• Richard Parrish

August Reflection By Richard Parrish “Soul-agitation” or “Soul-contentment?”



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“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.” [1]

REFLECT


It’s something I’m aware of daily.


You would think that after following Christ for as long as I have, I would have checked this sin off my list by now.


My sin is something Christ’s 12-disciples struggled with as well. It’s one we all struggle with – followers of Jesus or not.


It doesn’t die quickly.


The 12-disciples had wrongly assumed Christ’s Kingdom would soon provide a new governing authority to replace Roman oppression.


They had been discussing among themselves what significant positions they might have in this new-formed government.


“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”[2]

Jesus answers that question using the powerful visual example of calling a small child (who, according to the Law, has no rights) to illustrate that God values humility above greatness. Jesus is telling them (and us):


You must change your thinking to discover true greatness.


Our significance is a result of childlike humility, not accomplishments. It’s not our position, acclaim, or how others admire us that is of merit.


Just humility.


And let’s not forget: The antonym of humility is pride.


With pride comes disgrace and a lack of wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). The sage warns us:

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”[3]

Jesus reinforces the necessity of humility and reminds us: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23:12).


Is it possible we have reversed Christ’s equation of greatness?


Psalm 131 contains just 65 words, timely for each of us. The Psalmist David understands:


Pride is independence from God – and disobedience to God.


He acknowledges his heart (his will) is not “lifted up,” and his eyes are not “haughty” (arrogant).


He refuses to elevate his plans, ideas, or motives over God’s purpose, willingly submitting his desires before God. For David, chasing selfish ambitions, pale compared to his pursuit of God (vs. 1a).


David refuses to be preoccupied with things beyond his understanding; matters incomprehensible (vs. 1b). He recognizes such things can distract him from his aim for God.

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul…”[4]

Wow, is that not a deeply needed prescription for our lives today?


It’s evident that for many soul-agitation overshadows soul-contentment. Just name a topic, and you find people are unhappy, angry, disturbed, and alarmed.


We like having our way, making sure our voice is louder than others, and if others do not listen, then we are tempted to justify reacting out of anger in unhealthy and destructive behavior.


What does David know about calming and quieting his soul that can help us?


The word “soul” in Hebrew is nephesh [נֶ֫פֶשׁ]. It incorporates our soul — mind, will, emotions, and body. Your soul is your life, self, person, desires, appetites, feelings, and passion. David understands: a quite soul requires submission of our entire being to God.


In common vernacular, David says: “I said to my heart, ‘Sit down and be cool.’”


Like us, he could not avoid what was happening around him. But he is aware that the disturbances of life do not have to agitate his soul. He recognizes that contentment is not found in getting his way, but in submission to God’s purpose.


The world cannot control a life that places itself (emotions, passion, and appetites) in submission to God. Even in chaos, the well-being of our soul is secure and safe with God.


Like “a weaned child,” the Psalmist realizes it’s impossible to avoid distress.


The time of weaning is quite distressful to a child, but it is necessary to get beyond the stage of a milk-fed infant. So it is, with putting aside pride and selfish ambition. It doesn’t happen without distress.


Our urge for self-gratification—combined with peer pressure—are strong incentives. Just as a child needs weaning from her mother, our soul needs to detach from the pursuit of selfish desires.


Your soul—my soul—craves a life that is more than just satisfying our desires. If our life’s goal is to achieve satisfaction, we will never be satisfied because our soul’s real longing is for God—not things, positions, or power.


“For God alone, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (Psalm 62:1)

There is no higher goal than to “act justly, “love mercy,” and to “walk humbly” with God (Micah 6:8b). That goal is attainable when we submit our aspirations to God.


Submission yields the fruit of humility and is the soil in which HOPE grows. “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD…”


Yes, these are crazy and chaotic times. People are anxious, frightened, and weary. But it’s never too late to put your HOPE in the LORD. The Hebrew term for “hope” means to “wait expectantly for.” That poses the question: For whom are you waiting?


When we have new leadership things will be better; When I accomplish my goals, life will be better; When our churches, businesses, and schools re-open, things will be better; When I receive the benefits I deserve, life will be better. Will it?


Outside of God, there is no contentment. As long as there is an ounce of sinful pride in me, I will always be prone to seek satisfaction in the wrong places.


Is it time to allow contentment to calm and quiet your soul?


RESPOND

  • What am I noticing that agitates me? Am I willing to name them?

  • Does my speech and behavior reflect a contented or agitated soul? Why? Why not?

  • What – and whom – do I think will restore contentment to my life? Why do I believe that?

  • In my firm conviction that I’m right am I willing to submit my opinion to God’s ruling? If not, why?

  • Am I willing to live with the distress of being weaned from this world to have my soul satisfied by God?

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 131:1–3.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 18:1.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 16:18.

[4]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 131:2a.