience; and if it were, a regularly returning period of seven or more long hours for a spiritual instruction in the secret places of the soul would be out of all proportion. Only think how large a part of the day it is from nine o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon. And yet, this is but seven hours, and these, out of every twenty-four we sleep away.
This is only modified by sickness, by pressing cares or by old age. By these three causes, sleep is shortened or disturbed or deferred, and a part of the night is struggled through without sleep. Then, indeed the night obtains an entirely different significance, because one can not get to sleep, or because sleep is too frequently broken, or too soon ended.
Dreams also can not be said to have no significance.
There are dreams that show us what we are; and others from which a helpful thought goes out with us into life; dreams again, that afford us momentary fellowship with our beloved dead, which gives us a sad pleasure. God may even use a dream by which to reveal something to us. But in spite of all this, most dreams are forgotten on waking and when they leave a memory, nothing but vague, vanishing and mixed images float before the mind. Even the petition from the ancient evening hymn: “O God, in sleep let me wait on thee, In dream be thou my joy!” does not define, save in rarest instances, the content of our dreams.
This does not deny, however, that without our being aware of it, the Spirit of God works upon our spirit while we sleep, and builds up our inner life. Here again the mystery of our life by night hides the mighty workings of God. We can not count with. them, because they go on outside of our consciousness. At times on waking, an insight may come to us into difficult problems which troubled us the night before, and he who fears God will praise Him for it, but this also is a work of God which eludes our grasp, and of which we can but say with the Psalmist: ” We see it, but we understand it not ” (Psalm 118:23, Dutch Ver.).
No, our life by night obtains a conscious significance for us only when sickness, care, or age come to disturb our ordinary sleep, and Scripture witnesses to this when it says: “My reins also instruct me in the night seasons” (Psalm 16:7); and “In the night I commune with mine own heart” (Psalm 77:6); and when Isaiah (26: 9) with his soul desires the Lord in the night; and so likewise when Job (35:100) confesses: “God is my Maker, who giveth songs in the night.”
This constitutes a school of learning, which should be reckoned with more seriously.
Sleeplessness is an apprehensive phenomenon, that casts its shadow upon all of the next day; but it is an evil that leads either to sin or to glory according to the way in which our faith-life spends such sleepless hours.
If sleeplessness makes you do nothing but utter gloomy and peevish complaints by day, and rebelliously turn yourself over and over on the bed by night, then it becomes sin to you. If, on the other hand, such hours of wakefulness are used to confirm your fellowship with God, to make it more intimate and to strengthen it, then it glorifies the inner life of the soul. Moreover, such devotional use of sleeplessness is medicine that invites sleep, while rebellious restlessness only increases wakefulness. To struggle against God in such an hour makes for restlessness and feelings of oppression, which drive sleep ever farther and farther away from you; while, on the other hand, conversing with God in such a sleepless hour, brings restfulness and calm and induces sleep’s approach.
This result, however, is merely a by-product; the main thing is, that a sleepless night is of itself an appointed time to seek the Lord, and to apply to your wakeful hours the Psalmist’s word: “It is good for me to be near unto God. “
That which in our busy life draws us continually away from God and estranges us from Him is our strenuous activity, the multitudinous sounds on every side, the constant interviews with people who address us. All this ceases at night. The absence of things that absorb attention gives rest to the eye. The stillness of night puts the ear out of commission. No work presses in upon us. Chase and hurry have given place to calm. There is nothing to divert us, no one to tire or to detain us. All the conditions are there, a hushed mind, and this stillness, to help us to hold converse with our God. Such an hour of night invites us, more than any other, to enter into the Tabernacle of God. The night-time has something in it of the solemn stillness of the Sabbath.
This stillness is introduced by your evening reading of God’s Word, by your evening prayer, when on your knees you have poured out your soul unto your God. And now you are at rest, and your one concern is, either to set aside the cares of the day which you brought with you to your couch, or, in fellowship with your God, so to take them that He carries them for you.
But this is not in your hands.
It is not enough that you think of God and make approach to Him. Fellowship must come from both sides, and if God does not simultaneously draw near to you, you can not enjoy His intimacy.
To think: “God is always ready, He is waiting for me, so that it depends on me alone whether I will meet Him,” shows no dependence on your part upon Him, nor sufficient humility. To think of God is no enjoyment yet of His fellowship. Fellowship is something far more ardent, and whenever it falls to your lot, it is an operation of grace, a favor extended to you, for which you owe Him thanks. It is not that you are so good and devout as to lift up yourself to God. but it is of His Divine compassion that He comes down to you, in order to enrich and bless you with the consciousness of His nearness.
The gain is so great, when your last feeling before you sleep is that of joy in the tenderness of the Lord, and when on waking in the morning you feel your first conscious thought to go out to God. This accustoms you to God, and prepares you to go into the night of the grave, in order that you may never more be disturbed by anything in your fellowship with God.
In the night, upon our bed, when we can not sleep we feel small, far smaller than by day when we are adorned by our garment, and our word makes our influence count as we struggle to make or maintain our place in life. But we lie upon our bed and stand no more upright. We are motionless and do not move. And this smallness and insignificance of our appearance makes us more fit to meet our God.
Then God becomes so great to us. Then we feel indeed that He is our Maker. His faithfulnesses present themselves to us. The arms of everlasting compassion underneath bear us up and encircle us. Joy expels the somber temper of the soul; gladness the carping cares. We come into the atmosphere of the worship of God’s everlasting love, and when His Spirit inwardly imparts His touch, the note of praise rises from our inmost being, and it becomes a literal fact with us that “God our Maker giveth us songs in the night.”
From To Be Near Unto God by Abraham Kuyper. Reproduced from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/kuyper/near.iii.viii.html (accessed July 17, 2014).