This Week’s Sermon — It’s Hard to be Humble…

It’s Hard to be Humble   By Robert Leroe  Psalm 131:1-8

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.”     B. Contentment (verse two) In Bible times children were not fully weaned till they were two or three years old. The completion of the weaning was often celebrated with a feast. A “weaned” child is one who is content-not anxious or demanding, but filled and nourished, satisfied, resting quietly beside a nurturing mother. The process of weaning is not usually a smooth one-there is lots of crying and distress. It’s not easy to quiet one’s self, particularly when we’re being denied some things we want. But weaning is a necessary stage of growth.      Some Christians worry because they no longer ‘feel’ the euphoric way they did when they first came to Christ. They may wonder if they’ve lost their salvation. Fortunately, being a Christian has little to do with feeling. The reason we no longer feel the same is that the ‘newness’ of our faith is past, and we’ve been weaned. Growth is part of life. We’re no longer infantile. We’re growing up in our faith; we’re in a new stage of development. Weaning is necessary if we are to mature. We’re moving from milk to solid food, and learning to be content.     Pride kills contentment and thanksgiving. When we admit that God is the Source of every blessing, we turn in gratitude and give Him the credit. Proud people are seldom grateful, because they don’t think they’re getting as much as they deserve. This past Thursday some people enjoyed turkey dinners and football games but without a word of thanks. Humility produces thankfulness as a normal aspect of our daily living. We don’t need a designated day to be thankful; we’re grateful all the time. We don’t take our blessings for granted, and we certainly don’t think we’re the source of our prosperity.     Babies initially regard their mothers as means of satisfying their needs-for food, protection, warmth…and gradually they learn to love their mothers for their own sake. In the same way we learn to live with God and trust Him–He becomes a vital part of our life, and not simply because of what we can get from this relationship. We simply appreciate God for Who He is.      Contentment requires quiet contemplation, which takes time, a commodity in short supply in our hectic world. How can we “still” our souls when we’re constantly distracted by all sorts of urgent issues? I assume that one reason we’re here in church is because we recognize the need to slow down and reflect on who we are, to get connected to God. We find our quiet place where there are no cell phones, where projects are placed aside for awhile, so we can focus on things eternal.     C. Trust (verse 3) When soldiers return from long deployments, their children often cling to them, afraid that they’ll leave again. We aren’t clinging to God in anxious dependency and insecurity-we are trusting God out of the calm assurance that He will never leave us and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.    In order to “hope in the Lord” we have to recognize our dependence on God. To be “haughty” (vs 1) means to regard one’s self as elevated-haughty comes from the word “high”. The spirit of this world tells people to “get ahead” and strive for “upward mobility.” To keep from looking down on people we may need some “downward mobility”. Before we put our hope in the Lord we have to cease placing our hope in ourselves.     Our trust in God may have been shaken by the events of September 11th. A missionary to Africa had this to say about trust: “I can show you the graves of missionaries who died what we would call premature deaths. If my trust were in God’s protection, my trust would have crumbled long ago. My trust is in God, in the belief that He is in control and that whatever happens will happen for His glory.” We can mistakenly place our trust in God’s protection rather than God Himself. Such misplaced trust can lead to disillusionment. Trust means we accept whatever happens as from God-for our good and His glory. Trust and hope are not temporary attitudes-they are sustained forces at work in our lives-“both now and forevermore.”