Is anyone besides me feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges these days?
As I was considering all that is currently going on in my world in particular and in our world in general – in politics, in economics, in culture and society, and, of course, regarding COVID-19 – my soul cried out for a greater simplicity. I felt yet again how limited I am and how complex and overwhelming is the world in which I live. I am a simple man with small abilities seeking to glorify God in a world of ferocious challenges and daunting complexity. So, feeling that my abilities were entirely inadequate for the demands of my world, I once again turned to the pages of God’s word and to Psalm 131, a short psalm of David.
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. – Psalm 131:1 (NASB)
David enters this psalm distressed and seeking quiet for his soul. “Where in this world of threats is peace to be found?” And why is David distressed? Because David has done a realistic evaluation of his abilities and has made a sober assessment of the challenges arrayed against him and humbly acknowledges that he has an “ability-deficit.” The threats against exceed the defenses in-hand, and David, in faith by an act of the will, chooses to trust the LORD for his protection and to believe that the LORD will be his shield and fortress, and will make up the deficit.
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Here, David makes another resolution. By not involving himself in great matters or in things too difficult for him, David consciously chooses to let a lot of things go and entrust them to his great God. There is both wisdom and faith displayed here. Wisdom is displayed because, by humbly acknowledging that there are many things “above his pay grade,” David is freed up to not waste time or to worry about those things, and he is enabled to focus on the things that do matter. And faith is displayed because David is entrusting the great matters and the things too difficult for him to his great God, for whom nothing is too difficult (Jeremiah 32:17, 27). David is willfully casting his anxiety on the LORD (1 Peter 5:7) and believing that, because the LORD loves him and is with him and has promised to be his God, David can confidently let the great things and the too-difficult things go.
And the result of David’s faith and trust in the LORD? “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul (131:2a).” David’s distress and anxiety have vanished like smoke, and he now rests in the LORD and hopes in the LORD in quiet trust “like a weaned child rests against its mother (131:2b).”
How can we who are simple enjoy the same composed and quieted soul that David enjoyed? Well, first we need to do what David did here in this psalm. David began by humbly realizing that he had an “ability-deficit” (also known as a “limitation-surplus”), and that the world that he faced did indeed outmatch his abilities. Once we have admitted our own ability-deficit, we need to make sure that we have a great God who has promised to bring us all the way through life to heaven (Philippians 1:6; John 10:28-29), a God who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), who is able to take care of our deficits by His great power. Second, we need to surrender “the great matters and the things too difficult for us” into the hands of the Lord and get them off our radar screen so that we can focus on our “small matters.”
I have a couple of other suggestions that may prove helpful as we all wrestle with the complexities of our world and with our realization of our own limitations.
- Simplify your life by defining the essential elements of God’s calling for your life and then intentionally cutting away the rest. We can only focus on so many things, and the fewer, the better. By paring away the peripheral elements, we are left with fewer attention drains. In a personal example, I used to spend some time playing a classical guitar. I enjoyed working through a fairly complex piece of music and trying to make it sound like the recording, usually without much success. One day I realized that I would never be able to be very good and that time spent on the guitar was not “core time.” So, the guitar now sits quietly in a corner. Battle complexity by intentionally simplifying!
- How do I make the most of my limited talents and abilities? How will I best steward my one God-given life? First, focus your energies into a narrow range. Limited talents and abilities diligently focused will produce more than great talent dissipated. Water can be used to water your ferns or to cut through steel. It all depends on the degree of focus. Also, while we all have the same amount of time, we do not all use the same time in the same way. Since life is short and our talents limited, it is best to never waste time and, instead, to make the most of the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).
SDG rmb 11/23/2020