“Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me. Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like a weaned child.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How are you feeling these days? If you’re like most people, the answer to that is probably not as good as you’d like. You’re overburdened and under-resourced. You feel like you have the weight of the world pressing down on you and there’s no one to help you hold it. You’re stressed out and just wish you could rest, but there’s no end in sight to the busyness. Where can you find some relief? Take some comfort this morning in knowing you’re not alone in any of this. The ancient Israelites experienced it too and prayed about it when they went to worship. Let’s talk about it.
Psalm 131 is one of the fifteen “Songs of Ascent” in the book of Psalms. These were a collection of worship songs the people would sing as they ascended the hill into the city of Jerusalem on their way to worship at the temple. Thematically, they cover a whole range of different emotions and life situations the people were facing as they went. They are collectively a good reminder that it is worth our time to prepare for worship. Too often, I think, we simply show up at church without giving the task before us any amount of thought. Then, we’re surprised when we don’t have a very satisfying worship experience or encounter God at all. A little bit of preparation could make a great difference in our worship.
That’s a sermon for another time.
One of the things that was on the hearts and minds of the Israelites as they ascended the hill to worship was the burdens of life. If there is one thing that has been consistent about human life since Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden, it is that life is hard. It has been all kinds of different hard, but the hard hasn’t changed. Every generation has its own set of burdens to bear. And, while one generation might look at the problems of another and wish they could bear those instead of their own, if they were more firmly rooted on the other side of the fence, they would discover the green hue of the grass that drew them to it was just a trick of the light. The grass on every side of the fence is a lovely shade of brown once you’ve lived on it for any amount of time.
Some seasons, though, seem more heavily laden with burdens than others. I think we can safely agree on the fact that we are living through one of those now. Even though the worst of Covid is mostly in the rearview mirror, we still feel its impact draped over us like a weighted blanket. And this is all happening in the midst of a culture that is doing its level best to remove any vestiges of its Christian worldview foundations, while at the same time starting to experience the impact of doing life without God. It isn’t pretty. But in our insistence on doing life without God, we have removed from the table the one explanation for why we are experiencing so many problems as a culture that can actually make sense of the mess. It’s like we have rejected the law of gravity, but just can’t understand why we keep plummeting to the ground when we jump off the top of the swing set.
And we’re tired from it.
People who aren’t particularly interested in giving Jesus the time of day are exhausted because living with the weight of the world is exhausting. People who would count themselves among His followers are exhausted from feeling like every step forward is met with resistance from an increasingly hostile world. And we’re all worn out from the chaos spawning out from these two sides not being able to get along. We each think we have all the answers and could just solve all the problems if we were given the chance, but every time we try and step into that role, our load just gets heavier. We’re stressed out and fearful and tired.
How are we supposed to worship in this kind of a state?
The secret here is something the ancient Israelites understood. (Whether they really practiced it or not is another matter, but at least they understood it.) The secret to worship in a world overrun by chaos and all its fruits is humility. Listen again to what they sang as they made the long walk up the hills. “Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty.”
Can you say that? Very few of us would admit to pridefulness, but it’s an awfully sneaky vice. Pride is one of the foundational sins. It is the root of all kinds of other sins, but it is a big enough sin in and of itself that sometimes it can be a way out of certain sins. Have you ever thought, “I’m better than this,” as a way of encouraging yourself away from some habitual sin you couldn’t seem to overcome? The truth is that you’re not, but if the devil can lead you into a deeper mess of pride whose full cost you may not realize for years at the expense of a lighter mess of some other sin, that’s really a trade up in his book. And as far as haughty eyes go, we often make ourselves feel better by comparing our problems to the problems of others. “At least I’m not like that.” That sentiment serves as an excuse, a justification, and a bitter balm for the anxious soul.
When we are humble, though, we are honest about our strengths and weaknesses both. We are honest about what we can accomplish (very little) and just how much we need to lean on God (a lot). We recognize that there are some things beyond us and above us. There are burdens we don’t need to try to carry. Instead, we need to learn to rest in our Father’s arms.
The imagery the psalmist uses here is of a weaned child with his mother. Now, that’s somewhat odd imagery at first, but a little bit of thought reveals it is exactly on point. A child who is weaned is able to eat on his own. He is not dependent on his mother for milk as his primary and even only source of nourishment any longer. There is no physical or biological dependency. And yet, having watched three little boys grow up (and they are still growing!), I have seen time and time again what a weaned child with his mother looks like.
On evenings when we’re not all tied up with one practice or activity or another, we often end the night with us all in the living room watching something on TV before heading off to bed. Lisa is usually in one spot and I’m in another. As the boys were little, they would come in and start deciding on where they were going to sit. They still do. Guess where it was most of the time? Right cuddled up next to Lisa. They snuggled in next to her – and more than one battle has ensued over their jockeying for position – and forgot about all the problems of the day. There have been times when one was cuddled up on one side, one on the other, and one on her lap. There is a longing in all of them for Mom. It’s not something they have to do. It’s something they want to do. They yearn for it because of the love they have for her and the love they know they’ll find in her.
This very much maternal imagery (offering us an important reminder that in spite of all the rightly masculine language for God used across the Scriptures, God is not male) gives us a wonderful picture of how we can worship and do life in light of Christ in a world that is broken and breaking around us. It helps us see how we can delight in our Savior even when we are pressed down on all sides. We can do it as we learn to simply rest our souls in Him. We calm and quiet our souls not by making our burdens magically disappear (there is no way to do that), but by relentlessly seeking to be fully enveloped in His love that encourages us and sustains us and gives us the perseverance we need to keep moving forward in the knowledge that one day all the problems will be gone and there will only be enjoying His love.
So, whatever your burdens happen to be today – and they are probably many – take some time to rest in the arms of the God who loves you like a young boy with his mother. Snuggle in and forget about the rest because His love will be enough.