How Does Your Mind Instruct You at Night?

You turn off the light, close your eyes, and wait for sleep to take you. Instead, your mind takes off, thinking about the events of the day behind you, your to-do list for the day in front of you, and all your fears for the future. Your body aches with exhaustion, yet you don’t sleep because your mind is racing out of control. Sound familiar? Me too. Satan loves to attack when we’re the most vulnerable: hungry, sick, lonely, or tired. It makes sense, then, that in the quietness of the night, the battleground of our minds would be particularly susceptible.

Perhaps David grappled with this issue as well. Many of his psalms talk of being awake at night and meditating on God’s character or His Word. In Psalm 16:7, he says that his mind “instructs” him in the night. This sums up our problem exactly. Interestingly, though, David does not tell us the curriculum taught by his mind. For some of us, it’s a course in fear, anxiety, anger, or self-reliance. However, as we consider the surrounding context of this verse, we begin to see that David’s mind instructed him in a way that led to the fullness of joy and eternal pleasure.

But First, This.

I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, that God’s Word provides answers to all of life’s problems, big or small. However, that does not mean that I believe that the answer is always as easy as “read these verses, and you’ll be fine tomorrow.” A struggle with anxiety or fear may be crippling and require more counsel than I can give in the next few paragraphs. I understand that. What I wish to give here is a simple outline that can be expounded upon, broadened, and practiced continually to fight against the tempter’s fiery darts in your darkest hours. Progress may be slow, but God’s Word never fails. The battle has already been won, and in the assurance of that fact, we begin.

Let God Counsel you

The entirety of Psalm 16:7 says this:

I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. (NASB95)

While the foundation of English poetry is rhyme and meter, the fundamental element of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. This explains why so many verses in Psalms and Proverbs consist of couplets. The parallelism may be used to show a contrast; to show the progression of an idea; or, as is the case in Psalm 16:7, to restate the same idea in slightly different words. David tells us both that the Lord counsels him and that his mind instructs him. How can these things simultaneously be true? David instructs his mind according to how the Lord has counseled him.

David was not a prophet. While he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write many psalms, he did not receive direct revelation from God. Therefore, we know he was counseled by the Lord just as we are: by clinging to the written words of God. We see his love for Scripture plainly in Psalm 19:

The instruction of the LORD is perfect,
renewing one’s life;
the testimony of the LORD is trustworthy,
making the inexperienced wise. 
The precepts of the LORD are right,
 making the heart glad;
the command of the LORD is radiant,
 making the eyes light up. 
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are reliable and altogether righteous.
  They are more desirable than gold — than an abundance of pure gold;
and sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb.  (Psa 19:7-10 CSB)

If your mind instructs you in the wrong things at night, perhaps it’s merely repeating the counsel that it has heard during the day. Binge on the news instead of Scripture, and you’ll likely grapple with outrage and fears about the days ahead. Feast on the world’s entertainment, and the counsel of you mind will be full of independent, skeptical, and behavioristic thoughts. The bottom line, my friends, is that our minds are being counseled somehow and they will instruct us in the dark. The question is what counsel they’re being fed.

Set the LORD Before You Continually

David goes on to hint at what this counsel from Yahweh looks like as he says,

I have set the LORD continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psa 16:8)

Perhaps David was thinking of the instructions of Moses to parents when he penned those lines. Parents were to instill the foundational truth that God alone is God in their children and “bind them as a sign on [their] hand and let them be a symbol on [their] forehead” (Deu 6:8). I don’t know what David did to set the LORD continually before him—perhaps he wrote the law on his forehead—but I have some ideas for us.

  • Memorize Scripture: Nothing has helped me meditate on Scripture more than memorizing it. Sometimes I meditate on it without even realizing I’m doing it. Suddenly a verse or phrase pops into my head, and I’m not sure why. That cannot happen if the Word isn’t hidden in my heart.
  • Fill your home with music: Sometimes when I’m struggling with a bad mood, I try to fight it by turning on music that will edify my heart. The words have opportunity to counsel me in the daylight hours so that my mind will instruct me in truth in the night.

  • Put Scripture in prominent places: Take a picture of a sticky note and set it as your phone’s lock screen, or put the Post-It on the mirror, the shower, the coffee pot. You can literally keep the Word before your eyes.

  • Pray: Turn your heart to God throughout the day. It may be just a whispered line here or there, but keep turning your eyes upward. Keep God continually before you by talking to Him, asking Him questions, looking to Him for guidance, and reaching out to Him for help.

  • Be in the Word: If we really want to set God before our eyes continually, we must be students of the book He’s given us in which He has carefully revealed Himself to us. As we dive deep into the Word, we’ll get to know God—His heart, His will, His character—and we’ll get to know His counsel as well.

Practice Praise; Find Security

David knew about suffering, and he knew about living in danger. Yet he was still able to write this:

Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices;
my body also rests securely.  (Psa 16:9)

Though he spent much of his life running from one maniac or another or fighting against nations trying to kill him, David was able to rest securely. We’ve already looked at two reasons for this security; now we turn to a third: the practice of praise.

David claims to have a glad heart and an entire being that praised the Lord. This didn’t just happen when he was safe in the cushy palace. He wrote Psalm 34 after a narrow escape from the Philistines and while still on the run from Saul. Yet he still wrote these words:

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips. 
 I will boast in the LORD;
 the humble will hear and be glad. 
Proclaim the LORD’s greatness with me;
 let us exalt his name together.  (Psa 34:1-3)

Of course, David didn’t do this perfectly, and neither will you or I. However, the great king of Israel had a reputation for blessing the Lord. Do you? When I was a kid, I sang a song with the lyric, “Are you grumbly hateful or humbly grateful? What’s your attitude?” Pretty insightful for a kids’ song. A heart that exalts God in praise will know security—perhaps not physically, but spiritually. Another titan of the faith, Paul, agrees:

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  (Rom 5:3-5 CSB)

Find reasons throughout the day to praise God. David, writing in Psalm 103, tells his soul not to forget a single benefit it has received of the Lord (v. 2). I wonder how our minds would be counseled both in the light and the dark if we set out not to let a single benefit of God to go by unnoticed.

My friend, I know there are no “quick fixes” for the struggle of a mind running amok in the night. However, as you begin to practice these three things, I believe you’ll see a difference in the thoughts taking over in the darkness.

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