Some time back, as an action point for a sermon (and apologies to my pastor, I have no clue what the sermon was about), we were challenged to pray through five different psalms during the week. It was a very encouraging exercise; many of the psalms were familiar and it was sweet to meditate through them with the Lord. But one particularly grabbed my heart.
I Have Calmed and Quieted My SoulPsalm 131
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
The Psalms of Ascent were sung on the approach to the temple in Jerusalem. They are songs designed to prepare the heart for worship, to rightly orient the heart of the worshipper towards the God of Israel. Intentional preparation for worship is a good thing; too much of our daily, secular lives take our attention away from the Divine, from the God of our Salvation. Purposeful reorienting is incredibly valuable.
Over the past week or two, my wife and I have been memorizing and meditating on Psalm 131 as a call to worship before we pray. It’s a very short psalm, only 3 verses, but it is packed with incredible depth and wisdom. Walk through it with me, and allow me to unpack it.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
A lifted up heart speaks of pride. The best antidote to pride is to look at someone better [smarter, wiser, kinder, richer, funnier, prettier,…] than me. Coming before the Ruler of Heaven and Earth makes it pretty easy; I don’t have to look any farther. No matter how highly I may regard myself, in comparison to God I am nothing.
There is a big difference between humility and humiliation, though. They both come from a root meaning “low” but humility is the state of being low (in heart), whereas humiliation is the act of being (publicly) brought low, or shamed. Humility is a place where I can (should) hang out; I don’t have to make much of myself because God has already made much of me, by redeeming me from my sin and adopting me into his family.
On the other hand, there is security in being humble before God, because he will never humiliate or shame me (Ps 51:17).
my eyes are not raised too high;
Related to the posture of the heart is the focus of the eyes. In part, this also speaks to humility; in the hierarchical society of David’s day, the lesser would look down, or avert their eyes from the greater. Looking down was a sign of deference. Not raising my eyes “too high” is a declaration of knowing my place before God.
At least in our modern day, the aim of the eyes is also aspirational. Goals are a good thing, but we do not want to be like Satan (Is 14:13) and set our eyes on something that belongs to another. Neither do we want to devote ourselves to unattainable goals. Such goals would be frustrating and destructive.
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
Simply put, I don’t worry about things I can’t control. But the language is much richer than that.
The word translated great speaks of magnitude, intensity, or importance. Some things are just overwhelming. It is also used in relation to age (older). Think of how we preserve the innocence of children, by not exposing them to things too great for them.
Similarly, the word translated marvelous speaks of things that are too difficult, beyond my power. It is the same word used in Gen 18:14, when Sarah laughs at the prospect of bearing a child in her old age. To her doubt, God asks, “Is anything too marvelous for the Lord?”
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
The heart is prone to worry, but worry is the enemy of worship. I must choose where my mind dwells, and on what I spend my energy. The psalmist’s example is to choose to “stay in my lane” and leave the big stuff to God. Easy enough to say, but how about some help here?
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Weaning in David’s time occurred sometime between the age of 2 and 5. Remember that Hannah brought Samuel to live with Levi at the tabernacle after he was weaned, so we aren’t talking about a swaddled infant here. Consider such a child, somewhere between toddler and rambunctious little boy (three of my grandchildren are currently in this age, so the picture is vivid for me).
These are not calm and quiet children. They are perpetual motion machines, a seemingly inexhaustible source of energy that, could it be harnessed would solve all of the worlds energy needs. Yet this energy defies harnessing; rather, they are chaos engines wreaking havoc and destruction wherever they go.
Except… let one of them become hurt, tired, hungry, or afraid and there is just one place they want to be, safely snuggled in momma’s arms. Whatever the injury, a kiss and a hug allows them to release the pain and regain their security that the world is a safe place. How? An unshakable faith in Mother’s ability to make it right; a bedrock knowledge of Mother’s fierce love; this is what calms the weaned child.
Here, then, is the clue on how to calm myself. Instead of churning and fretting over things I have no business with, I throw them down and run to my God, who truly is able to make them right, and who loves me more deeply (Rom 5:8) and more fiercely than any mother ever did.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, like “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” The word translated hope here has a root meaning of waiting. In the more intensive Piel form here, it means to wait (expectantly) for.
Contrast what the psalmist admonishes with how we normally hope. We set our hope in an outcome: a test score, a promotion, a healthy child, secure retirement. Instead, Israel (and by extension, all who worship the living God) is to hope in a person, the covenant God of Abraham. I can’t help but be reminded of C.S. Lewis’ classic quote:
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”