Finding Peace with God: praying Psalm 131

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My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131)

One of the shortest psalms in the Bible is also one of the most profound in its picture of prayer. The first verse of the psalm is a declaration of release from things which usually grip our lives. First, the psalmist guides us into a release from pride and haughtiness. I know we all hate to admit it, but there are places of great pride in our lives. We become self-centered either by lifting ourselves up over others or by thinking so lowly of ourselves in false humility, a sort of wicked reversal of pride. As you read Psalm 131, what a gift it is to let go of all the ways we hold ourselves over others, whether specific people who come to our minds or entire categories of humanity.

Next the psalmist chooses to let go of “great matters” that are “too wonderful for me.” It is not wrong to think great thoughts or pursue great things. It is helpful to have a vision for our lives and aim for something. But there is also a time to release them. The psalmist reminds us that when we enter into the presence of God through prayer, we let go of exalted thoughts about ourselves or other things, and we turn our thoughts to our great God.

Yet here is one more interesting thing that Psalm 131 leads us into. So many encounters with God throughout Scripture reflect a reverent awe that verges on fear. But while this psalm leads us to the presence of our exalted God, we find God to be One whose presence brings us to utter stillness and peace as we tenderly yield to Him. The image of a weaned child with its mother in verse two is one of absolute care, total dependence, and satisfied peace. Unlike the soul raging with discontent and pride, the soul humbly at prayer with God comes to a pace of shalom in God. As the psalmist leads us into prayer, as we release great thoughts about ourselves and other things, as we turn our minds to God, now we enter a place of rest with God. First, we let things go and now we grab ahold of God. We hold on and are held. We can relax our striving as we “be still and know” He is God. even now as you read this, let me encourage you to reread the first two verses of the psalm and pray your way into contented rest in God.

The final verse reminds us this is not a personal journey alone but a community journey. Psalm 131 is part of that marvelous collection known as the Psalms of Ascent. These psalms were  used as a prayer journey that mirrored the geographical journey of the Hebrew people from their homes to the Jerusalem Temple for great festivals. They crossed great territory and sometimes rough terrain to come together and worship before God. These psalms helped them also go on a spiritual journey of soul preparation not in isolation but in community. In long journeys over rough terrain it is important that we are not alone. We need one another.

Here in Psalm 131 the preparation of the soul becomes a journey of release from pride, a journey of attaching to God, and a community journey of hope that becomes vital to the earthly pilgrimage of God’s people. There are so many “hopes” we might have in life, but the psalm leads us through them into the active hope in God that pervades all of our days. What are your hopes today? What are your fears? How might you lay them down at the feet of God, even as we find hope in Him by resting in Him now and forever. Consider reading the psalm one more time and then take some time in stillness and prayer before our great and tenderly loving God.

Jesus’ wholistic mission and the Church (John Oswalt on Isaiah 9)

follow-me-satan-temptation-of-jesus-christ-1903.jpg!HalfHDIn his comments on Isaiah 9:2-4, Dr. John Oswalt makes this astute reflection on the wholistic mission of Christ that the church must keep ahold of in talking about salvation in Christ.

They [God’s people] rejoice because the Lord has freed them. It is not necessary to look for some specific liberation which Isaiah has in mind. It is apparent from the whole context that it is final deliverance which is in view. This is what God holds out to his people and that for which they justly pray and believe. Two extremes are to be avoided here. One extreme is to take the way that the Christian Church has often taken, saying that true bondage is to personal sin from which Christ frees us, and thus turning a blind eye on actual physical oppression. The other extreme is the way of certain forms of liberation theology that seem to suggest that the only sin is the sin of political oppression, and that Christ’s only purpose in coming was to give human beings political freedom.

Neither extreme is adequate in itself. To make God’s promises primarily political is to overlook the profound insight of the NT (and the OT) that the chief reason for the absence of šālôm (harmonious relationships) among human beings is the absence of šālôm between God and human beings through sin. Without šālôm between persons, freedom cannot long exist. But to act as if the forgiveness of sin and the consequent personal relationship are all that matters is to succumb to a Platonic distinction of existence into a “real” spiritual world and an “unreal” physical world, a distinction which is thoroughly unbiblical. The Messiah lifts the yoke of sin in order to lift the yoke of oppression. The Church forgets either yoke at its peril.

From John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 243.

Live in Peace

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Have you ever felt worried, distressed, or anxious?

Yes, I know that might seem like a ridiculous question. In one way or another, we have all experienced worry, distress, or anxiety. These real experiences of our lives are the sort of things we encounter throughout the Scripture. In fact, the writer of Psalm 4 expresses thoughts we all likely relate to:

Answer me when I call to You, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)

Where do you turn to find peace in these times? Often, we turn to friends or family for support, or look to distractions like television or reading a book. In themselves, none of these things are bad. However, within Psalm 4, we are directed in another way. The psalmist instructs us in the way we should turn in our distress.

God’s Strong Presence
First of all, the psalmist shows us to whom we should turn. “Of course,” you might say, “you are going to say that I should turn to God.” Yes, that is true, but it is not enough of the truth in this case. The psalmist says Read More »

The Hunger for Peace [Hungry for God]

During Lent at Eastbrook Church, we continue to explore the soul-deep hungers in our lives planted there by God in order to lead us to Himself. The series, “Hungry for God,” parallels the season of Lent, and has a companion daily devotional that you can access here.

This weekend I explored the hunger for peace. There were so many ways we could approach this topic. In fact just a short while ago, I preached on Jesus as the Prince of Peace. However, this weekend, I decided to focus in on Jesus’ Passion and the journey from the triumphal entry to the cross and beyond to the resurrection. I asked: how does Jesus’ Passion related to the peace He promised to bring?

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Read More »

Hungry for Peace

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No one wants to live feeling depleted and empty. We all want to live out of a place of abundance, satisfaction, and peace. We hunger to feel like our lives are on the right track and that everything is ‘right,’ in the best sense of the word. The biblical word for this is peace or, in Hebrew, shalom. Shalom means more than simply lack of conflict. Instead, it conveys a sense of completeness, success, welfare, and peace. A short definition for shalom is that all things are right in God’s world as they are supposed to be.

When Jesus begins His public ministry, he enters into an episode that would not be described as peaceful. Shortly after His baptism by John, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2). This temptation is a power encounter between the prince of this world, the devil, and the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Messiah. From start to finish, the three temptations of the devil are classic temptations of humanity, described by Henri Nouwen as the temptation to be relevant, popular, or powerful. Hungry and tired, Jesus experiences all the raging temptations of a peace-less world thrown at Him.

Jesus overcomes the temptations of the devil, however, and we realize that He is a new sort of king with a new sort of kingdom that will move in ways different from the ways of this world. When Isaiah the prophet describes the Messiah as “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), we know this is exactly what we need. We need true shalom in the midst of our hunger for peace because we cannot ultimately satisfy it ourselves. This realization does not come quickly. Sometimes we must intentionally step back from some things, even normal things like the eating of food, to realize exactly what is going on in our lives.

It is no wonder that immediately before ascending to the Father, some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples are: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The Prince of Peace has come to bring us peace, and that is very good news for us.

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off: Fast from food (in some form), perhaps for one meal a day or for an entire day. If you are physically prevented from completely fasting due to some health concerns, consider if there is a particular food, drink or “treat” you can deny yourself this week. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

Put On:In the place of eating the food you are fasting from, take time with God in solitude and silence to experience the peace that God brings. Consider how He provides for you all you need. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]