Summary: A. Humility (vs 1); B. Contentment (vs 2); C. Trust (vs 3)
“It’s hard to be humble” -Psalm 131, Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Outline: A. Humility (vs 1); B. Contentment (vs 2); C. Trust (vs 3)
Introduction…some Country/Western theology
I want to share a story I heard last week in our adult Sunday School class. We were discussing humility and I mentioned the song “It’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” A member of the class related how the year after Mac Davis had a hit with that song, he was a presenter at a Country Music Awards show…and he hadn’t been nominated for anything. He confessed, “It’s not so hard to be humble after all!” The Bible is clear that the proud will be humbled.
Charles Spurgeon calls Psalm 131 one of the shortest psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn. He says it’s “a short ladder yet one that rises to a great height.” When we face trials, we know that divine help is available, but we’re prone to tell God ‘not to bother’, that we’ll take care of our problems on our own.
A. Humility (verse one)
The psalm begins, “Lord, my heart is not proud.” St. Augustine listed “the three greatest virtues of Christianity: humility, humility, and humility.” Being humble is a choice to credit God, not ourselves, for our abilities, and then to use those gifts in God’s service. Psalm 131 is a song of David, who was elevated as king of Israel, yet one who knew humility. Just as David compares himself to a sheep under the care of a Shepherd (Ps 23), he compares himself here to a child in his mother’s arms.
Why is it that nearly all our Presidents remark upon attaining this high office that it is a “humbling” experience? Particularly after a year of campaigning, selling their qualifications to the voting public, and hearing daily how “great” they are. Once elected, they realize that they are bringing their finite, limited abilities to this office. They’re no longer tuned into the flattering praise; they’re thinking of the responsibilities and challenges that lie ahead. As Shakespeare put it, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
Humility is an exclusively Jewish virtue. The ancient philosophers admired self-reliance. Humility was decidedly not on their list of virtues. Things haven’t changed much; our modern culture also downplays humility. We’re in an age where might makes right, where power and control are most highly regarded. It’s hard to even recognize pride as a sin when it is rewarded as an achievement. We have to go back to the Garden of Eden to see pride as the basic sin, of taking things into your own hands, being your own god, improving yourself by whatever means you can to get ahead, regardless of the price. The sin of pride is revealed in self-sufficiency, self-importance, self-righteousness and self-indulgence.
We mistakenly assume that the opposite of pride means being timid and insecure, to be and to attempt nothing. Humility is not inferiority or poor self-esteem; it is seeing our strengths and weaknesses honestly, and not letting either keep us from accomplishing what we need to do. Some people let misguided humility keep them volunteering to help their church. Humility is recognizing that our strength comes from God. He doesn’t need us, but He wants to use us. Our reach can exceed our grasp, because of capabilities we owe to God. Humility is not pretending we do not have gifts and abilities we know we have. Humility is simply making a truthful, modest estimate of ourselves. Pride causes us to lie to ourselves.
Proud people are usually involved with what they regard as important and significant things; they wouldn’t lower themselves with things “beneath” them. In contrast, David admits “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” Deuteronomy reminds us, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (29:29). We shouldn’t trouble ourselves over imponderable things. Maturity means accepting things we can’t comprehend. Anselm, an 11th Century monk penned this prayer: “I do not seek, O Lord, to penetrate Thy depths. I by no means think my intellect equal to them; but I long to understand in some degree Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe, that I may understand.” This is the mature expression of a seasoned saint.
A present day believer, singer Steven Curtis Chapman, sings of his struggles, admitting in song, “the pain fell like a curtain on the things I once called certain and I have to say the words I fear the most—‘I just don’t know’.” He goes on to accept uncertainty because “God is God and I am not.”
David opens this psalm by acknowledging his humility, but he is not proud of being humble. In a Peanuts cartoon Linus tells Charlie Brown, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m twice as humble as you!” A minister wanted to be humble so he walked into the sanctuary and started crying out “I am nothing. I am nothing.” The associate Pastor picked up on this and he too began crying out, “I am nothing.” The custodian was doing some work in the church and hearing the ministers, he also began to repeat, “I am nothing.” The two ministers stopped, and the senior minister said, “Now look who thinks he’s nothing.”