Hope is “an effectual confidence in who God is and what He has said.”1Stuart Scott, “Essential Qualities of a Biblical Counselor,” Lecture, Little Rock, AR, August 2017. Hope fuels our obedience, our love (Colossians 1:4–5), our ministry effectiveness (2 Corinthians 4:8–18), our boldness (Philippians 1:20), our perseverance in trial (Romans 8:25), our joy (Romans 5:2–3)—in short, without hope we cannot flourish as the people of God. So, how do we cultivate a hope-filled life? Psalm 131 is a powerful answer to that question. In it, David calls Israel to a renewed hope in God (131:3) and models for them—and us—how to cultivate a life of “effectual confidence in God.”
A Posture of Humility
First, if you want to live a hope-filled life you must cultivate a posture of humility before God. That’s what we see in verse 1.
“O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me.”
Note David’s progression. He goes from his heart, to his eyes (or countenance), to his walk, or behavior. As biblical counselors, we know this progression well. According to Scripture, the heart is the real identity of every man. It’s the inner life that you live before God and before yourself. In one sense it’s a life that no one else can see except you and God (1 Samuel 16:7). But in another sense, your heart is on display all the time. It’s on display in how you speak, how you dress, how you respond to irritations, how you respond when you’re hungry, how you respond in trials (Mark 7:21–23). Your heart is invisible, but it is highly visible. That’s because your heart is actually the fountain from which your entire life flows (Proverbs 4:23).
So David begins with his heart because that is where it all begins. He says, “God, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty.” I have kept a close watch on my heart and consequently my countenance is one of humble submission before You. In other words, David has brought himself (with God’s help) into a posture of humility.
Furthermore, consider how that humility is expressed in the second part of verse 1: “nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.” Literally it says, “I do not walk in great things or things too wonderful/difficult for me.” David understands that there is a type of knowledge that is beyond his reach as a creature. He can know much, but there is far more that he doesn’t know. If he were to attach his hope on his ability to comprehend the difficulty in front of him, he would certainly despair. So, David is content to live as a mere creature before the omniscient Creator. In other words, he is not sticking his nose in God’s business.
Proud people are just the opposite. They are not content to live as mere creatures before the Creator. They are never content to simply trust God with the complexities of life. They have to know, and so they seek to peer into the hidden counsel of God. Rather than humbly embracing their limitations, the proud person feigns comprehensive knowledge and sets himself to untangle the hidden mysteries of God’s providence. That is what it means to involve oneself “in great matters” and in things “too difficult [or marvelous].”
David understood that speculating into the divine counsel only compounds suffering and despair (see Job 42:3). Accordingly, he was resolved to cultivate a humble heart before God. A heart that did not occupy itself with things “too wonderful” for him. That’s the first step towards cultivating a hope-filled life.
Childlike Contentment in God
The second step is found in verse two. Here we see David cultivating a childlike contentment in God.
“Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.”
David says, “surely I have composed and quieted my soul.” The clear implication in this verse is that David’s soul was not always calm and quiet. A soul that is perfectly calm and serene at all times would be nice, right? But that is just not the way life is. Our souls can be especially noisy during seasons of trials. Like a stick in an ant bed, a trial has the ability to stir our souls up into confusion and chaos. In that turmoil, hope is easily lost.
But David says, “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul.” It’s no longer noisy and chaotic. Notice this is not passive language. No one casually drifts into a composed and quieted soul. David didn’t just let go and let God bring calm. In fact, the English word “surely” translates a Hebrew phrase that was typically used to introduce “an oath or an action that someone was committing themselves to take.”2Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (New York, N.Y: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 156. A similar form is used in Jeremiah 51:14, “YHWH of hosts swears by himself, ‘I will surely fill you with a population like locusts, And they will cry out with shouts of victory over you.’” In this context, God had committed Himself to judge Babylon for its sin against Israel. Likewise, in verse 2 David is making a similar commitment. Here David is saying, “I’m committed to compose and quiet my soul… I’m resolved with God’s help to do it! And by His grace I’ve done it!”
The word for “composed” is the same word used for cultivating a field, or leveling it by ploughing it up. It’s hard work. Fields don’t plow themselves. No soul is ever composed without disciplined effort, empowered by God’s grace. But how do we get ourselves in such a composed and quieted state?
As we’ve already seen in verse 1, we start by assuming a posture of humility, but later in verse two, David gives us a specific insight into how we can compose and quiet our souls. “Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.” This is a profound picture of contentment and trust in God.
The weaned child has moved beyond the skepticism of infant days and no longer doubts that his mother will provide the nourishment he needs. His confidence has grown through the weaning process to trust that his mother will not withhold good from him. As a weaned child, he no longer needs the milk he used to depend upon and can rest upon his mother’s chest not for what he can get from her but simply because he delights in her! That is what David is talking about here. Like a weaned child rests upon his mother, David is resting upon God. He is not agitated. He is not anxiously groping to get more. He is not fretting about that which he doesn’t have. He is totally content in God—still, quiet, and tranquil. David’s confidence, his hope, is fully in God.
The mature believer rests upon God because of who God is and what God has done—not in order to leverage Him to get his own desires fulfilled. That is what it means to be content in God! The mature believer has gone through the gifts and is now perfectly content with the Giver. That’s the key. If you want to live a hope-filled life, it begins by cultivating a childlike contentment in the person of God—a God who loves you more than any earthly mother ever could.
David concludes his Psalm with an imperative in verse 3: “O Israel, Hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.” This is David’s aim. He wants to rouse Israel to an effectual confidence in God that will never yield—regardless of circumstances. As we’ve seen, the key to this sort of hope-filled life is found in verses 1 and 2. Those who cultivate a posture of humility and live with a childlike contentment in God cannot help but be hopeful.
This blog was originally posted at the Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship. View the original post here.