Means of Grace
Psalm 4 (NRSVA)
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honour suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?Selah
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’
7 You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
‘Why is everyone hungry for more?
“More, more,” they say. “More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day
Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.’ (Psalm 4: 6-8, The Message)
Above, Eugene Peterson’s Message translation of part of Psalm 4, highlights the life of peace and contentment springing from a habit of prayer.
All around us people are waking up to ways of re-establishing tranquility in their lives. Members of my family do it through yoga, Pilates, listening to music and walking. Since we have become aware of the awful toll the pandemic has had on our mental health, achieving quietude has taken on enormous importance — have a look at the magazine rack in your local supermarket or read the weekend glossies.
The psalmist’s context is war, or a time of trouble: we have no more detail. The advice encapsulated in Psalm 4 demonstrates that the author already knows how to restore calm in his life as a response to either circumstance. We may be agitated or disturbed, but he cautions against sin (verse 4). He recommends silence as personally restorative and productive (4) as does Thomas Merton. Pointing to the complexity of life in community together, he states - ‘It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers … Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say' (The Sign of Jonas, 1976). The various means of grace already on offer — meeting together, reading the scriptures, prayer, breaking bread — all help. So much so, that the joy experienced is far greater than those indulging in drinking, or even shopping! (see above).
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord! You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety. Amen. (Psalm 4: 6b-8, NRSV)