Christian faith needs continuous maintenance. It re-quires attending to. “If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post.”[1]

Every spring in my neighborhood a number of people prune their bushes and trees. It is an annual practice among people who care about growing things. It is also one of those acts that an outsider, one who does not understand how growth works, almost always misunderstands, for it always looks like an act of mutilation. It appears that you are ruining the plant when, in fact, you are helping it.

We have a rosebush that hasn’t been pruned for several years. When it first bloomed the roses were full and vigorous. Last summer the plant was larger than ever. The vines ranged up to the roof on a trellis I had made. I anticipated more roses than ever. But I was disappointed. The blossoms were small and scrawny. The branches had gotten too far from their roots. The plant couldn’t grow a healthy blossom. It needed a good pruning.

Psalm 131 is a maintenance psalm. It is functional to the person of faith as pruning is functional to the gardener: it gets rid of that which looks good to those who don’t know any better, and reduces the distance between our hearts and their roots in God.

The two things that Psalm 131 prunes away are unruly ambition and infantile dependency, what we might call getting too big for our britches and refusing to cut the apron strings. Both of these tendencies can easily be supposed to be virtues, especially by those who are not conversant with Christian ways. If we are not careful, we will be encouraging the very things that will ruin us. We are in special and constant need of expert correction. We need pruning. Jesus said, “[God] cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more” (Jn 15:2). More than once our Lord the Spirit has used Psalm 131 to do this important work among his people. As we gain a familiarity with and an understanding of the psalm, he will be able to use it that way with us “so that we will bear even more.”

Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

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