Brother Colin Badger’s article is the first in his series on the Psalms for the Night Seasons. The debilitating effects of pain and anguish from suffering are all too familiar to the elect of God. We will find comfort in the feelings expressed in the Psalms and in Brother Colin’s insightful comments, particularly as they so often mirror our own experiences. We will find some relief in knowing that the night of sorrows does give way to a morning where God’s mercies are renewed towards His own.

Introduction to the Them

A night can seem to be a hundred hours, when one is vexed with burdens weighing on the mind or troubled by emotions tugging at the heart. Making it through a “night” can be longer than just eight restless hours—the night can become a season that blankets even the daylight hours. The Psalmist captures the key phrase when he affirms: “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent” (Psa 22:2). David uses the phrase a second time in a messianic context, implying (by the plural) that for both David and Christ the experience of a “night season” was not just a single event: “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons” (Psa 16:7).

Job’s painful trials caused him relentless anguish and he specifically describes his affliction as haunting him during the hours when other men sleep in peace: “My bones are pierced in me in the night season: and my sinews take no rest” (Job 30:17). For any who have passed through the “night seasons”, as Job, David and Christ, the journey is usually a lonely one. In the day there are at least other voices one can hear and possibly a hand offering a comforting touch, but the night seasons only intensify the isolation of a trial and often incite the nagging frustration that “I alone am awake with torments, while others enjoy peaceful sleep”.

In case we are tempted to depress ourselves with the thought that struggling with the “night seasons” should not be the experience of a faithful disciple, consider again. Job, David and Christ all struggled with these “seasons”. And, for the disciple, a “season” is not eternity—it is a period of time that finally gives way to another more promising season: “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time [occ. translated “season”] of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle [dove] is heard in our land” (Song Sol 2:11,12).

The night seasons invariably come to all disciples, but how are we to prepare for these spells of darkness in our lives? Recall the parable of the ten virgins: a supply of oil is needed for the inevitable hours of darkness. Oil in the lamp does not prevent the season of “night”; it equips the disciple with the spiritual resources to face it and journey through it with vision. Three Psalms speak of this very plainly:

  • “Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life” (Psa 42:8).
  • “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search” (Psa 77:6).
  • “When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches” (Psa 63:6).

Songs in the Night

The first quotation speaks of “his [God’s] song” being with the Psalmist during the night. A “song”? What might the Psalmist be referring to? There are numerous references in the Psalms to “songs”, which usually have themes of redemption—from the hands of the enemy or salvation from death itself. Consistent with this theme in the Psalms is the fact that outside of the Psalms, the first recorded “song” is that sung by Moses and Israel after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15:1). The last recorded “song” is the Song of the Lamb (and Moses) after the Lord’s enemies are destroyed (Rev 15:3). The common thread through all these songs is the theme of deliverance and victory—exactly the theme needed by those who are struggling for solid encouragement in the night seasons. Psalm 77:6 has a helpful detail related to this exhortation: “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search” (Psa 77:6). “Commune” is sometimes translated “meditate” (Psa 119:15) and in Psalm 77 it’s translated as “talk” (77:12). In the depths of night, amidst his struggles, the Psalmist “talks with himself” and reflects on God’s Word. He makes “diligent search” (77:6), which suggests an active inquiry to recall God’s ways in the past—a search to find meaning and direction in the present.

Answers from His Ways in the Past

All three of the above Psalms refer to an active searching for spiritual resources to help the disciple face the night seasons. Turning to the Lord’s “songs” with their theme of redemption, helps the Psalmist to focus on God’s care for his people. Meditating on these songs brings to his mind specific examples of God’s response to the cries of his people. Note these specific references that came from the Psalmist’s “diligent search”:

  • “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times” (Psa 77:5)
  • “I will remember the works of the Lord… I will remember thy wonders” (Psa 77:11)
  • “Thy way… is in the sanctuary” (Psa 77:13)
  • “Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph (Psa 77:15)
  • “Thy way is in the sea and thy path in the great waters [i.e. Red Sea] (Psa 77:19).

Bringing to remembrance concrete examples of God’s response to the needs of His people in the past helps to bring a Divine perspective to personal struggles when we’re struggling through the night seasons (cp 77:2,3). The “songs of the Lord” assure us that He is in control of our lives and that there really is purpose in the way He is working with us: “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). So, how do we know? We come to know in the same way that the Psalmist came to know—by making “diligent search” (Psa 77:6) in His Word. Oil is put into our lamp and it is there to keep the light burning through even the darkest “nights”.

Reflections at Midnight

Apart from reflecting on specific Biblical events from the past, the Psalmist declares: “I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night, and have kept thy law” (Psa 119:55). Remembering the Divine Name in the midst of the night! This is more than pondering a single event; it’s a reflection on the purpose and character of the Father—a reminder in the “night” that trials have purpose and that they are governed by His goodness. The Psalmist then continues: “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee” (v62) and then he affirms, “I lie awake throughout the night, to meditate on your promise” (Jer Bible). There is a remarkable link with this verse and the example of Paul and Silas, who “prayed and sang praises” at “midnight” in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:25). At midnight, in a dark jail cell, with backs bruised and lacerated, these two faithful disciples tapped the resources of their spiritual lamps by drawing light from the power of prayer and singing “songs in the night seasons”.

We have a hymn (#414) that appeals for assistance according to this example given by Paul and Silas:

Fold weary hearts in Thine own rest;

Give midnight songs to those who wake;

And of Thy grace to all accord

Love, joy and peace this night, O Lord.

From a number of the Psalms referred to in this introduction and from concrete examples like Paul and Silas in jail, there are some positive lessons that come from experiencing the night seasons. Our struggles in the night seasons help to identify personal weaknesses that need attention. This spiritual “check-up” helps to provide an incentive to fill the lamp with the needed spiritual resources (oil for the lamp). A prayerful response to the challenges in the night can teach us that God is very much in control of our lives and that He does care about us.

Vision in the Night

In Conviction and Conduct, Brother Collyer has a chapter entitled, “The Midnight Vision”, in which he describes occasions when he has gained valuable spiritual insights in the night seasons “when deep sleep falleth on men” (p30, quoting Job 33:15). Brother Collyer describes these experiences with this interesting note: “Such an experience as this in the sphere of mental or spiritual sight, has only been given to the writer two or three times in the night when healthy men are generally asleep”.

So, the “night seasons” present their challenges to all disciples, but if one is prepared to be humbled by them, rather than frustrated, it is possible to let the Father work through them for our positive good. In these times of trial, we may become more keenly aware of our weaknesses, but we can also become more aware of the Father’s merciful kindness as He responds to our needs. David’s resolve through personal experience with the “night seasons” was to exhort us to “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still… I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (Psa 4:4,8).