Three Musts for Guiding Others in Crisis
In contemplating a blog post somehow helpful in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, my thoughts turned to Psalm 131.
There may be no other text I use more frequently in pastoral care for people making war on worry. Charles Spurgeon rightly called it “a short ladder rising to a great height.”
King David, the shepherd/leader of Israel, authored it. It has much to offer for leaders and followers alike suffering through a pandemic.
Psalm 78:72 says this of David: With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. That hand is all over Psalm 131.
And it is Godward in every way.
I see here three aspects of Godward aim in leadership through a crisis.
A Mindset of Learned Humility before God (1a).
My heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high.
He makes a genuine confession about the condition of his heart. It’s lowly, humble. He has just the right perspective before the Lord.
David entertains no delusions of grandeur about himself. He suffers no illusions of over-inflated self-importance, even though God anointed him as Israel’s shepherd king.
Notice the way that translates into a word picture in the next line.
My eyes are not raised too high.
The trajectory of one’s eyes reveals the condition of one’s heart. He won’t permit what Prov. 6:16-17 calls haughty eyes.
That begs the question—how might we self-diagnose pride? Read on.
A Manner of Composed Rest on God (1b-2).
Whatever historical vantage point of hard providences from which David learned this, he eventually grew in his spiritual maturity to a point where in the face of the most difficult circumstances he made a consistent choice.
I do not occupy myself with things too marvelous for me.
The Hebrew word for occupy comes from a root which means to walk.
When David bumped up against challenges too marvelous, he refused to walk in them. He wouldn’t go down that road obsessing over what he couldn’t control.
He refused an arrogance that wigged out over stuff above his pay grade. That’s how I unpack the word marvelous.
Proverbs 30:18 is enormously helpful in getting at the meaning here: Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand.
Perhaps the best translation is the word difficult. I do not trouble myself with things too great and difficult for me.
John Calvin favored things too high for me.
Jim Boice captured the thrust this way:
What David seems to be concerned about in this verse is . . . peering into the hidden purposes of God. . . . He is saying he had learned that he did not have to understand everything God was doing in his life or know when he would do it. All he really had to do was trust God.
So what might that look like if we embraced the same humility and resolve? Verse 2. I have calmed and quieted my soul.
The word for calmed gives us another visual image to help with its meaning. Literally, I have smoothed and quieted by soul.
David testifies to making a choice that likens his composure to a smooth-as-glass-lake at dawn’s first light. But he wants to focus our attention on a more vivid, emphatic word picture to drive home the point here.
Like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
This is such a powerful image!
A post-weaning child acts very differently around its mother’s breast than a famished pre-weaning child. It is almost comical to watch infants go berserk anticipating latching on to mom’s milk.
But once weaned, it’s a whole different matter. When it comes time for snuggling―nothing but restfulness and contentment.
David testifies that his learned humility works its way out in his life by a consistent choice of weaned-childlike composure, a manner which rests calmly at every turn on the bedrock sovereignty of God’s providence in all things.
This is an Isa. 26:3-4 calm.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
It’s a John 14:1 Jesus’ perspective/resolve. Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
Leaders must learn this. Followers need this example played out consistently, not perfectly—no one does that—but as a rule regularly demonstrated even in the most troubling of circumstances.
Few of Oswald Chamber’s devotional writings have hit me harder than this one:
Fussing always ends in sin. We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are an indication of how really wise we are; it is much more an indication of how really wicked we are. Fretting springs from a determination to get our own way. . . . Have you been bolstering up that stupid soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God? Put all “supposing” on one side and dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about that thing. All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.
A Message of Sustained Hope in God.
Don’t miss the shift in David’s focus here.
He moves from talking directly with I AM in vv. 1-2 to exhorting God’s people here in v. 3.
O Israel, hope in the Lord.
Do as your shepherd/king does.
Bow before God. Rest on God. Hope in God.
From this time for the and forevermore.
Never, ever give up on Him.
We really should read Psalm 131 and Psalm 130 in tandem. David repeats the plea of the psalmist in verse 7.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, with him is plentiful redemption.
Pastors, if we have anything at all to say to our people caring for aging/ailing parents, waiting for prodigals on the run, agonizing over conflicted relationships, working through difficult diagnoses, fighting against cunning and baffling addictions, grieving over heart-breaking loss, worrying about the next election cycle, bemoaning the Dow Jones in freefall, freaking out over a rampaging novel virus, and countless other too great, marvelous, difficult, and high providences, let our message ever be this:
O dear ones, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!
Take your people again and again to texts like Rom. 5:3-5.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Point them relentlessly to the counsel with massive promise found in Phil. 4:6-7.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Help them—to borrow from Pastor John Piper’s words—to know contentment of soul that is based not on their circumstances, but on their unshakable restfulness in God.
Whether you’re a leader or not, you may be thinking, I want this, but I struggle so with anxiety. By default, I’m a fear-based person.
What should you do?
Respond to Jesus’ standing invitation in Matt. 11:28-30.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Take your cue from and live in the strength of the One who agonized in Gethsemane at the prospect of the cross, but chose not to occupy himself with its degree difficulty by choosing the calm of “Not my will but yours be done.”
He died for every last strand of yours and my wicked fussing and sent His Spirit to live in our hearts with His supernatural peace.
Repent, believe the gospel, and trust and obey once again.
Humble, composed, hopeful—indispensable qualifications all, fit for shepherd/kings, presidents, pastors and their followers.