how pilgrims grow

I Have Calmed and Quieted My Soul
A Song of Ascents. Of David. Psalm 131.

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.

Charles Spurgeon said Psalm 131 is “the shortest to read but the longest to learn.” It certainly says more than it appears to say and addresses the tension between godly aspiration and blind ambition, and between infantile self-interest and child-like trust. It does all this in 3 short verses, and in each case, the differences are clear. But messy.

In the first case, understanding the difference between aspiration and ambition is, as the Psalm indicates, about the heart. The heart that is lifted up in pride, with eyes raised too high, is contrary to biblical humility, which sometimes requires us not to occupy ourselves with things too great and too marvelous.

Unfortunately, our western disposition is to do exactly that, to get ahead, to overcome, to seize the opportunity, often at the expense of others and always in the interests of self. We want to make it on our own, to prove ourselves, to crush it. We are anxious and fretful, over-concerned about both our chronological and biological clocks. “Driven” is one way to characterize it.

Eastern cultures often appear to have a better handle on ambition, but this can be an illusion. Their view is more fatalistic, resigned; their gods more capricious, and their outlook more hopeless. What is suggested here is not that. It is the second difference, the difference between infantile self-interest and child-like trust, a difference defined by the personal, caring, eternal God of Israel who invites us to rest in him, not simply give up in disillusionment and despair. “Hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore (vs. 3).”

This nurturing nature of God is easy to understand if not easy to accept. It allows us to say, “I have calmed and quieted my soul (vs. 2).” How do you do this? How do you get from anxious self-interest or defeated apathy to trusting contentment? The difference is that of a weaned child versus a suckling infant, between the child who rests comfortably in his mother’s arms and the squalling, impatient and anxious one who claws at her breast.

I’ve not been a nursing mother, so I confess I don’t know how this works. But as the father of four, I do know it happens. This transformation describes what mature faith looks like: “like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

In such contented hope, godly aspiration can flourish, in the service of others and the stewardship of one’s gifts. Such service is patient and gentle because our faith reflects the knowledge of God’s providence, protection and provision, much like the of a contented weaned child who rests in his or her mother’s arms. This is the God “who gives his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)”

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms,” we are told in Deuteronomy 33:27. But as Spurgeon says, it may take a long time to rest in them, even though they were always available.

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