As I write this devotional, 102,000 people worldwide have died so far from COVID-19 and there remains more questions than answers. The virus is rampant and the only thing more rampant is fear and confusion. For most of us, this disease has altered life as we know it with no guarantee that it will ever be the same again after the pandemic comes to an end. In many ways, the notion that “life will never be the same again” has been a prayer of mine and of many others that I know. Specifically, the prayer is that many unbelievers would come to know Jesus in a time of suffering and uncertainty because if they met Him, truly their lives would never be the same again, both now and eternally so.
Yet, “how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard” unless we share the gospel message with these desperate people in these desperate times (Romans 10:14)? And how are we as the church to labour to that end in these unprecedented times while perhaps our own hearts are unsettled? We may have willing spirits but we also have weak flesh (Matthew 26:41). We know we need not fear death, but we still have questions and concerns for this life now. Many of us have or will have to contend with losses—relationally, financially, or otherwise. To soothe our unrest, some of us turn to idols or temporary pleasures with no satisfaction of our distress. Others will turn to the healthcare professionals and country leaders to bring aid, information, and direction. Still others will turn to hope in ideologies of various kinds, from searching out and practicing deeply religious rituals to whimsically living as if the pandemonium around us was fabricated. And somehow, while we as Christians join the rest of humanity in adjusting to a different life, we are called to continue labouring for the mission of Jesus. How is that possible?
The key lies in our quiet surrender before the Lord as His children. As we examine Psalm 131 for the purposes of encouragement and prayer, my hope is that you will draw the strength to live courageously on mission for Jesus birthed out of a deep satisfaction in your relationship with your heavenly Father.
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 its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forevermore.
In the first verse, we read of David’s humility before God expressed in how his heart and eyes are not raised too high. Already we have a reason for comfort and for worship! God’s sovereignty is being exalted as David comes to grips with his finitude. Psalm 115:3 tells us that “our God is in the heavens, He does all that He pleases” and even with all of the suffering we’ve experienced and despite our unanswered questions (and if we’re honest, our indictments against Him), He is good, right and perfect in all that He does. After the barrage of rhetorical questions God asks Job in chapters 38-40, demonstrating Job’s powerlessness and God’s sovereignty, Job rightly says “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth" (Job 40:4). David, much like Job, worships God in a posture of reverence and lowliness.
This is our first reason for supernatural peace that can keep us on mission for Jesus: He is sovereign and we know that he is “working all things for the good of those who love Him and called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). We will not know this peace until we humble ourselves before the Almighty.
In the latter part of the first verse, we read that the psalmist does “not occupy [himself] with things too great and too marvelous for [him].” As a physician, I was on the receiving end of a slew of questions from patients, family and friends trying to make sense of the pandemic, its implications and for predictions for when life would return back to normal. As time went on, I realized more and more that many of my answers to their questions were an honest, “I don’t know.” I felt despair to some degree as I began to realize that there were yet more unknowns but when I read this part of the Psalm, my despair melted away. I chose to make this verse part of my daily meditation, particularly when I felt overwhelmed by uncertainty. I told myself not to “occupy myself” with things that are for the Lord to answer and reveal in His perfect time. Instead, I would occupy myself with His presence and we see that is just what David does in verse two.
In the second verse, David emerges with a “calmed and quieted soul” and the next appropriate question is, “How?” In fact, the words “calmed and quieted” are not merely adjectives of the state of his soul but they are verbs (shavah and damam in Hebrew). In other words, he is actively calming and quieting his soul and he does so by allowing his soul to rest in God just like how a “weaned child” would rest with his mother. Why does David use the image of a “weaned child with its mother” over any other kind of relationship? Here, we borrow from Charles Spurgeon to further explain the imagery:
“...for a weaned child thinks nothing of itself. It is but a little babe; whatever consciousness it has at all about the matter, it is not conscious of any strength or any wisdom, it is dependent entirely upon its mother’s care; and blessed is that man who is brought to lie very low in his own spirit before the Lord resting on the bosom of infinite love.”
Further to this idea of a “weaned child” is that David’s soul is not like a fragile “infant” who has no deep consciousness of its caretaker, nor is it a foolhardy “adolescent” that is brash and feeling invincible. Nor is his soul like an ”adult” who strives to make provision by his own strength and cunning, nor is it like a “senior” who is confident in his own accrued wisdom and experience. No, we see that God’s choice of words for David to pen, likening his soul to that of a “weaned child with its mother” was a perfect description of a Christian’s soul resting in the presence of God.
As I studied and meditated on this Psalm and then looked at my own family, I saw the full beauty of this simile emerge. While I was basting myself in the worry of uncertainty, I watched my children (22 months and 3.5 years old) adjust to this new way of life with much ease, joy and peacefulness. Then, I watched as my wife engaged them, comforted them, provided for them, loved them, and protected them. It was then that I discerned the source of their contentment. The world around us was raging with fear and suffering from COVID-19, but they had the presence of their mother. And it was enough.
Like David, we can actively calm and quiet our souls when we allow our souls to rest in His presence. He is enough—not just for now, but for all time. And that is why David finishes this Psalm in verse three by calling others to “hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.” Isn’t David’s call to a despairing Israel reminiscent of our call to a despairing world when we share the gospel? Indeed, there is no true solace apart from the presence of God and we enter his presence only by way of the gospel.
Take heart, Christian. You and I can remain on mission for Jesus in these uncertain times by means of humbling ourselves before Him, exalting His sovereignty, and occupying ourselves with the presence of God. When we do this, our calmed and rested souls will hope in Him and cannot help but call others to hope in Him as well.