Personal Peace in an Age of Discontent
No one is happy anymore, and that includes those who profess Christianity. On various social media outlets, complaining has risen to an art-form as people who previously had little or no voice now find a reason to speak about anything and everything, and mostly things of which they know little. As a people, we have reached the summit of grumbling, finding fault with everyone and everything while having no solutions to offer. We see it most in the realm of politics, where the common citizen feels qualified to complain—as his right—about anything negative that occurs and to place blame as his or her own personal preferences dictate. In the church, members treat their leaders as the complaint department, as if they exist solely to absorb the negativity of others and bow to individual whims. We are living in an age of discontent. The simple has become unsatisfying. The moral has become unmoving. The profound has become unpopular. Today, everyone is a movie critic, everyone is a food critic, and everyone is a critic’s critic. The democratization of information made possible by Google, Wikipedia, and various digital assistants have built an illusion in our hearts that we know more than we do, that we are wiser than our years, experience, and decisions indicate, and that everyone needs to hear our opinion on everything. The pseudo-celebrity afforded us by social media has bled into daily life because we have allowed it to retrain our hearts. And because we have numbed ourselves to deeper thought in exchange for the gratification of instant information, we fail to feel the ominous undercurrent of social and spiritual danger lurking beneath the surface.
The answer to our predicament lies in the brevity and simplicity of Psalm 131, a psalm attributed to David, though perhaps more likely written with an appreciation for him, included among the songs of ascents. Its placement in the canon of psalms reflects the personal need to respond to what God has done with a new perspective and, indeed, a new type of life. “Lord, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord From this time forth and forever” (Psalm 131:1-3).
In three short verses, this psalm paves the way to personal peace by encouraging humility, contentment, and hope in life within the framework of God’s purpose and will. Humility, according to the psalm, does not consist of underselling yourself but of having a proper understanding of the role you play in God’s plan. See yourself as God sees you, weak and needy (Phil. 2:5-8) rather than exalted and deserving (1 Pet. 5:6). Therefore, aspire to serve—not to be served—just like our Savior (Mk. 10:45). Then, focus on what you can do and can change—not on what you cannot—as Jesus Himself recognized in His own instruction (Matt. 13:3-23). Humility requires that you recognize your limitations (Rom. 12:3-8). The “fake it till you make it” attitude so prevalent in society stands on the shaky pillars of pride and fear. Humility knows its own self and thus appreciates others, and God most of all (Jas. 4:10). The second challenge, finding contentment in the midst of a discontented world, may be difficult to achieve, but it offers great peace in the end because it creates an important distinction between what happens around you and what is happening within you. Therefore, embrace contentment as a worthy goal and you can find your way to greater peace (1 Tim. 6:6). Accept how circumstances change and get past self-pity to embrace the possibilities instead of dwelling on adversity (Phil. 4:11-13). In conjunction with this, move beyond selfishness to service (Phil. 2:4), because a person serving has little time to complain or realize his lack. And, as a child must let go of the safety net his mother’s milk provides, so we must develop a desire to mature and take responsibility ourselves in order to find true peace (2 Pet. 3:18). Finally, the psalm ends with hope—true, meaningful, divine hope. The best thing for a nation, and the best thing for everyone in that nation, regardless of the age, is to turn to God and follow His will. But to do that, you must make your expectations match the Lord’s expectations instead of expecting the world to provide the answers (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Refresh your thinking by retraining yourself to think about life in spiritual terms—no matter what the problem (Col. 3:1-2). And, most of all, see yourself in the broad scope of eternity rather than the immediacy of the moment (2 Cor. 4:16-18). This renewed mindset can bring you peace personally regardless of the age, regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of your station in life, because it comes from God, focuses on God, and leads you back to God.
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