This is a sermon I preached a couple weeks ago in my Homiletics class. It was supposed to 15 minutes, and I ended up going 19, but you should be able to read it faster than I can orally deliver it. I titled the sermon, ‘Admission of Inability’ because in this Psalm, David is admitting his humility at the hands of the God who sustains his life. I hope you enjoy it, and I do welcome feedback.
Admission of Inability
131:1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
In great literary fashion, this psalm presents two images that echo through millennia to touch our ears today. You see, the beauty of poetry is that the images last. These words penned thousands of years ago, ring true to you and I today. The two images in this poem are lively and among us, even in this very room. One image is a lifestyle that leads to destruction, the other a lifestyle that leads to a life of hope and contentment.
You may be saying, “I don’t see two images in that psalm. In fact, I’m a little confused. You read what seems to be a sad, depressed, wayward man writing about his feelings, as though he were an infant. Then there is this odd ending about Israel and hope forever. What’s all that about?”
Well, let me show you.
Image One: Destruction
My heart is not lifted up is an idiom for not being proud. My eyes are not raised too high is an idiom for not being arrogant. I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me is the admission that there are things in this world that are beyond human intellectual conception.
On the reverse. There are some who are full of pride, arrogant, and believe they are superior intellectually for pondering the deep things of God no one can understand.
Have you seen the movie π? The main character Max is a brilliant thinker, capable of solving math problems in his head that I would not know how to do with an advanced calculator. His work leads him to see patterns in nature, predictable mathematical equations that seem to govern the universe. This understanding, that the universe can be grasped through numbers leads him to a 216 digit number that can predict the stock market, that gives Max epiphanies and visions, that leads him to study numerology in the Bible. He thinks he has found the true name of God and it is a number. Knowing this number, he feels he can bring in the messianic age. Eventually, Max is driven mad, cluster headaches rule his life, and he often passes out contemplating the mathematical rules of the universe, and eventually takes a power drill to his right temple incapacitating his mental faculties. The movie ends with Max sitting on a bench in a park enjoying the breeze passing through the leaves. To this David writes, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” And Moses agrees, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Have you heard of this cult leader in California who claims to be Christ-come-again? “The prophets, they spoke about me,” he says, “The spirit that is in me is the same spirit that was in Jesus of Nazareth.” This man claims he performs even greater miracles than Jesus Christ, and he has convinced his followers to tattoo the number 666 on their bodies. To this David writes, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high.” And James writes to us, “But he (God) gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6-10)
One more, I looked into World News and this is what I found. A wildfire in Colorado has consumed more than 20 homes. Two men in Italy set themselves on fire in protest of the economy. A teenage girl who was raped, strangled and set on fire passed after multiple days in the ICU. I look out upon our world and I say, “Lord, this is too great for me! I do not understand, speak to me! Comfort me! How can you be so good and the things of this world seem so bad?” The Lord responds,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55.8-9)
You see…haughty, arrogant, and prideful lives lead to destruction. Either your own life, or someone else’s. Sometimes in this life, but most definitely in the next.
This isn’t merely an “out there” issue either. Often, pride is a matter of the heart. When you look at your classmate’s paper to see if you received a higher grade may seem harmless, but pride leads to destruction, it only takes a spark to light an unquenchable fire. One thought from Eve put the course of history on its side.
And yet, there is another image in this psalm.
Image Two: Hope and Life
A child with its mother. What can we gather from this poetic image? Picture in your mind, a child cradled in the crook of its mother’s arm resting peacefully upon his trust and love. For an infant, the mother is everything. A source of protection, nutrition, and love. Often, the sound of the mother’s voice can calm a child from its fit.
In this psalm, David says, “That’s me, Lord. I’m like a child, fed, warm, and trusting in you.” You see, knowing that you are child of God allows you to live with a peace that surpasses the ills of this world. When you trust in God, you don’t have to have all the answers. Resting in God removes our anxiety, our fear, and despair.
“Well, that’s nice,” you might say, “but how do I do that?” It is a submission on your part. Recall the wonderful life of David. From his youth God had called him out to be the King over all the Lord’s people, to do mighty deeds, and to be a man after God’s own heart. Sounds to me like a catastrophe of pride and arrogance waiting to happen, and indeed there were catastrophes along the way!. But read what David writes, “I have calmed and quieted my soul within me.”
Don’t try and tell me that being the King is an easy task. David’s life was in jeopardy many times, there were those trying to bring him down, and to end his reign and lineage. The pressure of prophecy would be overwhelming. Could you be the King God spoke about in days past, could you be the hope God’s prophets told the people about? What pressure, what anxiety.
Be calm. Quiet yourself. What is David’s secret, how could he do these things? He submitted to God. In submitting to God, we must find a glad acceptance in the way that He has ordered your life. Whether you drive a truck, dig holes, crunch numbers, make business deals, scrub floors, raise kids, God has blessed you with your lot in life, whether you see it as a blessing or not. How are you going to respond to what God has done for you?
We are not equals with God, we are His subjects. The very fact that you sit before me is a grace of God, He has numbered the hairs on your head, and nothing happens without His will. The very air you breathe is by His good pleasure.
Do you trust God? Like a child to its mother, do you trust God. Do you willingly subject yourself to God, recognizing Him as the source of your protection, nourishment, and love? As a creature of the Creator, you cannot survive without Him.
Here is our hope.
Our hope is not attempting to understand the machinations of the universe into madness. Our hope is not claiming anything God has not given to us. He has set the bounds of your life and you must humbly live in them. Our hope is not in trying to understand how God can be so good, and there be so much evil.
Our hope, like a child with its mother, is that God is in control.
John Calvin writes this:
He to whom heaven and earth belong, and whose nod all creatures must obey, is fully able to reward the homage which they pay to him, and they can rest secure in the protection of Him to whose control everything that could do them harm is subject, by whose authority, Satan, with all his furies and engines, is curbed as with a bridle, and on whose will everything adverse to our safety depends.
Be still. Be quiet. Conforming your spirit to the will of God requires you to cease your striving.
The Perfect Example
In the life of Christ, we see a person devoted to the things of God. Christ tells us he can only do what he sees the Father doing and he can only do the Father’s will. Christ is so given over in submission to God the Father that all of his actions are guided by the loving hand of his Father.
I ask you this, was Jesus’s life easy? Let’s recount some things: he was born on the run in a barn, thrown out of a synagogue for his teaching, abandoned by his family, betrayed by his friends, beaten, cursed, hung on a cross, and pierced. You know, Jesus worried so much about his life at one point he sweat drops of blood (Luke 22.44), but you know what he said looking forward to the cross, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” His hope was in the assurance that the Father was in control.
If you accept Christ as your savior, you can have this assurance that all things will work to your good. You will no longer have to fear the ways of this world for Jesus tells us, “in me you may have peace…in the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16.33).
Be like David, be like Christ. Calm and quiet your soul. Look around at this world and realize there is only one hope and that is in giving yourself to God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. I pray you cease striving and rest with the Father. Like a child upon its mother, weaned and satisfied. Rest in the arms of God for He is sovereign.