If you could choose any one sin for God to immediately and permanently deliver you from what would it be? My guess is that pride is not the first sin which comes to mind. I think the reason that this is so is that the havoc of pride is subtle. Its invasive tentacles slither into every room of your heart with imperceptible movement and its suffocating grip is tolerable over time. But underestimating the toll pride can have on your life is a dangerous miscalculation.
My hope is that as we look together at Psalm 131 God will activate its truths in your heart in order to equip you to better fight pride. Psalm 131 helps us understand the particular havoc pride causes and that there is hope available for those who suffer from this havoc.
1 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. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. (ESV; see below)
Hints of a Former Life
Listen to how the psalmist describes his current spiritual state in verse 1. His “heart is not lifted up,” his “eyes are not raised too high,” and he does not “occupy [himself] with things too great and too marvelous” (which means he recognizes there are things which only God can be and God can do). All these phrases describe a man who is humble.
Presumably, this was not always the case. There was a time in the past when this man’s heart was proud, his eyes raised too high, and being and doing the things reserved for God controlled him.
One of the graces of Psalm 131 is that it provides an opportunity for us to consider what pride is still lingering in our hearts and the destruction it is causing.
The Havoc: Spiritual Restlessness
In verse 2 the psalmist speaks of being “calmed” and “quieted.” Obviously, the psalmist experienced havoc which needed to be calmed and quieted. This chaos is not external as if the psalmist is speaking about the world around him. Just the opposite is true. The world is still just as chaotic and restless as it has ever been. Rather, the psalmist has internal chaos; his soul (his inner being), therefore, is in need of being calmed and quieted.
I don’t know what label to attach to this havoc of the soul. But having a label or name is secondary. Those who suffer in this way know that no word can fully capture all that it entails. For the sake of conversation, I will just simply refer to this havoc as spiritual restlessness.
Can Pride Really Cause Spiritual Restlessness?
The most valuable truth I’ve learned from Psalm 131 is that there is a link between pride and spiritual restlessness. Pride doesn’t cause all spiritual restlessness but pride can lead to, and feed into, spiritual restlessness. It pressures you to be and to do things reserved for God alone. Here are four examples of this kind of pride (Zack Eswine in his book ‘The Imperfect Pastor’ helped me understand these pressures):
- The pressure to have more – “If I just had more time and money all my problems would be solved.”
- The pressure to be more – “If only I could be a better spouse, a better parent, a better employee and a better church member, things would be different.”
- The pressure to do more – “I just wish I just had more energy to do things I need to do.”
- The pressure to know more – “If I just had more information I would have made different decisions and things would be different.”
But here is the thing with all these pressures – God hasn’t designed you to have everything, be everything, do everything, and know everything. God and God alone is all sufficient, holy, and all knowing. These pressures are unnecessary and leave you feeling exasperated and frustrated or you could say spiritually restless. God knows this and his grace is up for the challenge.
The Hope and Source of Soul Quietness
The psalmist experienced something that we all desire for ourselves. This ‘something’ is that he had been “calmed” (Hebrew word meaning to level or make smooth) and “quieted” (Hebrew word meaning to make still). The psalmist calmed and quieted his soul (v.2) by undergoing the spiritual work of humbling his prideful self (v.1). The psalmist understood that calming and quieting his restless soul demanded fighting pride because pride is what fed into his spiritual restlessness. When this pride went unchecked spiritual restlessness flourished in his soul.
Was this growth easy? No way! The pain is like what a baby experiences when being weaned from his mother’s milk. But God’s grace worked in him and he was calmed and quieted as he fought to kill pride. Why wouldn’t a kind and loving God do the same for you?
Hope in God
Fighting pride is more than just putting off pride-filled thought patterns. It also requires putting on hoping in the LORD as the psalmist explains in verse 3. This work of hoping in the LORD requires resting in who He is and what only He can do. This LORD is the one who has “steadfast love” and in Him, there is “plentiful redemption” (Psalm 130:7). This LORD is the one who came to “redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8). Whereas pride turns your hope inward, hoping in the LORD requires you look outside of yourself for safety, certainty, and security.
We need Psalm 131 as often as we can remind ourselves of it. Pride is always knocking on the door of our hearts. Before we open the door and invite that old friend in again I pray that God would bring at least two truths from Psalm 131 to our remembrance: First, I pray that God will remind us of the ruin pride brings in the form of spiritual restlessness. When God helps us remember sin’s danger it is one of His good graces which help us avoid sin in the first place. Second, I pray that when we find ourselves in this unfortunate state that we would humble ourselves as we hope in God.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Eswine, Zack (2015). The Imperfect Pastor. Wheaton, IL. Crossway.
If you enjoyed this post you should also check out David Powlison’s chapter titled Peace, Be Stil: Psalm 131 in his book ‘Seeing With New Eyes‘ (P & R Publishing, 2003), and John Piper’s sermon Join Me in Soul-Satisfaction in God on Psalm 131. Both of these resources were a joy to interact with and helped me see the beauty of Psalm 131.