They that put their trust in the Lord shall be even as Mount Zion
which may not be removed but standeth fast forever.
As the hills stand about Jerusalem,
even so standeth the Lord round about his people
from this time forth forevermore.
For the rod of the ungodly cometh not into the lot of the righteous,
lest the righteous put their hand unto wickedness.
Do well, O Lord, unto those that are good and true of heart.
As for such as turn back unto their own wickedness,
the Lord shall lead them forth with the evildoers,
but peace shall be upon Israel.
“For the rod of the ungodly cometh not into the lot of the righteous.”
Those are the words that kept leaping out at me as I read this psalm over the past week. “Rod” here can also be translated “sceptre.” It’s a symbol of power and authority. But a rod can also be used as an instrument of intimidation and coercion (like the rods with which the Roman soldiers beat Jesus). In the context of this psalm, it seems clear that regardless of which meaning one ascribes to it, the rod is unwanted. It is, after all, the rod of the ungodly, and the psalmist wants no godless overlords in Jerusalem. Indeed, because God encircles His people as the hills encircle the city, the rod of the ungodly cannot touch them; it cometh not into the lot of the righteous.
And I began to wonder, what is “the rod of the ungodly” in 21st century America that we need God to keep out of our midst? I’m sure we could point to any number of things, but what kept coming to my mind as I prayed through this passage was the relentless pace of contemporary life.
One of Satan’s biggest bully sticks is the lie that we are always and only what we do, that our worth is measured in Likes, and Friends, and Retweets, in resumes and awards, accolades and accomplishments. Keep running, keep doing, keep sweating, keep moving, keep on keeping on, and whatever you do don’t stop. So says that relentless rod of productivity and “progress”.
What God has been saying to me (again) through this psalm is that it’s a lie. We let it into the congregation of the righteous at our peril. We are not always and only what we do. We are far more. We are beloved children of God. We are loved. Before we do or say anything, we are loved. Wholly. Completely. Utterly. Beyond all that we can ask or imagine. Simply because we are.
I believe that. I do. But I don’t live like I believe it. I let the rod of relentless rush harry my soul. I let it drumbeat inside my mind. And I rush along heedless of the truth, with hurry and hustle and hop-to-it swiping at my heels to keep me off-balance and moving. I forget that I do not need to be worried and distracted by many things, that I can sit at Jesus’ feet and simply be, that, in fact, I must stop fretting, cease doing, and sit at His feet and soak in His love.
I’ve spoken before about how easily overwhelmed I can become when life gets too full. It got too full this week, and I realized yet again how close I walk to the edge of okay. An ill child, a small kerfuffle at the co-op I direct, two nights of poor sleep, and I fell off the cliff into the abyss of not-okay.
As I sat praying on Wednesday morning, weeping with exhaustion and barely able to string words together to form a coherent sentence, some words of Keri Wyatt Kent that I’d read years ago when Jane was a baby came to mind: “When you’re tired, you don’t need to try harder. You need a nap.”
Perhaps those words came to mind because I’d been praying through this psalm for a week, and I had that image in my mind of the rod of too-much and too-fast and too-full scourging a weary and worn people, beating us to make us keep going, keep going, keep going. I imagined God staying the hand of whatever demon wields that rod, and I heard Him whisper words of another psalm: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for I give to My beloved sleep.”
So I made my kids a list of things they needed to do, and I did what I never give myself permission to do: I slept. For four hours. In the middle of the day.
I was still weary when I woke up, but I wasn’t quite so weepy. I still have too much to do, so I’m praying about and planning how I can graciously step out of some of the activities I’ve committed to, slowly phase out others, and safeguard time for my soul to rest.
Tuesday night, before my cliff-fall, I read these words of Frank Laubach, missionary-mystic, which turned out to be not only comforting but prophetic:
Sometimes you want to talk to your son, and sometimes you want to hold him tight in silence. God is that way with us, he wants to hold still with us in silence.
Here is something we can share with all of the people in the world: They cannot all be brilliant or rich or beautiful. They cannot all even dream beautiful dreams like God gives some of us. They cannot all enjoy music. Their hearts do not all burn with love: But everybody can learn to hold God by the hand and rest. And when God is ready to speak, the fresh thoughts of heaven will flow in like a crystal spring. Everybody rests at the end of the day; what a world gain if everybody could rest in the waiting arms of the Father, and listen until he whispers.