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Psalm 131
Bob DeGray
August 18, 2002

Key Sentence

Contentment is found as we fix our hope on God.


I. Aspiration Gone Crazy (Psalm 131:1)
II. The Contentment of a Child (Psalm 131:2)
III. The Object of Hope (Psalm 131:3)


        There is nothing more frenzied than a hungry baby. There is nothing more content than a full baby. Gail and I know this first hand. When our children were little they would often reach the stage where they were so hungry they wouldn’t eat, or so tired they wouldn’t sleep, or both. Gail would say, even when they were too young to understand: “If you would just settle down for a minute I could give you what you need.” One day she realized God must feel that way about us at times “If you would just settle down I could give you what you need.”

        There does come a time in the maturing process of a child when they have enough object permanence and trust and self control that you can say “It’s okay, dinner will be ready in a minute, wait quietly and I’ll give it to you.” That time comes between the ages of two and twenty-four, depending on the child and the circumstance. And there ought to be a time when God can say to us: “It’s okay, I’ve got something good in mind for you, just wait a little and I’ll give it to you.” That time comes as a Christian matures, sometime between two and forty-four years after you become a believer, depending on how hard-headed you are, and on the circumstances.

        Sometimes we’re content, sometimes we’re frenzied. That has always been true of God’s people. Psalm 131 shows it to be true of David, and we can learn a lot from him, about both frenzy and contentment. Here’s the direction he seems to point us: Contentment replaces frenzy as we fix our hope on God.

I. Aspiration Gone Crazy (Psalm 131:1)

        Let me read you the Psalm: it’s almost the shortest one in the whole series. Psalm 131 My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

Verse 1 illustrates the opposite of contentment, which I”m calling frenzy, though David’s example is focused on having an ambitious heart. Uncontrolled ambition, proud and grasping, is a kind of frenzy. But as Eugene Peterson points out ambition is thought of as virtue in our culture, not as sin. He says “Our culture encourages and rewards ambition without qualification. We are surround by a way of life in which everyone wants to get more. To be on top, no matter what it is the top of, is admired.”

        The old story of Faust used to be well known and appreciated as a warning. Dr. John Faustus became impatient in his study of law, medicine and theology. No matter how much he learned in these fields, he found he was always in the service of something greater than himself – of justice, of healing, of God.

        He wanted to be in control, to break free of the limits of the finite. So he became an adept in magic, defying the laws of physics, the restrictions of morality and relations with God, using his knowledge for his own pleasures and purposes. In order to bring it off, however, he had to make a pact with the devil which permitted him to act for the next twenty-four years without moral limits, in control instead of in relationship, using power instead of love. But at the end of twenty-four years came damnation.

        For generations this story has been retold by playwrights, novelists and composers as a warning to people against the foolhardy adventure of trying to be a god. But now an alarming thing has happened. This sin is held up everywhere as a virtue, urged as profitable, rewarded as an achievement. What is described in Scripture as the basic sin, the sin of taking things into your own hands, being your own god, grabbing all you can get, is now described as basic wisdom: improve yourself by whatever means you can; get ahead regardless of price; take care of self first.

        It is difficult to recognize ambition as a sin because it bears a superficial resemblance to the virtue of aspiration, which is a dissatisfaction with all things created until we are at home with the Creator, a hopeful striving for the best God has for us, the kind of thing Paul expressed when he said "forgetting what lies behind, I press on." But if we take the energies that make for aspiration and remove God from the picture, we end up with ugly arrogance. Aspiration is the creative energy that moves us to growth in Christ. Ambition takes these same energies and uses them to satisfy our own selfish ends. Ambition is aspiration gone crazy.

        David isn’t saying that he has no aspirations. We know from his biography and his psalms that he was wholehearted in his desires. What he’s saying is that he is not going to focus his desires on things that rightly belong to God. “I'm not going to get into foolish pride, foolish selfishness, the foolishness of thinking that I can reach up and take the controls of a universe that can only be run by the hand of God.” Three translations of the verse say: "I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me." "Nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.", "Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me." In other words, I don't get exercised about the things that are outside my control. I don't get into a frenzy about these things.
        We can apply David’s attitude to several areas of our own lives. We want to avoid frenzy of spirit while not quenching earnestness for God. Let's think of four areas where we can earnestly strive to avoid earthly frenzy. The first, close to David's thought, is in the desire for earthly power and influence. I may not be trying to run God, but I'm trying to run the world _ focusing my time, energy and ambition on controlling situations, controlling others, being in charge. I may be doing this in my workplace, in my career, in my church, or in my home, but wherever I do it, its an attempt to wrest the controls of the universe out of God's hands for some personal end.

        The same can be true if I give myself wholeheartedly to worry. Now we all worry at times, and there are times when Godly worry is the drive behind Godly prayers. But too often we allow worry to become all consuming, taking on ourselves all the distress of every situation we see, burning ourselves out trying to figure out what the answer might be and trying to convince others that they must for their own sake go in a certain direction. On top of that we worry about the future, not so that we can take prudent measures, but because we conjure up the worst outcome of every situation and get in a dither of concern over things that will probably never happen. This nullifies God's control of the universe. You're experiencing what he was never planning to make you experience, and you're probably making it worse than it would be if he did allow it. Not a pleasant way to live _ the frenzy of worry.

        There are other frenzies, of course, that come from trying to re_write God's basic plans for the universe. Lust is an attempt to re_write God's plans for human sexuality. It is focusing your heart and mind and body, often in a frenzy of sinful thoughts and actions, on something that God intended to be beautiful and bring peace. You’re saying to God “you didn't do this right: my urges, my drives, my needs, my desires are more than you can provide for. I've got to go outside the box and step into sinful thoughts, sinful actions, because otherwise I can’t be satisfied.”

        The frenzy of anger says much the same thing. God, you obviously don't have my best interests at heart: look at this person, and these frustrations and this stress that you have allowed to invade and even ruin my life. I hate this situation. I hate this person. I hate this imposition on my plans, my desires, my ideals. And I can't trust you to solve this problem. I'm going to try to solve it myself by controlling people with violent words and violent actions. My anger becomes just a frenzied way of trying to control a universe that isn't going the way I want.

        Frenzy. When was the last time you got into a frenzy? And didn’t that activity or emotion have something to do with putting yourself at the controls of the universe? Trying to impose your will on the limitations God has placed on you through his commands or through circumstances or through relationships? David calls this a proud heart and haughty eyes, and it is a disease all too common to me and to many of us.

II. The Contentment of a Child (Psalm 131:2)

        The alternative, which David in this Psalm says he has achieved, is contentment. Verse 2: But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

        This is a wonderful picture of one who has let go of frenzy: ‘I have stilled and quieted my soul.’ Two words tell how David achieves contentment. The first is a little difficult. It may be a verb that means ‘to agree with, to become like’ or a verb that means ‘to put, to set in place’. Either one could fit this context, but I think the second fits better, so that the author is saying ‘the first thing I do is I set my soul in place.’

        I don’t know how often you’ve dealt with a frenzy in one of your children, but sometimes the right answer is simply to hold the child in place or to give them a hug until they calm down. That’s what the author is saying he does to his soul, and that’s what I have to do to my soul often - to hold it in one place and wait for the presence of God or the comfort of God or the truth about God and his desires to seep in.

        The second word is ‘I have quieted my soul’. A frenzy is when your soul runs around and shouts or screams to no purpose. One of my favorite little sayings used to be ‘when in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.’ That’s no longer my favorite saying because I’m afraid my soul has taken it seriously. My soul has to be set in its place and urged to be quiet.

        There are a number of other verses in the Psalms that encourage the same attitude of peace and quiet. Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways” Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 62:1 “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” I also love Isaiah 30:15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’

        Here’s a little exercise. I find that my soul is connected to my sighs. I have a number of different sighs that express my soul more clearly than words. Sighs of tiredness, of despair, of frustration and irritation. But some sighs are positive. The sigh of pleasure when you see a beautiful sunset, of relief when something bad doesn’t happen. In the case of a frenzied soul there is the sigh of acceptance. Not despair, but accepting the situation as it is, the world as it is, and declaring yourself to be at peace with the situation and content in God. Can a sigh do all that? Yea. Do you want to try it? Close your eyes, take a breath, and sigh. ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ ‘My soul finds rest in God alone.’ ‘I have stilled and quieted my soul.’

        That’s the antidote for frenzy, and the Psalmist says its like being a weaned child. A nursing baby is always crying for his or her mother. But a weaned baby has found some contentment and confidence. Mom is still the provider, the most important person in life, but now the child is sometimes content just to be with mom and the demanding nature of the child’s dependance has subsided.

        Anthony Weiser, in a commentary on the Psalms, shows how this applies to us: “a weaned child rests quietly. No desire now comes between him and God. And just as the child gradually breaks off the habit of regarding his mother only as a means of satisfying his own desire and learns to love her for her own sake, so the worshiper has reached an attitude of mind in which he desires God for himself and not as a means of fulfillment of personal wishes. His life’s center of gravity has shifted. He now rests no longer in himself but in God”

        The New Testament word for this is ‘contentment’. Paul says ‘godliness with contentment is great gain.’ He says ‘I have learned to be content in all things’ - peace of soul even in world that brings great turmoil. But Eugene Peterson adds what we all know, that the transition from a squalling infant to a weaned child is not smooth. It’s stormy and noisy. It’s no easy thing to quiet yourself: sooner might we calm the sea or rule the wind or tame a tiger than quiet ourselves. It’s a pitched battle. But ‘to the weaned child his mother is his comfort though she has denied him comfort. It is a mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forgo the joys that once appeared essential and can find solace in him who denies them to us.’

III. The Object of Hope (Psalm 131:3)

        That’s contentment. And the last verse of the psalm gives us the key to finding it. Here’s the key: O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

        The real secret of contentment is hope. If our hope is placed in our achievement, we will be in a frenzy about achievement. If our hope is placed in our human relationships, we will be in a frenzy after those relationships. If our hope is placed in finding human pleasure we will be in a frenzy of greed or lust. If our hope is placed in safety we will be in a frenzy of worry. But if our hope is placed where it belongs, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, we will not be in a frenzy, because God is the one sure object of our hope. Remember what Hebrews says: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” This hope is the place where we set our soul when we quiet it. This the anchor keeps us secure even in the storm.

         This is not a formless hope, but a hope in what God has revealed through Jesus and in Scripture. Paul alone uses the word ‘hope’ 66 times. Check ‘em out. You’ll find a sure hope of heaven, a hope of home, a hope of eternity, an assurance of God’s goodness made sure because he has demonstrated that goodness through Jesus on the cross. Hope is the contented assurance of a life with God in which there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. No more sin, or the frenzy it causes in our spirit. Only abundance and joy. No matter how distressing or tragic our circumstances, all who have trusted Jesus as savior share this calm anchor of hope.
        When we find ourselves in stress or distress the right response is not frenzy but hope in God. Imagine a shipwreck, a disaster at sea. Two men find themselves alone in the vast ocean. One wants to swim for the distant shore, but the other says, “No, we got out a radio message. They’ll be looking for us here.” “They’ll never find us. I’m not going to wait here and drown. I’m swimming for shore.” So off he goes, swimming for all he’s worth, but eventually he tires. The other man, calmly treading water even when the waves mount up eventually sees the helicopter that has been sent to help. And he is the one who is rescued. When we avoid the frenzy of spirit that lead to sin, we find contentment because we have placed our hope in the one who promises rescue. Only in him do we find resting of soul.