If you’d take your Bibles in hand and turn with me to Psalm 131, we're continuing our way through the fifth book of the Psalms together. And as we're working through the fifth book of the Psalms, we are also working through the psalms of ascents, those songs that were sung by the pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem during the great, holy festivals. And this psalm is a psalm about submission to the Lord's providence, repose, and rest in Him, even when the circumstances of your life are not conducive to your being able to rest. It's a psalm about contentment and contentment is a pursuit that is easier spoken about than attained. And this psalm has much to teach us about that submission and repose and contentment that the Lord wants us to have even in the midst of the uncertainties of life and the trials of life. So let's give attention to God's Word in Psalm 131. It's a short psalm and before we read it let's pray.
Our heavenly Father, submitting ourselves to Your will is sometimes very difficult because You ask us to do things that are against the desires of our hearts. Sometimes You ask us, in Your providence, to bear things that we would not choose to bear or to go without things that we long to have or to endure things that deeply discourage us. Lord, thank You that You speak to us about these things in Your Word, that You care so much about us, that You are ready and willing to assist us in experiencing the kind of rest that You would have us experience in this life in any and every circumstance. We know, Lord, we are prone to worry. We are prone to fretting and fearfulness, to being vexed. Lord, by Your Word, humble us and strengthen us. Comfort us and change us. We ask it in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF DAVID.
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. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
David knew a lot about contentment and about submission to the Lord's will, yet there were times and there were experiences in his life in which we know he struggled with pride and we know that he struggled with sinful ambition and desire and covetousness and we know that he struggled with presumption. There are notable failures in David's life recorded for us in Scripture to prove that to us. He also displayed a remarkable submission to God's will, especially in the course of God's providence in making him king. From the time he was secretly anointed by Samuel to the time that he was finally acknowledged king of all of Israel, he endured innumerable turns and twists of providence and I am sure that many times along the way if you had asked David he would have said to you, “I don't see how it is that I'm ever going to be king. It doesn't look like in God's providence that this can happen. I can't explain a human pathway to this. So many things have gone wrong, so many unexpected things have happened. So many obstacles have been laid in the way. So many people hate me. So many people distrust me in the land. I've been undermined so many times. I don't see how I’ll ever be king.” If you had asked David that I'm sure there would have been times in which that would have been something like his response. And yet David submitted himself to the Lord and was made king by God. The Bible tells us, he acknowledged that it was the Lord who had made him king. No general in his army had made him king, no group of leaders in Israel had made him king, no stratagems that he had come up with had made him king but it was the Lord his God who had made him king.
And so this psalm is indeed a testimony of one who can truly say, “I know what it is to submit myself to the Lord. I know what it is to accept His providence. I know what it is to be content, though I don't like the circumstances I'm in and I don't see how the Lord is going to do the good that He's promised, nevertheless, I submit myself to Him.” And of course David has recorded this psalm because this battle of submission to the Lord's will and contentment is one that all of us fight. We may have never been secretly anointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel but we have been called to live as Christians in the world having been given promises from God that we sometimes have a hard time believing that He's going to fulfill. And so at that point we are at the same juncture, at the same nexus of trusting in God for a promise that has not been fulfilled in the same way that David is having to wrestle with that in his own experience. And I'd like you to see two or three things tonight from this psalm.
DAVID’S STRUGGLE FOR CONTENTMENT
The first one is in verse 1. David tells us what he has not done that has been crucial to his contentment. He tells us what he has not done which has been crucial to his submission to the Lord. And in particular, he tells us three things. They’re all in verse 1. Look at what he says, “O Lord,” one, “my heart is not lifted up,” two, “my eyes are not raised too high,” three, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” In other words, David is saying here, “I have not succumbed to three things. I have not succumbed to pride, I have not succumbed to an overreaching ambition, and I have not succumbed to presumption — I have not presumed to know things that only the Lord can know, understand things that only the Lord can understand. I've not done those things. Now the fact that he records that as his testimony in this psalm lets you know that he struggled with those things. You wouldn't have known to list those as enemies of your contentment if you hadn't experienced those things as enemies of your contentment. He wouldn't have known to say, “Lord, in this circumstance in which I'm writing this song I've not lifted up my heart in pride, I've not lifted up my eyes in an overreaching ambition, I've not presumed to understand things that are too great and beyond me,” if he hadn't struggled to do that before and if you didn't understand that those things undermine repose and submission and contentment.
Pride never aids contentment and submission. Pride manifests itself in various ways — thinking that you know better than God knows. “Lord, I don't like the circumstance I'm in. If I were doing things I wouldn't do it this way.” What are you saying? You’re saying you’re smarter than God, that you’re wiser than God. That's pride. Or there's ambition, there's this overreaching ambition — a desire to have more than you have right now or not to have what you do have and to have something else — but this ambition for a different lot. And it undermines submission to God's providence and contentment with His will. Or presumption. Presumption to understand things. Very often when we are in circumstances that we do not like one of the things that gets us is we can't figure out what God is doing and so we begin to meditate on a different plan. And in so doing, we are presumptuous because we don't understand what God is doing in that providence, in His wisdom and kindness and love for us. We just know that we don't like the situation that we're in and so we're plotting to get out of it, by hook or crook, whatever it takes, whatever we have to do.
And David is saying, “In this circumstance, I have not succumbed to that.” In other circumstances in David's life he did succumb to that. One day in pride he looked at another man's wife and said, “I want her.” One day with an overreaching ambition he said, “He's okay for me to be covet and to have someone that doesn't belong to me.” One day in that circumstance he presumptuously decided that it was okay for him to order the killing of her husband in order to cover his crime. But here, David says, “Lord, I've not succumbed to these things.” David doesn't record for us what the circumstance is he's dealing with in this psalm. It's so general it could apply to almost any and every circumstance that we face in life, but here, David is saying, “I haven't succumbed to pride or to an overreaching ambition or to presumption, Lord. I'm really resting in submission to Your providence.” So if you’re struggling with contentment, if you’re struggling with submission to God's will, you need to ask yourself, “Is my pride manifesting itself here? Is there an overreaching ambition manifesting itself here? Is there a presumption to understand what God is doing that's manifesting itself here?”
Just like this morning we said it's important for us to know what our idols are. If we don't know what our idols are we're in trouble because we have them and the more we know how to put a name and a label on them the better prepared we are to fight them. And the same thing is true of contentment and submission. If you’re struggling with submission to the Lord's will, if you’re struggling with contentment, you need to be able to put a label on the thing that is making you struggle with contentment and with submission to the Lord's will. And David's able to do it here. Pride, an overreaching ambition, and presumption — he knows the things that are at work in his heart that make it a struggle to be content and to submit to the Lord's will. Do you?
David's telling you a very, very practical thing about the Christian life. You've got to know what it is that's keeping you from embracing God's good purposes for you and it's different, it's distinct, and it's specific to all of us. All of us have a different combination of packages of temptations in us. It's as different as our personalities. We all have different personalities. Some of us are overconfident. Some of us are insecure. Some of us are temperamentally optimistic. Some of us are Eeyores and a million other personality traits and in a dazzling variety of combinations. And all of those things put together mean that they’re going to be different things that are fighting against our submission to the Lord's will and contentment depending on who we are. And the more we know about that the better off we are so that when we can see it happening it's almost like we're watching the tape play in slow motion and we're going, “Yep, I see this one happening again. I know where this is coming from. Same play Satan has run 535 times on me! I can tell you where this is going before it even happens!” The more we know about ourselves there the better off we are. And David's just reminding us of that in verse 1. He knows for him it's pride, it's overreaching ambition, it's presumption. We need to know how it is for us.
DAVID’S DESCRIPTION OF CONTENTMENT
And then there's the second thing. David, in this passage, describes for us exactly what his submission to God's will looks like. Look at verse 2. It's a beautiful picture. “I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Now commentators debate about this picture and I'm not going to try to settle it tonight; I just want you to understand what's being said here, no matter what the precise picture is. Is this the picture of a satisfied child on his mother's breast who's already been nursed or is this a picture of a child who's been weaned off of his mother's breast or off of the bottle no longer desperate to have what he thinks he's got to have and he's going to pitch a fit if he doesn't have what he wants to have? Either way, whether it's the contented, satisfied child or whether it's the weaned child — and the language of our translation is “weaned” here and I think that's the right rendering of this verse — the point is this. You know how it is for a child who's not been weaned. There are time when there is an almost desperation to have his mother or to have his bottle. It's just desperation, like, “I'm going to starve to death and die in the next 2.7 seconds if I don't have that!” And then the weaned child knows, “I'm going to get fed and I don't need the bottle to get fed, I don't need mama to get fed. I'm going to get fed. I'm okay. Everything's alright. I can rest. I can relax. I'm going to be fed. I'm not going to starve. I'm not going to starve in the next 2.7 seconds. They’re going to feed me. It's going to be alright.”
And David's saying, “That's how my soul is. I know God's going to feed me. I know God is going to give me what I need. I know God is going to care for me.” In other words, David is saying, and this is his second point, that he has a calm, quiet, content soul, trusting in God's providence. His soul trusts in God's providence. David Dickson, the great commentator on The Westminster Confession, who wrote the very first commentary on The Westminster Confession, way back in the middle of the 17th century says, “The humble man is content to be handled and dealt with as the Lord pleases.” The humble man is content to be handled and dealt with as the Lord pleases. That's how David is depicting his submission to God's providence here. “Lord, I know You’re going to take care of me. Handle me however You want to. Dispose of me however You please.” It reminds you a little bit of Mary's response to Gabriel. After the shocking announcement that she's going to be the bearer of the Son of God, her response is, “Behold, I'm the handmaiden of the Lord! Be it done to me according to Your will.” In other words, Mary is saying, “I'm in Your hands, O Lord. I don't understand this, it's overwhelming, but I trust You.”
You heard Steve Edwards pray for Ralph Kelley, our new Executive Minister-elect. And Ralph and Wendy have two sons, one, Scott, who's just finished his first year at Covenant College, one Jonathan who's just finished his junior year at Ben Lippen in Columbia, South Carolina — you heard that right, just finished his junior year; they’re coming to Jackson for his senior year. That's tough. That's really tough. Your committee talked with Ralph about that, I talked with Ralph about that. We knew that was going to be tough. And a few weeks ago I sat down and I said, “Ralph, how's it going with Jonathan?” And we talked about that a little bit and he said, “You know, when the committee told me that I was one of the finalists and that I was going to be interviewed, I realized then I needed to sit down and tell my sons. And I sat down with Jonathan and I said, ‘Jonathan, there's a possibility that I might be called to a church in another state and that we’d have to move for your senior year. How are you with that?’” And Jonathan looked at Ralph and said, “Dad, I trust you.” That tells me a lot about that boy and it tells me a lot his dad and it tells me a lot about their relationship with one another. And that's exactly what David is saying about God here. He's looking God in the eye, he's saying, “Lord, You’re asking me to do something that's really hard. Father, I trust You. I know You’ll take care of me. You’ll to what's right for me. I know that You’re going to look out for my best interest, You’re going to take care of my needs, I'm not going to go hungry, I'm not going to die. You’re going to take care of me.” Because of that, David can say, “I have a calm, quiet, content soul. I trust in God's providence.”
One of my favorite hymns, and I'm going to quote all the verses of the verses of it – you don't have all of it in the hymnal, but I’ll tip you off so you can at least look at a few of them, is number 559. It's written by Anna Waring and she beautifully captures this kind of rest in God and contentment with her lot and trust in the Lord's providence in this psalm. We've got four stanzas of her hymn. When I was lurking around on CyperHymnal this week I found, one, two three, four, five, six, seven, eight stanzas. You’ll be relieved to know there are only four in our hymnal, but all eight of them are beautiful. Just listen to what Ms. Waring says about trusting in God's providence:
“Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
But I ask Thee for a present mind
Intent on pleasing Thee.”
No matter what the circumstance, Lord, this is what I ask, just keep me focused on glorifying and enjoying You, on pleasing You. Whatever's happening around me, just keep me focused on that.
“I ask Thee for a thoughtful love,
Through constant watching wise,
To meet the glad with joyful smiles,
And to wipe the weeping eyes;
And a heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize.”
Is that not a glorious line? “A heart at leisure from itself.” This is a person who's not so wrapped up in herself that she can't think about other people. She's not so worried that God's not going to take care of her that she can't get out of herself and take care of other people — “A heart at leisure from itself.” What a prayer for us to pray tonight at bedtime!
“I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;”
Doesn't that sound like verse 1? “I've not presumed to know things that are too high for me.”
“I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.”
That takes you almost to the picture of verse 2.
“Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoe’er estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate;
And a work of lowly love to do
For the Lord on whom I wait.
So I ask Thee for daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
And a mind to blend with outward life
While keeping at Thy side;
Content to fill a little space,
If Thou be glorified.”
Here is a godly woman who is content and in calm and quiet repose, trusting God's providence in her life. And then I love this line:
“And if some things I do not ask
In my cup of blessing be,”
Has the Lord added some ingredients into His cup of blessing to you that you wish weren't there? That's what she says.
“If some things I do not ask
In my cup of blessing be,
I would have my spirit filled the more
With grateful love to Thee,
More careful, not to serve Thee much,
But to please Thee perfectly.
There are briers besetting every path
That call for patient care;
There is a cross in every lot,
And an earnest need for prayer;
But a lowly heart that leans on Thee
Is happy anywhere.”
Is that not a glorious truth? “A lowly heart that leans on Thee is happy anywhere.” And then she concludes with the words that you have in stanza four:
“In a service which Thy will appoints
There are no bonds for me;
For my inmost heart is taughtthe truth
That makes Thy childrenfree.
And a life of self renouncing love
Is a life of liberty.”
That is a great, great hymn about contentment and submission to the Lord's will and trust in God's providence. The whole hymn is worth memorizing. And it catches what David is describing in verse 2. He has a calm, quiet, content soul trusting in God's providence. Now if we're going to have that, we're going to have to learn to fight because there are things that keep us from having that. I don't have time to do justice to it, but maybe one of the best books every written about this fight, the fight for contentment, is Jeremiah Burroughs’ little book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. And he says in that book, among other wonderful things, that we have to be ready to fight against eight things if we're going to experience this kind of submission to the Lord and enjoyment of peace and rest that comes from trusting in His providence. Let me just rattle those off very quickly for you.
We are going to have to fight against murmuring and repining at the hand of God. You know how the Israelites griped about where God had put them? “Lord, You put us in this wilderness to die!” Murmuring undermines this kind of contentment and we have to be ready to fight against that murmuring. Second, we have to learn to fight against vexing and fretting. Isn't that what Jesus was telling His disciples by telling them when He said, “You can't add an inch to your height by worrying. You can't change a thing about your situation by worrying.” So vexing and fretting have to be fought against. Third, tumultuousness of spirit — when our thoughts are distracted and our works are confused and our affections are unruly. No, a tumultuous spirit does not enable us to be silent under God's providence because it's bouncing off in all sorts of directions. Fourth, distracting, heart-consuming cares have to be dealt with if we're going to have this kind of contentment. Sinking discouragements have to be dealt with if we're going to have this kind of contentment. Sinful shiftings and shirkings to get relief — when we try to figure our way out of our circumstance instead of trusting God in our circumstance. And risings of the heart against God. All of these Burroughs talks about. I commend the book to you. Go and study these things. He not only tells you what has to be fought against, he tells you how to fight against it from the Bible.
The fight for contentment is not for sissies. It's a tough fight. I really mean that. There are plenty of people in this room tonight who understand that better than I do because they’re been called, in God's providence, to go through some things that the rest of us just haven't been called to go through. And until the temperature has been turned up, most of us just don't know how hard that fight for contentment is.
DAVID’S EXHORTATION TO HOPE IN GOD
One last thing in the third verse. David says to all of us — he turns to the rest of his people and he turns to you and me and he gives us an exhortation. He's told you about the things, the sins that he's fought against in order not to lose this repose, he's told us about his resting in God's providence, and now he gives us this exhortation. “Hope in the Lord. All his people, always and forever.” It's an exhortation to find your peace in God, not in your circumstances, not in your solution to your circumstances, not into your circumstances going in the direction of your hopes and dreams and prayers, but hoping in the Lord.
Now isn't it interesting what Kevin was teaching the children tonight? Jesus, of course, taught His disciples to trust in His Father's providence, but in the question tonight we're also told that because Jesus is King, He is looking out for us in His providence. He, at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, is ruling the world by His word and spirit for the wellbeing of His people. And David is saying, “You've got to hope in that, friends, you've got to hope in the Lord. Your Father is caring for you. Your Savior is caring for you. The Spirit is indwelling you to comfort and strengthen you. Hope in the Lord. Look in the right direction for your repose and your rest and your comfort. If you look at your immediate circumstances you won't find it there. If you look at a solution to your circumstances you won't find it there. If you look to the Lord you will find it.” And David said that to us three thousand years ago and it's just as true today.
Heavenly Father, as one often tempted by and succumbing to worry, I ask that You would teach me the lessons of this psalm and for every one of us gathered here tonight, especially, Lord, now I want to pray for those under unusually trying providences, grant to them the ability to hope in the Lord always and thus the ability to be happy anywhere, in every circumstance, to be able to say with Paul, “I have learned to be content in every circumstance.” Lord, we know that when we come into contact with believers who, under great burdens, have been able to say that from the heart, we feel as if we're on holy ground. Lord, it's my prayer that that would be more and more the norm of the experience here in this congregation as we face the great burdens of life. Grant that we would face them in trust in Your providence, in hope in the Lord, and thus with the ability to express joy and happiness and contentment and glad submission, even in the most difficult of times. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.