************ Sermon on Psalm 131 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 25, 2003
Title: A Request For The Room Nobody Else Wanted
Several years ago I read the story of Sammy Morris, a devoted Christian from Africa who came to America to go to school. Although his pathway to service for Christ was not easy, his difficulties never deterred him. Perhaps this was because he had learned genuine humility. One incident that showed this occurred when he arrived at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He was asked by the school's president what room he wanted. Sammy replied, "If there is a room nobody wants, give it to me." Later the president commented, "I turned away, for my eyes were full of tears. I was asking myself whether I was willing to take what nobody else wanted."
In the little psalm in front of us we see David displaying the same kind of attitude: the attitude of humility instead of impatient arrogance. He says he is not proud or haughty; he is not interested in being seen, heard, or noticed. In fact, he announces his plan to move out of the public limelight and away from public attention.
Humility is a strange thing. As a rule, once you discover you have it you lose it. Humility is like a rare flower – put it on display and it instantly wilts and loses its fragrance! Humility is one character trait that can never come out of the closest; it is not something to announce from the rooftop.
Topic: HumilityNo, humility is not something to be announced. In his "Screwtape Letters," C.S. Lewis contended that we can even be proud of our humility. Can you imagine the irony of becoming proud of your humility? Pride is a telescope turned the wrong way. It magnifies self and makes the heavens small. No wonder Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit ... Blessed are the meek" (Mt 5:3,5). His parable of the Pharisee and tax collector perfectly illustrates the danger of pride and the blessing of humility (Lk 18:9-14).
Title: Don't announce
Perhaps you have heard the humorous account of the fellow who attempted to write about his humility. He had trouble choosing a title for his book. Humility and How I Attained It didn't seem to fit; nor did How I Became Humble. He finally decided on Me and My Humility -- and included twelve full-page pictures of himself!
No, humility is not something to be announced. David, however, is not bragging in Psalm 131. David wrote these words for God's eyes only, as a kind of personal testimony in his diary.
We know nothing of when and where and why David wrote this song. But we can imagine the circumstances. Some sin left him crushed and humbled. Or, he went through some soul-wrenching experience: sickness, days of deep hurt, painful waiting, disappointing events, death of a loved one, loss of a friend, loneliness, financial pressure, stress.
I No Pride or Arrogance
A To communicate the depth of his feelings David starts three clauses with three strong negative words: not proud, not haughty, not concern.
David says, "My heart is not proud ..." The Hebrew word for "proud" means "to be high, exalted." Pride is always directed towards others. Those with this sin always undervalue other people and treat them with contempt; they view others as people either to be used or to be trampled upon. This sin arises from the heart even as water bubbles from a well.
David says, "my eyes are not haughty." The Hebrew word for "haughty" means "to be lifted up, raised." Haughtiness is always directed towards the self. Those with this sin overvalue, overestimate, and overreach themselves; they think of themselves more highly than they ought (Rom 12:3). This sin always has to do with eyes (and therefore nose) that are "lifted up." Solomon lets us know that God hates and detests haughty eyes (Prov 6:16).
Many of us think we can hide the true condition of our heart. But David reminds us that our eyes always give us away. The wise man Agur speaks of this:
(Prov 30:11-13) "There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; (12) those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; (13) those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful; Those who look down on others and think overmuch of themselves are always betrayed by their eyes. Our eyes reveal the truth of our souls. They convey so much of our unspoken emotions. Eyes announce anger, impatience, sorrow, sarcasm, guilt, and disrespect; but especially they announce pride. In another place Jesus let us know that the mouth also betrays the true condition of one's heart:
(Lk 6:45) The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Of course, one's life is another proof of the condition of one's heart (Mt 7:16-20; John 15:8). Good counselors and wise people are careful to listen to the words and to watch the eyes of others; they know that the heart is like a well and the eyes and mouth are like buckets which draw water from that well. In other words, the eyes and mouth clearly reveal if you have true humility or impatient arrogance.
B David continues by saying, "I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me." The idea here is that he doesn't pursue places of prominence or greatness. The simple fact is he doesn't need such things any more. He is not only willing but pleased to be removed from the public's eye.
David reminds me of Moses. We know that Moses was educated in all the wisdom of Egypt. He was gifted with a powerful personality. He was a most impressive man. He was a mighty warrior – brave, brilliant, even heroic (Acts 7:22). He was being groomed to be the next Pharaoh. At age 40 he tried to deliver his people the Jews by his own, powerful arm. He killed an Egyptian and ended up fleeing for his life. For the next 40 years he lived unknown and unapplauded in the Midian Desert – a hot, dry, forsaken place of obscurity. Think of it! Moses – a prominent member of the royal family – spending his days on the parched sands of the desert, suddenly and totally removed from people: shelved, sidelined, silent.
David, like Moses, chose to slip away and not involve himself in matters of greatness and public glamour. His, for a time at least, was a life of solitude and meditation, a life without public recognition and praise.
I also think here of John the Baptist. There was a time when John had crowds of people coming to hear his sermons and be baptized. Suddenly the crowds diminished in size because the people were going to hear and see Jesus instead of John. John's disciples became very upset about this. But not John. He was glad that the people were going to Jesus rather than him. He said, "(Jesus) must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30).
Throughout the history of the church there have been many like Moses, David, and John the Baptist – many who were willing to be out of the limelight. For instance:
1. Who taught Martin Luther his theology and inspired his translation of the New Testament?Before excusing your inability to answer the questions by calling the quiz "trivia," you had better stop and think. Had it not been for those unknown people – those "nobodies" – a huge chunk of church history would be missing. And a lot of lives would have been untouched.
2. Who visited Dwight L. Moody at a shoe store and spoke to him about Christ?
3. Who was the elderly woman who prayed faithfully for Billy Graham for over twenty years?
4. Who financed William Carey's ministry in India?
5. Who refreshed the Apostle Paul in that Roman dungeon as he wrote his last letter to Timothy?
6. Who helped Charles Wesley get underway as a composer of hymns?
7. Who found the Dead Sea Scrolls?
8. Who were the parents of the godly and gifted prophet Daniel?
C We, of course, must strive to be like David. Like David the Lord want us to say,
(Ps 131:1) My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. The Lord does not want us constantly seeking the spotlight, the honor, the glory, the praise.
Topic: HumilityThat's the kind of quiet humility Jesus would have applauded. The queen could easily have grabbed the spotlight, but she willingly gave the place of honor to another.
At a reception honoring musician Sir Robert Mayer on his 100th birthday, elderly British socialite Lady Diana Cooper fell into conversation with a friendly woman who seemed to know her well. Lady Diana's failing eyesight prevented her from recognizing her fellow guest, until she peered more closely at the magnificent diamonds and realized she was talking to Queen Elizabeth! Overcome with embarrassment, Lady Diana curtsied and stammered, "Ma'am, oh, ma'am, I'm sorry ma'am. I didn't recognize you without your crown!"
"It was so much Sir Robert's evening," the queen replied, "that I decided to leave it behind."
II Like a Weaned Child
A How is it that a great man like David could settle for the back-row seat in the balcony? Why is it that David could happily go from being captain of the team to mere spectator? Why is it that David isn't haughty and proud like so many others who are or have been leaders among men? David answers these questions in vs 2:
(Ps 131:2) But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.Think of a baby that is always striving and fretting with his mother for her milk. But after being weaned and able to eat mushy cereal and meat and vegetables it becomes calm and content.
We need to ask 4 questions here. First, who is the child? It is David's heart, his inner being. Second, who is the mother he fed on? It is public life, the applause and praise of the people. Third, what is weaned? Clearly, David is weaned from his desire for prominence, the place of honor – the limelight. "I no longer need that," says David. "I'm weaned!" Fourth, who does the weaning? The child? No. The act of weaning usually is not done by the child; rather, it is done to the child. In David's case, it is God Who is responsible; it is God Who does the weaning.
David no longer seeks the applause of the people. David isn't haughty or proud. David is this way because the LORD has weaned him from such things. The LORD has changed him and renewed him.
B And then there is another question, a fifth question we should ask. When a child is weaned it goes from mother's milk to solid food. We already know what David is weaned from – pride and haughtiness, a desire for honor and prominence; but what takes its place?
The New Testament Scriptures point us to at least three different areas. First, those who are weaned lead a life of service. The Apostle Paul says,
(Phil 2:3-5) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (4) Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (5) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus ...Paul tells us not to be full of pride or arrogance. Rather, we are to be like Christ Who "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant ..." (Phil 2:7). Instead of demanding pomp and glory, instead of being boastful and proud, the Lord Jesus went about His task quietly and humbly. More than once in the Gospels we hear Jesus warning His disciples not to tell anyone Who He was (Mt 9:30; Mt 12:16; Mt 17:9). More than once we see Jesus pulling back when the people want to heap honors and glory on Him. For instance, after the miracle of fish and loaves the people intended to come and make Jesus king by force; but He withdrew to a mountain by Himself (Jn 6:15; cf Jn 5:41). And consider too our Lord's willingness to wash feet – sweaty, dirty feet. That was a degrading job, the job of slaves and servants. But our Lord was willing both to be a servant and to do the work of a servant. And we must be like Him (John 13; cf Mt 20:26f).
How unlike our sinful human nature is the Lord. Some people simply won't serve in a humble capacity. They must have a prominent office with a high-sounding title and a lot of publicity before they'll do their best. Take away the honor and the glory and they aren't interested in helping out.
Second, those who are weaned become like a little child. I think of the time the disciples argued about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus took a little child and said,
(Mt 18:3-4) "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (4) Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Third, those who are weaned learn contentment. They are satisfied, they are happy, they are content with their place and position in life. They are not always striving, fighting, yearning for glory, honor, position, and prominence. They have learned to be content with what God has given them, with where He has put them, and with how they can serve Him.
C Let me ask: has the Lord weaned you like He weaned David and Moses and John the Baptist? Has the LORD weaned you from a proud heart, haughty eyes, and a desire for prominence and glory? Are you like Jesus?
Perhaps your talent is no longer in demand. Perhaps you feel like you aren't needed right now. Perhaps your counsel is no longer sought. Perhaps you feel unwanted. "What's happening?" you may be asking. It is arrogance and pride which refuses to accept such blows. Could it be that God is weaning you from the mother of importance, prestige, position, and honor?
D As should be obvious by now, it isn't easy – in fact, it is quite difficult – to be like Jesus and David and Moses and John the Baptist. It is difficult to be humble and not proud. It is difficult for those who want the spotlight to stay quietly in the background.
Topic: ServantsHow true!
An admirer once asked the famous orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein what was the most difficult instrument to play. He responded with quick wit: "Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second french horn or second flute, now that's a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony."
God is weaning us, my brothers and sisters. He is weaning us from pride and haughtiness, from desire for prominence and glory. He is weaning us to be servants, to be childlike, to be content. He is weaning us because He wants to remove every crutch upon which we would lean so that we learn to lean upon Him only.
The question is: do we accept this or do we fight this?
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