Psalm 131: Cultivating Hope (Part 2)

Subduing and Humbling the Heart (v.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.”

In this verse, David makes three claims— each revealing something about the nature of pride. David’s claim that his “heart is not lifted up” reveals that pride is innate; it resides in the heart. David’s claim that his “eyes are not raised too high” reveals that pride usually leads to ambition— craving for acceptance, admiration, and adulation. And David’s claim that he does not concern himself “with things too great and too marvelous” reveals that pride usually leads to presumption— aspiring after “great” things and searching out “marvelous” things.

When it’s all said and done, pride is the sin of all sins. Satan rebelled because he wanted to be like God. Adam and Eve did the same thing. Ever since, man has been in love with self. In their state of innocence in the garden, Adam and Eve were directed by a true self-love. They loved happiness. Because they viewed God as their greatest good— their greatest source of happiness— they loved God and, therefore, their affections were well-directed. Since the fall, however, our soul has been directed by a false self-love. We still love happiness. However, we no longer view God as the greatest good; instead we see ourselves in that role. Because we no longer love God, our affections are ill-directed.

This misplaced love lies at the root of every sin and opposes God by usurping his glory. That’s why pride is the object of God’s hatred (Proverbs 16: 5). “God abhors other sinners,” warns Thomas Manton, “but against the proud he professes open defiance and hostility.” Pride is our biggest problem— not poor health, rebellious children, difficult neighbors, broken relationships, financial problems, unfulfilled dreams, or daunting afflictions.

David knows it, and he knows his pride makes it impossible for him to “hope in the lord” in the midst of affliction. And so, he claims to have subdued and humbled his heart. This isn’t a claim to perfection, but an acknowledgment of his sincere pursuit of humility. According to Jonathan Edwards, humility is “a habit of mind and heart corresponding to our comparative unworthiness and vileness before God, or a sense of our own comparative meanness in his sight, with the disposition to a behavior answerable thereto.” Edwards mentions two kinds of humility: natural humility and moral humility.

Edwards says natural humility arises from a perception of our “meanness” (or smallness) as creatures before God. In other words, it arises when we compare ourselves to God’s natural excellence— his greatness. We’re weak in comparison to his power, foolish in comparison to his wisdom, ignorant in comparison to his knowledge, small in comparison to his sovereignty. Second, Edwards speaks of moral humility, which arises from a perception of our “vileness” as sinners before God. In other words, it arises when we compare ourselves to God’s moral excellence— his goodness. We recognize that we’ve sinned against God’s grace and mercy and that we’re without moral virtues adequate to commend ourselves to God. As a result, we’re aware of our utter dependence upon him.

Humility arises from a biblical understanding of who we are and who God is, which leads to absolute submission to and absolute dependence upon God. “It is,” says John Owen, “to humble our souls to the law of God’s providence in all his dispensations— to fall down before his sovereignty, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, love, and mercy.” This is likely what Paul means when he writes, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4: 11). He had to learn to be content, because it went against his nature— pride. Likewise, we must “learn” to subdue and humble our heart. When we do, the result is contentment— an indispensable quality when it comes to waiting confidently and expectantly for what God has promised.

Excerpted from Longing for Home by J. Stephen Yuille.

Yesterday: Part 1: Cultivating Hope

Tomorrow: Part 3: Calming and Quieting the Soul

Shepherd Press