Monday, January 15, 2018

Ascending?

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu reminds us: "To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders." I wonder just how often we afford ourselves the luxury of really getting to the point we would say our minds are "still". I know this is a hard thing for me because my mind works overtime! I awake in the night, thoughts of some project emerging until I am ruminating on the solution. I am creating in my downtime - innovating in my sleep almost. Yet, I have learned the value of just getting still before the Lord and not allowing other things to creep into that space I create just for that time we will share the "stillness" together. I am never disappointed by the stillness because it is there I find my soul surrenders, my will is made bendable, and my spirit is given new glimpses into the very things I need to grasp.

Lord, I am not proud and haughty. I don’t think myself better than others. I don’t pretend to “know it all.”  I am quiet now before the Lord, just as a child who is weaned from the breast. Yes, my begging has been stilled. (Psalm 131:1-2 TLB)


Now, let me caution us just a little bit here. Stillness of mind doesn't mean we empty our minds of every thought - it means we take "captive" the thoughts that wander, giving way to the Lord's voice to be heard. It suggests more of a closer attention being paid than it does to a total lack of thought! Psalm 131 is considered one of the "Psalms of Ascent". These begin in the 120th Psalm and go through the 134th. A 200 foot wide stairway leads to the Temple doorway in Jerusalem. It is this "ascent" in which Israelite worshipers would "sing" the various Psalms of Ascent. Each psalm carrying a unique meaning and purpose as they ascended to the doorway. Beginning with Psalm 120, the one ascending acknowledges he has been away too long. He moves on in the 121st to admit he worries way too much, but that he needs to settle his thoughts and just trust in God's keeping power. He then rejoices in not being alone in his worship (Psalm 122) and that he needed to hear God's quiet, simple instructions (Psalm 123). 

It may be this great desire to hear those instructions that drives him onward, as often is the case when we are moving into God's presence. In ascending, he also acknowledges the greatness of God's power on his behalf (Psalm 124), and he celebrates the "security" he feels while ascending within the walls of Jerusalem (Psalm 125). Others might threaten his peace and safety, but within the walls of God's city he feels secure and "at home". What a great way to consider God's presence in our lives - as a place where we can feel not only secure, but totally and completely at home! He recounts how God has not been lacking in his compassion toward his people, caring for even their most basic of needs, never abandoning them to their own devices (Psalm 126). What a joy it is to know and trust that God is never going to abandon us to our own devices - to leave us subject to the many enemy attacks that would threaten to be our undoing in life.

As he continues to ascend, his soul is lifted, mind is focused, and heart is filled. Why? He recognizes the "rule of David", the then King of Israel, was only the beginning of another rule that would never end - the rule and reign of Christ Jesus, the Lord (Psalm 127). Amazingly, he references rest and sleep - the refreshing phases of life - as he ascends. Maybe this is what "stillness" actually does for us - it helps us get to the place we actually leave God's presence more refreshed or renewed than when we came! As we make our way higher, we find he focuses on attitude and behavior - how both are interrelated and find their greatest "release" when attitude is toward God's goodness in their lives and behavior is subject to his commands (Psalm 128). By the 129th Psalm, the "mood" of the psalm seems to change from one of remembrance, celebration, and trust to that of outlining why God's people kind of suffer at times. Why would this be here in one of the Psalms of Ascent? Perhaps it is to remind us how very "real" this climb is into God's presence. It isn't always perfect, nor is it always easy. We get things messed up and we oftentimes just need to have a "realigning" of our lives in order to help us continue as we should be moving. 

As we enter the 130th Psalm, we find three short verses. In these verses, the psalmist is reminded of the importance of confession. You might think confession began much earlier on the "climb", but as the mind is stilled and focused, we often find we can see a little easier where it is we are struggling the most. It is there we admit our need for help and our absolute trust in God to create all the ability we need to overcome in these areas. To end these psalms, we find the psalmist referring to the attitude of a child - the simplest of ways to approach God's presence is through a heart and mind of a child - curious, open, and willing to learn (Psalm 131). I will leave you with this thought today - the ascent may not be easy, but as we allow the stillness of God's peace to invade the chaos of our minds, souls, and spirits, we find we are able to open ourselves to hear, to learn. Just sayin!