You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search … Psalms 77.4-7.
When we are full of anxiety about something, or wrestling with a problem, the night-time is the very worst part of the day. As the hours pass and we toss and turn, trying (but failing) to get to sleep, the causes of our disquiet take on a life of their own and begin to grow and multiply. Whatever size the problem was when we brought it to bed, by three in the morning it has become a hundred times greater. What am I to do? Take some pills? Get up and make a drink and distract myself by watching something on the TV?
The Psalmist, in his distress, had a better solution. He looked back on his life and asked God to bring to mind those times when he had had something wonderful to sing about – so that the recollection could, as it were, prime the pump of praise and thanksgiving for him in his present darkness. Now that’s not easy when your mind is full of troubles, and that’s why he says his spirit “made a diligent search”. The verb is chapas and it means to launch such a search as to leave no stone unturned. Past songs will be elusive. They will not come readily to mind. We can imagine the psalmist gazing into the darkness, trawling his memory until … “Ah yes! There was that amazing time when I was … And God stepped in and … Oh, thank you, Lord! Lord I praise you, I worship you …” And then his problems begin to shrink, the terrors flee, his confidence in the Lord’s goodness and grace returns, and at last he is able to sleep.
Paul and Silas, it seems, understood very well this power of a song in the night. Having been beaten until their backs were raw, then thrown into the dungeon and fastened by their feet in the stocks, they were doing the last thing we might have expected them to do. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened” (Acts 16.24-26).
Now that was some song in the night! “No chance of my being able to sing a song like that,” we might think. But don’t let’s be so sure. We need to remind ourselves that the song will be given to us once we are willing to sing it: we don’t have to “make it up.” Elihu, one of Job’s comforters, acknowledged that it is “God my Maker, who gives songs in the night” (Job 35.10); and the Psalmist too confessed that “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me” (Psalm 42.8). The song is his and, not only that – when we are willing to sing it and begin to do so, we discover that it is not only his song but that he is the song. That old American southern folk hymn comes to mind …
O Jesus my Saviour, my song in the night,
Come to us with Thy tender love, my soul’s delight.
Unto Thee, O Lord, in affliction I call,
My comfort by day and my song in the night.
Those words remind us that, when we sing in the darkness, lifting up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving, something wonderful will happen. We shall discover that there is someone else there, singing with us. That, indeed, we are but joining in with his eternal song and that in a very real sense, he is the song. I think of that wonderful passage in C S Lewis’s book, The Magician’s Nephew, where Aslan – the great Christ figure – brings Narnia into being …
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing … There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise [the Cabby] had ever heard … Far away, and down near the horizon, the sky began to turn grey … All the time the Voice went on singing … The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose … The earth was of many colours: they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you fell excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. It’s mouth was open wide in song and it was about three hundred yards away.”
Jesus himself is our song in the night. He is the Singer. He is the Voice. And the song he sings is no mere lullaby. It is a song that will, if we let it, always bring to us new life, new hope, new peace and new joy. And it is ours the moment we start singing it …