Sleepless and Speechless
(H) For the director of the choir, (namely) for Jeduthun, a psalm of Asaph. (1) I cried out to God with my voice, even to God with my voice, and he heard me. (2) In the day of my distress, I sought the Lord. In the night my hand was stretched out without growing weary. My soul refused to be comforted. (3) I remembered God, and was troubled. I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. (Selah) (4) You held my eyelids open. I was so troubled, I could not speak. (5) I considered the days of old, the years of antiquity. (6) I remembered my songs in the night. I meditated in my heart. My spirit made diligent search.
Several repetitions help us sense the severity of the anguish the psalmist was experiencing when he wrote this psalm. First, he repeats the phrase, “to God with my voice,” in quick succession to convey the intensity of his prayers (vs. 1). We then sense his unrest growing as he voices several synonymous phrases: “in the day of my distress...my soul refused to be comforted” (vs. 2), “was troubled” (vs. 3), and “I was so troubled, I could not speak” (vs. 4). Finally, he tries to focus his mind on what will calm his troubled spirit: “I considered...I remembered...I meditated...my spirit made diligent search” (vss. 5 & 6).
I. The cry of a troubled soul to God (1 & 2)
II. The internal chaos which leaves us sleepless and speechless (3-6)
When so deeply troubled that we can neither sleep nor speak, all we can do is turn to God.
The Psalms expose us to the full range of human emotions from the highest peaks of exaltation and joy to the deepest crevices of despair and grief. This segment of Psalm 77 takes us to a place of anguish so intense that sleep has fled, the ability to speak is lost, and a disorienting fog of overpowering distress has descended on the psalmist’s heart. Those who have suffered from clinical depression know from personal experience what this sensation of hopelessness feels like. Those who have never had to battle such melancholy can only try to imagine what it must be like to endure what one medieval writer called the “dark night of the soul.”
What Asaph did, “I cried out to God with my voice,” is the one thing we can do when we reach a point so low that we hardly know which way is up. When in a pit of despair, feeling as though there is no way to escape, we at least can hope that God will eventually lead us back to the light. No specific prayer is given in the psalm, no verbal formula spelled out. In fact, the psalmist simply states, “I sought the Lord...I remembered God” (vss. 2 & 3). When words do not easily take shape, just the thought that God is with us is enough. What matters most is that we turn for help to the one who created and redeemed us, the one who promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). He is the one who will enable us to endure and will eventually lift us out of the depths of despair and bring us back into the light of his presence where the hope and joy of our salvation will once again be restored to our troubled hearts.