Thoughts on Sharing Christ with Your Child

I have served in children’s ministry for the past six years and am the father of two children under six years old. As a result of both of these blessings I have developed some thoughts on how to best share the hope of Christ with kids. I hope you find these thoughts helpful as you pursue making disciples in your home and ministry.

Be clear about what the Gospel is (and is not).

When we talk about evangelism or sharing Christ we are talking about sharing the Gospel. The Gospel is a specific set of truths connected to the person and redemptive work of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reminds his readers of the Gospel which “saves” (v.1). In verses three and four he identifies that the Gospel is the good news that ‘Christ died for our sins’ (v.3; ESV), that Christ ‘was buried’ (v.4), and that Christ was ‘raised on the third day’ (v.4). These three truths describe the Gospel in its most simplified form.

The Gospel is not a catch all term for telling your child about God in a generic way. The Gospel is the good news that God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins and that Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave three days after being buried.

Be clear about how to respond to the Gospel.

When Paul says that the Gospel “saves” (1 Corinthians 15:1) it implies that God wants people to be saved by it. Further, when Paul says, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:1) he connects the work of Christ to our sinful state. Your kid’s response to the Gospel arises from their perception of needing to be saved.  Unless they first see themselves as sinners in need of saving they will never see the Gospel as necessary.

The Gospel does not exist so that our kids can be empowered and inspired to be better people and as a result earn God’s favor. The free offer of the Gospel is if anyone believes in Jesus and His completed work he/she will be saved and inherit eternal life (John 3:16). Our hearts are naturally sin bent to want to believe that God’s love is something that can be harnessed and controlled by good works, but it isn’t. This wrong thinking often even creeps into spiritual conversations we have with our kids when we are talking about salvation.

Help kids think conceptually about the Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is so simple that children can believe it but it is not so simple that it doesn’t need explaining. The concepts native to the message of the Gospel can be difficult for kids to understand. Concepts like sin, consequences, forgiveness, and faith are essential concepts that must be explained for the Gospel to make any sense to the hearer. This is especially true for children. Sometimes we as adults take for granted that we didn’t always understand what these words and concepts mean. Each of us as ministers of the Gospel must walk slowly our children as they learn the truths of the Gospel and the truths the Gospel is built upon.

For example, faith can be incredibly difficult for a child to understand. One effective way I have found to explain the meaning of faith is by using the illustration of a chair. If I say I have faith in a chair I mean that I trust the chair do what it was designed to do. The way my faith in that chair is demonstrated is that I actually sit and rest on it. Likewise, we are called to have faith in the completed work of Jesus. We put faith in Jesus by trusting that He accomplished for us on the cross what He said He accomplished. When I rest in Jesus no longer am I trying to earn my way to Heaven.

Closing Thoughts

Be patient with your child. Learning the Gospel takes time. Remember that believing the Gospel is a supernatural work of the Spirit (John 3:7-8; 1 John 5:1). You cannot cause or coerce your child to believe in the Gospel. We plant and water that Gospel seed but we recognize that God alone can produce growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Be patient with yourself. Not every spiritual conversation with your child has to explain the Gospel in its entirety. You are going to have incomplete conversations with your child that leave you feeling inadequate and ill-equipped. You are not alone. Your job is to be a faithful witness to the truth of Gospel so that your child may hear the Gospel (Romans 10:14-15). Don’t give up. Keep pressing forward by being a good student of the Gospel yourself and looking for opportunities to have Gospel pointed conversations. By God’s grace He uses imperfect parents with imperfect presentations of the Gospel to bring children to saving faith in Christ.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash

Why God Creates “Bad” Days For You

“Bad” days are relative to each person’s experience but we all have them. Sometimes our bad days are things like car problems or allergy issues, but then other times our bad days involve more difficult news. Our tendency is to think if we just had (fill in the blank) then we could avoid bad days, but this is not the case. Even Solomon had bad days despite his immense wealth and wisdom. While Solomon’s unparalleled resources were unable to protect him, his theology accounted for bad days so that he could process them in a God-honoring way. In Ecclesiastes 7:14 Solomon’s theology for understanding bad days is spelled out, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (ESV). Solomon’s words are significant because he addresses “bad” days (‘days of adversity’) and in the process he gives us insight into both their source and purpose.

Where do bad days come from?

The book of Job shows us that even when Satan is the immediate culprit behind our difficult days that God, at the very least, has to sign off on what happens (Job 1:12). This is a hard truth to chew on and stomach. It is easier for our brains to process God being the cause of all pleasant things and the Devil being the cause of all difficult things in our lives. We like these nice and tidy categories but in God’s economy things are not this simple.

While bad days may be the immediate result of our choices or even Satan’s meddling, nothing happens outside the providential and inscrutable hand of God (Proverbs 16:33). At the very least God could have stopped or prevented the events and situations which result in what we deem a “bad day” but for reasons we cannot understand, He didn’t. So, during days of ‘adversity’ we strive to remember that “God has made the one as well as the other,” meaning that we remember God’s good and wise hands design and bring into existence what we often call “bad days.”

Why does God create (or at least allow) bad days?

God being the creator of bad days does not make God some kind of ant-bully arbitrarily dispensing pain to helpless beings. Romans 8:28 speaks to God’s good and providential plan in all things (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good”). We know that God is using all events, even bad days, for our good which is Christ-likeness. What isn’t immediately clear is how God uses bad days to mold us into being the people He desires us to be. As we continue to read the words of Solomon we see that he speaks to this issue with specificity.

When Solomon says, “so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (7:14) he is speaking to the specific purpose as to why God brings hard days into our paths. The translation from Hebrew to English comes across a bit weird but the phrase means, God does not want people to know or predict their future.

God knows that as imperfect, sinful humans we are relentlessly self-reliant. If we can leave God out of the equation, we will. We like to be able to predict and even control what tomorrow holds based on what we do (or don’t do) today. The logic is, “If I did _______ today, then I can expect ________ tomorrow.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it keeps God on the fringes of our lives because it is an attempt to work around needing God’s grace and mercy. Thankfully, God is too kind to let us go on this way. We need the presence and grace of God every day and God knows how to force the issue so that we don’t begin to think otherwise.

In Closing

What we read in Ecclesiastes 7:14 does not make “bad” days any more enjoyable. The grace of Solomon’s words is that for those of us who are God’s people (true followers of Christ), our bad days gain perspective. No “bad” day is wasted in God’s providential care.
Even on our worst days God is not distant and unconcerned. We don’t get to know all the ways that God is using difficult days to accomplish His purposes but it is clear that He is using them to continually make us reliant on Him.

Credits

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

God Created the Stars For Anxious Hearts

No one really knows how many stars are in the Universe. Even using the best instruments available it is not clear how many stars are in the Milky Way galaxy (our galaxy). Some experts in this field have estimated there may be as many as 2 trillion galaxies with each galaxy containing an average of 100 million stars. Even a conservative estimate would yield more stars than we can fathom.

One question Christ-followers should consider is why did a good and purposeful God create so many stars if we are incapable of seeing all of them or even understanding their multitude?

A Seemingly Infinite Galaxy declares God’s Infinite Glory

One limitation of this question is that it assumes God created the stars exclusively for us. However, this is not the case. Psalm 19:1 teaches that, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV). Simply put, God created stars to declare His glory. There are an incomprehensible amount of stars because His glory is incomprehensible.

The Universe and all of its contents are like a choir declaring God’s glory and the audience is every human being, angelic being, and even God himself. When we gaze into the sky God invites our hearts to join the chorus of the heavens in order to exalt who He is. It is only right that an infinite God with infinite glory deemed it necessary to sing His glory with a seemingly infinite universe. While it is true that God created the stars for His glory a more nuanced look at God’s purpose in creating the stars reveals God’s pastoral care for our anxious hearts.

God’s Word Speaks to those who are Overcome with Anxious Thoughts

In my experience those who struggle with anxious thoughts are often tempted to believe harmful lies which feed back into and compound feelings of anxiety. For instance, anxious hearts tend to believe that they are alone (“No one knows what it’s like to be in my head.”) and also they tend to feel a heightened sense of responsibility to control the future and how things turn out. These examples are anecdotal and anyone who deals with anxiety would be quick to point out that they are not an exhaustive description of what it means and feels like to battle anxiety. That being said, it is helpful to consider how God’s Word speaks to these commonly shared experiences.

In Luke 12 Jesus calls our attention to the Father’s intimate knowledge and care for ravens (v.24) and lilies (v.27). In this instance Jesus speaks to the Father’s awareness and care of relatively lesser created things as a way of soothing anxious hearts. Jesus’ logic is that if the Father knows and takes care of these simple and relatively insignificant things then certainly He will care for us, the crown jewel of His Creation (Psalm 8:3-4). This is good news for those of us struggling with anxious thoughts because it means that we are not alone and also that we do not have to feel the weight of controlling the future. There is One who knows our worries and cares for us and the outcome of our situation beyond what we could ever imagine.

The Soothing Work of God’s Universe

It’s not just knowledge of God’s intricate care for birds and flowers which soothes anxious hearts. A look at what God tells us about those seemingly innumerable stars cast throughout the depths of the Universe is also soothing to our anxious hearts.

In Psalm 147:4 we read a telling statement about the stars, “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (ESV). The seemingly infinite number of stars are included in God’s intimate knowledge. He alone knows their exact number and even more than that He has them named.

Not only is God intimately aware of the stars, He is also present and in control of them. We see this in Isaiah 40:26 which says, “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing” (ESV). If God is intimately aware and in control of what is going on with flaming balls of gas billions of light years away then certainly He knows and is control of your situation in ways you just cannot fathom. God’s Word is helping us feel the weight of this reality so we can see that God created the stars both for His glory and for our good.

In Closing

I am not suggesting that all it takes to cure and overcome anxious thoughts is a good long look at the stars. Anxiety is complex and the conversation of getting help should involve a multitude of counselors including medical professionals and pastors. That being said, God’s Word provides hope and help for those struggling with anxious feelings and thoughts. One of the ways God provides this hope and help for those struggling with anxious thoughts is by instructing followers of Christ how to interact with the world around us.

While it is important to see that God created the stars for His glory it also important to not miss the truth that one of the ways the God gets glory is when His Saints have their hearts instructed by His Word on how to interact with a created thing like stars and are soothed as a result. When we hear the birds outside chirp, see our neighbors beautifully maintained flower gardens, and pause to gaze into star filled skies we should be comforted. God knows and is in control of these things but is much more concerned for those in Christ.

Credits

Photo by Denis Degioanni on Unsplash

How Many Stars Are In The Universe? By Elizabeth Howell on Space.com (accessed 7 April, 2019).

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

United to Christ and Free from Sin, but Still Sinning?

If you are reading this it is likely because your experience with sin doesn’t make sense to you. This is the case for many of us. We read passages like Romans 6:18 (“and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”) and we are confused. We wonder how it is that we, who Christ has set free from sin, still have such strong urges to keep on sinning. Shouldn’t it be easy for those who have freedom from sin to stop sinning? The answer is, no, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 6, makes sense of our struggle.

Sin is a master

Paul speaks of sin as if it is a king or a master who cruelly reigns over people. He uses the words “dominion” (v. 9, 14) and “reign” (v. 12) to talk about sin’s power over people and likewise the words “slaves” (v. 20) and “enslaved” (v. 6) to talk about people’s experience living under the reign of sin.

We are born under sin’s enslavement and sin totally dominates us (v. 14). Being enslaved to sin does not mean that we are as sinful as we could be but it does mean that prior to personal salvation sin taints even our good and moral behavior. This imagery is important to consider if we want to understand why it is those of us who are free from sin still sin.

In Christ we have a new Master

The two most significant words in the New Testament are: in Christ.  Being in Christ is more than just letters added after our names signaling our credentials (i.e. MD, PhD, MA, MDiv), it is a transformation of who we once were. These words speak of the identity we take on at our personal salvation.

God miraculously brings us into Christ when we place our faith in Christ. When God brings us into Christ it marks a spiritual union with Christ. When Paul says we have been “baptized into Christ” (v.3) he means that we have been spiritually “united with Christ” (v.5). The result of this spiritual union is that we are made new creatures and old things pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). To use the language of Romans 6:18 we have become “slaves of righteousness.” Before being in Christ our master was sin but in Christ we have a new master and that master is Jesus. No longer does sin totally dominate us. We now have the choice to not sin.

Why do we still struggle with sin?

For those of us in Christ we have a new master reigning over us and the claim of our old master, sin, has been broken. But why do we still desire to sin and participate in sin? The answer is that our old master, sin, is in a fight till the bitter end. We still feel the presence of sin long after its rule and reign has concluded because sin refuses to acknowledge defeat.

Even though you are in Christ (if you have placed your faith in Christ) sin is continuing to compete for the throne of your heart. Sin still gives orders for you to follow and is in a massive marketing campaign trying to convince you to submit yourself again to its cruel reign. Often times its commands, pleas, and promises are unfortunately successful and we sin.

My six year old daughter loves to play with putty. It molds and takes shape as she desires and commands. The thing about putty is that long after my daughter releases her grip it maintains the markings and impressions of her hands. The reign of sin is like this. Although sin’s powerful grip has been broken, we feel its impression, contours, and indents long after the fact.

Romans 6 and Juneteenth

Trip Barefield (Trip Lee) preached a sermon at Capitol Hill Baptist Church titled The Living Dead where he likens Paul’s message in Romans chapter 6 to something known as Juneteenth (do yourself a favor and go listen to his sermon). He explains that in January 1863 Abraham Lincoln brought into effect the Emancipation Proclamation formally ending slavery but that, sadly, the news of this freedom did not initially reach slaves in Texas. It was not until almost two and a half years later that slaves in Texas became aware of the status of freedom they already had. This day was June 19th, 1865 and became known as Juneteenth.

Paul is writing to believers set free from sin. Romans chapter 6 serves as an announcement of that Good News. What Paul knows is that in order for us to “consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” we must be reminded of who we are in Christ and what we are to be in Christ.

In Closing

As we look back again at the phrase in v. 18, “have become slaves of righteousness”, there are two observations I want to make in closing. First, becoming a slave of righteousness is an identity bestowed upon us immediately at our conversion. At the moment we place our faith in Christ we are “freed (lit. ‘justified’) from sin” (v. 7) and we have a new master reigning over us. Second, becoming a slave of righteousness is something we grow into throughout our lives in Christ. This becoming a slave of righteousness is a progressive work of God (Philippians 2:12-13) as you refuse to let sin “reign in your mortal body” and instead you “present” yourself as an instrument of righteousness to God (v. 13).

May God be gracious to us as we “so now present [our] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (v. 19).

Credits

Photo by Filip Zrnzević on Unsplash

The sermon titled The Living Dead by Trip Barefield can be found here.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The Image of God and Your Social Media Engagement

Remember the good ole’ days when your social media timelines were filled with balanced, useful, and encouraging words from all your friends and family? Yeah, me neither! I find myself commonly thinking two thoughts as I scroll social media: (1) What were you thinking when you posted this?, and (2) What was I thinking when I posted this?

I don’t want to be overly optimistic but there is hope for social media. If we are going to notice any real change on our timelines it has to start with each one of us having some theological awareness. Specifically, what I am arguing for is that we discipline ourselves to filter our social media habits through the theological truth known as the image of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

When we talk about the image of God we are talking about how God’s likeness is imprinted in us as created beings (Genesis 1:26). Human beings stand alone as beings created in the image of God (Psalm 8). No other being, whether it be an animal or angelic being, is created in the image of God. That being said, to be created in the image of God means that we are like God, not that we are God.

In a 2016 ERLC post titled ‘What does it mean to be made in God’s Image?’ David Closson convincingly argues that the image of God in man boils down to both who man is and what man does. First, when we think of the image of God in man as who man is we are talking about our capacities. Specifically, we have in mind our intellectual, emotional, and relational capacities. These are all things that are possessed by us because they are true of God, whose image we are created in. Second, being created in the image of God has to do with what we do. God not only gives us certain capacities He has designed us to use those capacities for His glory. Kyle Gangel summarized this aspect well in his post ‘My Worth and My Unworthiness’ when he says that God “commands each person to reflect his image by obeying his Word. […] We were created in the likeness of God, so that we might represent him as living, breathing pictures (images) of him.”

As a result of mankind’s fall into sin (Genesis 3) the image of God has been negatively impacted. We still retain the image of God in some sense (James 3:9) but imperfectly so. Rather than use our God given likeness to love God and serve God, we use our image bearing qualities to love and serve self. God transforms us through the Spirit to be more like Christ to restore image of God in us because Christ is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15-16).  

How does the image of God impact the “big” things?

Being theologically aware that we are created in the image of God impacts how we see and interact with the world around us. For instance, as Christians we are quick to point out that the basis for racial equality and protection for the unborn is that all people are created in God’s image. Because we are made in the image of God every human life has intrinsic value, dignity, and worth. If being created in the image of God impacts how we see and do everything, its relevance cannot be isolated to just these particular big issues. We have to allow this theology to work its way through all dark areas of our lives and bring us into the light.

How does the image of God impact the “small” things?

One area we often fail to see the relevance of the image of God is how it changes our engagement on social media. The people we disagree with, or struggle to get along with, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect on the basis that they are created in the image of God. Our posts, comments, likes, shares, and retweets must be theologically aware of the reality we are engaging with (and about) those who have intrinsic worth.

To mock or ridicule someone through clever memes based on their looks, voice, demeanor, intellect, or personality is to belittle and attack the image of God. Furthermore, to capitalize on a person’s misuse of the image of God by mocking them in their sin is equally unhelpful. At the very least this type of interaction fails to communicate the grace and mercy of the cross. Unfortunately, how funny something is often takes precedence over whether or not it meets any other criteria before being shared. As image bearers we can choose to function better than this.

James actually makes a connection between our talk and the image of God in James 3:9, “With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (ESV, see below). We think our words are a relatively small thing but God has a much different view. Sometimes the things we think are small and insignificant are actually vitally important to God. Our words, memes, and likes are all part of how we communicate and they make up a sizable part of our lives. Our talk matters to God because people matter to God.

Closing Thoughts

God hasn’t called us to police others on social media but he has called speak the truth in love and to help our brothers and sisters in Christ do the same. Here are a couple of questions to consider as we engage on social media:

  1. Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way degrade or belittle someone created in the image of God?
  2. Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way monopolize on someone else’s failings in order to make a point?
Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

Praying for God’s Glory Is Not Easy

We’ve all had those times when we’ve heard someone pray and thought to ourselves, “Geeze…I wish I prayed like that.” I imagine the disciples felt this emotion when they heard Jesus pray His prayer in John 17.

For many of us, when we think of Jesus and prayer our minds go to Luke 11:2-4 (“Father, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come […]”) where Jesus teaches in three short verses the content that should shape our prayers. If Luke 11 is the Reader’s Digest lesson on prayer then John 17 is Jesus’ unabridged, Magnum Opus. It is 26 theologically rich verses which are unparalleled in their ability to instruct us how to pray. Oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t do any instructing in this prayer. We receive this instruction as flies on the wall catching a glimpse of what a God-honoring prayer sounds like. As we look at Jesus’ prayer we notice it prioritizes God’s glory and that praying for God’s glory may be a bit more difficult than we envision.

Praying for the Glory of God can be Costly

In John 17:1 Jesus has a unique way of praying for God’s glory. He prays that he himself would be glorified (“glorify your Son”) so that God the Father may be glorified (“that the Son may glorify you”). On the surface, this sounds a bit self-centered of Jesus. After all, who goes around praying for their own glory? Well, Jesus’ prayer isn’t so simple. As this prayer comes to fruition in the next several chapters we realize that the Father glorifying the Son happens through Jesus being betrayed, beaten, and crucified for our sins (as well as subsequently being resurrected and ascending into Heaven). Jesus is moved to pray for the glory of God even when He knows it comes at great personal cost.

Praying for the glory of God is doable when we suppose it will not cost us too much or unsettle our version of comfortable. Sometimes though, God, for the sake of His glory, pushes us past the boundaries of our own comfort by taking our children to the mission field or by bringing about hard-to-accept consequences for sin. Understandably, we struggle with praying for the glory of God because the glory of God can be both kind and terrifying. That being said, it is always for the good of those of us in Christ because it is transforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-30).

Praying for the Glory of God is Not Passive

Sometimes we assume that our work concludes with “Amen” when praying for the glory of God. However, we are not moviegoers waiting for the show of God’s glory to start. We participate in God’s good plan in displaying His glory. As we walk through John 17 we watch the verbs unfold and find that Jesus “glorified” the Father “having accomplished the work” the Father gave Him to do (v.4). Further, Jesus “manifested” (v.6) the Father’s name to people by “[giving] them the words” given to Him by the Father (v.8). Jesus doesn’t take a backseat and He doesn’t take over. He simply takes action by being obedient to the work God gave Him to do.

Again, the glory of God in prayer has a way of uncomfortably stretching us. Becoming a participant in the glory of God recognizes that we are His instruments. It is for the glory of God that we are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and show “hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9). God’s work oftentimes includes our work.

God will be Glorified

Sometimes, we need reminding that God always accomplishes His glory. This doesn’t make us complacent or indifferent. Instead, it fastens our hearts to the solemn reality that God’s glory is in God’s hands, according to God’s plan. The ones whom Jesus was given to preach to (v.2), do indeed keep (v.6), receive (v.8), and believe (v.8) God’s Word. In other words, what happens is exactly what the Father intended to happen. Like Paul, we recognize our part as instruments in God’s hands but we never forget that although some of us may plant and some of us may water it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

I love this truth because it reorients my thoughts to see things like God sees things. God calls me to speak and live out the Gospel. He has not given me the ability, or responsibility, to awaken dead hearts or rid human hearts of indwelling sin. These things are the things of the Holy Spirit as He works through the living and abiding Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

I can lay my head to rest at night because of the truth that God’s Word always accomplishes exactly what God has intended it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11).

In Closing

Praying for the glory of God may be costly and it will likely require participation on your part but there are no better words to occupy the space of your prayers. Every prayer uttered for the glory of God is a surrender to infinite wisdom and the sovereign plan of the Father who is preparing you for eternity. All that God calls you to be and do is for your joy both now and forever (John 15:11; 17:13). It is always worth it to pray for God’s glory, even when the answer to your prayer pushes you beyond the boundaries of your own comfort and leisure.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash

The Subtle Havoc of Pride

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.

Conclusion

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.


Credits

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Eswine, Zack (2015). The Imperfect Pastor. Wheaton, IL. Crossway.


Other Resources

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.