In our home for at least the past year we have had a chalkboard sign that Bethany hand wrote Psalm 131 in its entirety on. At only three verses, I have now memorized it. But it hangs right beside our door the garage as we leave each day, and I often glance at it as I sit in our living room. It’s the Psalm that keeps me from sinking. What do I mean by sinking? I simply mean becoming overwhelmed. Or to keep with the original water analogy, Psalm 131 keeps me from getting in over my head and drowning.
Psalm 131, A Song of Ascents. Of David. (ESV)
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.
The Psalms are said to give voice to our emotions and this Psalm has become my voice. I am too often proud–that is, my heart is lifted up and my eyes are raised too high. Where this inevitably leads me to is anxiety and stress and a kind of “noise” that keeps me awake at night (as it has this very night of which I’m writing). Why is this? Where does this “noise” come from? It comes from an occupied heart–a heart with no room, or no space, or a heart with one of those neon signs that reads “no vacancy.” But what’s in there? Oh, you know, just things “too great and too marvelous for me.” The NIV of this verse speaks of these heart occupier as “great matters” and “things too wonderful for me.” Eugene Peterson seems to capture the sense of it well when he paraphrases verse 1 like this in The Message:
God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.
These great matters, or things too wonderful, or grandiose plans, these are the things of God. These are things that are beyond me. Truly, they are great. They are things I can’t control. I see them as things like issues with my children of which I can’t control. These great matters are relational dynamics of which sometimes I must wait on the Lord to see how he will work them out. They are pastoral counseling issues of which I sometimes need to lay at the feet of Jesus and simply trust him because they are too great. They are political. They are practical. Many of these areas are simply things I have no business meddling in.
So how does it keep me from sinking? David in this Psalm says he’s not proud. So first I need to confess my pride and come to a place of humility, recognizing that I am not God, not in control, and that there are things beyond me of which I’m not supposed to be Lord of. And then in verse 2 David says he’s calm and quiet. Specifically, his soul is calm and quiet. As pride fades, and control is released, the soul is calmed and quieted. The noise is gone. Like a little baby, no longer fussing and whining, but rather resting in the bosom of it’s mother, that’s David’s soul. And when true of me, it’s mine too.
But what about the stuff that I had been thinking about? What about the stuff that caused me anxiety in the first place? What is my soul to do with it all? The answer is verse 3: hope in the Lord. Find rest and hope in God. David Powlison wrote this about Psalm 131:3:
“Pride dies as the humility of faith lives.” That’s the key. When my eyes are lower (pride is dead), hope lifts up its eyes (faith is alive). My hope is in Christ. I don’t have to have control. I don’t need to fret. I don’t need to let the “noise” rule my life, but rather the Lord Jesus Christ is ruler. He can handle the things that are too wonderful for me, in fact, he is handling them. Those things are his business and they’re none of mine. So when this Psalm is operative in my life, I’m not sinking. I’m not drowning. I’m not noisy. I’m composed and calm. I’m actually floating above water, holding tightly to my Lord, resting safely in his arms, without a worry.
David Powlison is convinced that Katharina von Schelge must have had this Psalm in mind when she wrote the hymn “Be Still My Soul.” Along with this Psalm, let these words refresh and still your soul.
Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side Bear patiently, the cross of grief or pain Leave to thy God, to order and provide In every change, He faithful will remain Be still, my soul, thy best thy heavenly friend Through thorny ways, leads to a joyful end
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake To guide the future as He has the past Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake All now mysterious shall be bright at last Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below