How to Have a Calm and Quiet Soul (from Somebody Who Struggles with It)
SEPTEMBER 19, 2018
Psalm 131 sounds like a private devotional to me:
“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. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”
Stop. Be still. Rest. That’s from the Bible. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
But the fact is that you can’t rest unless you have a calm and quiet soul first.
I don’t. I’m not a model of Psalm 131. And actually that’s a good thing. Never take advice from anybody about a difficult matter unless he or she agrees that it’s a difficult matter.
And this is a difficult matter for me. But I’m here to help…both you and me.
Realism defines calm and quiet.
“But I have calmed and quieted my soul…” From what? From a soul that isn’t so calm and quiet. The Psalmist struggled with some bad stuff or he would never have written this psalm at all.
Bad stuff leads to wisdom. The reason this is one of my favorite psalms is because I can identify.
An important principle: The contentment of a cow only works for cows. In other words, the peace that passes understanding is not what a lot of people think it is.
I once visited in the hospital a woman who was facing some extensive surgery. I asked her, “Are you scared?” I’ve asked that question at least a thousand times. Usually I get a response like, “Well, a little…but Jesus is faithful” or “No, I’m not…God has given me peace” or “I’m a Christian and Romans 8:28 is true.” But this lady’s response was different. She said, “Of course I’m scared! This is a hospital and people die in this place.”
We live in a fallen world…and it’s a lot worse than you think it is. In fact, if you get 51%, you can file it under a success.
They told you to read Psalm 23 to deal with your fears and anxiety. It didn’t work. Welcome to the club.
They told you that perfect love casts out fear. The problem is that you don’t have perfect fear and have trouble experiencing Jesus’ perfect love. Welcome to the club.
You’ve looked around and everybody seems so together and peaceful. They’re not.
I’m sorry, but somebody needs to say it. There are so many unrealistic expectations among Christians that it’s killing us. You can have a calm and quiet soul more than you do now…but you can’t do it perfectly. You’re not Home yet.
Weakness defines options.
“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.” In other words, I’ve tried a lot of other stuff and it doesn’t work. I can’t fix this.
I recently had lunch with a friend and the subject of racism came up. My friend said, “Jesus woke me up in the middle of the night and told me I was a racist.” He paused and then continued, “He told me that it was a lot worse than I thought. Not only did I not like people of a different color, I didn’t like anything that wasn’t like me.”
My friend learned one of the great counterintuitive teachings of the Bible: We’re a lot worse than we think we are. We’re far more needy than we believe. And we’re harder to fix than we thought we were.
It is out of our sin, our need and our failure that God begins to work. Once you begin to really see that, it’s the first step of wisdom.
Do you know how to have a calm and quiet soul? You come to the point of realizing that there isn’t a thing you can do to garner a calm and quiet soul. That’s how.
I really thought I’d be better by now. I’m not, but I’m somewhat better…because God fixes what we can’t fix. The Psalmist does say a thing about what to do to calm and quiet our souls. It is a gift and you get it from God.
Metaphor defines truth.
“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother…”
A weaned child with its mother is a metaphor. John Calvin called the Bible “God’s baby talk.” When an infinite God communicates to finite human beings, God must “get the fodder down low.”
Most Christians already know that the source of a calm and quiet soul is God. “But of course.” The problem isn’t that. The problem is that because we think God is angry, we don’t go to him.
When I was a kid, several of us delivered newspapers at 4 am each day…before anybody was awake. Something else also happened at that time. Cherry pies were delivered to the market and left on the doorstep. It was a temptation too great to resist. We would steal the cherry pies and eat them right away. Let me tell you something: A stolen cherry pie tastes far better than a bought one! Anyway, my friends would say, “If my father finds out, he will kill me.” Even back then, I remember thinking, “If my father finds out, he will love me…and that’s even worse.”
God isn’t angry. Go to him.
God defines the only alternative.
“O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”
In one of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair, Jill is really thirsty…but she needs to get past Aslan the lion (the character representing God) in order to drink at the clear, cold stream. When Jill asks Aslan to move and he refuses, she says, “Then I’ll go to another stream.” Aslan responds, “There is no other stream.” That’s what living the Christian faith is all about—the awareness that there is no other stream.
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:66-69). There is no other stream.
Of course there isn’t perfect peace and rest, and a totally calm and quiet soul. We aren’t Home yet. But I’m still here and I’m as old as dirt. I’m wounded, sinful, sometimes afraid and sometimes lonely…but I’m still here. Do you know why? It is before Jesus that I get enough of a calm and quiet soul to stay and rest for a while.
That’s true of you too.
Read more from Steve Brown here