Go Lower to Get Higher

By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

(Shabbat, 16/07/2011)

Surprised at the title? That’s the Divine law of promotion; it’s a reversal of the world’s order. The lower you go, the higher you get. The secret could lie in a baby’s demeanour!

Try as we might, isn’t it an impossible thought that a baby would show a mistrust of its mother, or strain at the leash to let go off his parents’ constant care and protection? No baby will ever have the mind to do so. All he or she knows is its mother to feed, bath and to clothe her.

A baby has complete trust in its parents by instinct! A baby is calm and feels safe with her mother or father because she instinctively associates them with love, care and protection. How many of us haven’t seen a baby cry uncontrollably only for her to calm down and smile the moment she’s taken to her mother?

 

God, our loving Father with equally maternal attributes (Isa. 49:15), demands such complete trust from us. The baby-like attitude is the way to greatness in the sight of God. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up”.

 

In Matt. 18 Christ extols the merits of baby-like humility when He says: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3-4).

Similarly, for David, having a baby-like demeanour is the right way to relate to God. The only problem is that the baby-like attitude does not come easily. For the average person, it’s only natural to draw on one’s ‘inner strength’ and abilities to make it. The carnal human nature does not ordinarily submit itself to God (Rom. 8:7). Major adjustments in attitude and thinking will therefore have to be made, with help from God’s Spirit, before a person can behave towards God in the baby-like manner of total trust and dependence.

Are you ready for those adjustments so that you might develop child-like faith and behavior towards God? King David saw no other way. He exchanged his self-pride and vain human nature for a child-like attitude towards God. He shares this in Psalm 131                                                                        

"A Song of degrees of David. LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

"Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

"Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever" (vv. 1-3).

The call is radical and incisive: Make yourself a nobody in the sight of the LORD, and fill your soul with satisfaction!

David’s Faith

Without doubt, David’s faith-attitude was forged in the crucible of serious life-threatening situations (for example God saving him from the lion and the bear as a shepherd boy, 1 Sam. 17:34-37), war and betrayal. David was a man not to be shaken in his faith in God; his faith was firm and absolute.

David’s faith was obviously the kind God would be pleased with. God called him "a man after Mine own heart"(1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Each time David went to war he would ask God for clearance and the go-ahead before heading for the battlefield (2 Sam. 5:19-25). The result was that "David went on, and grew great, and the LORD God of hosts was with him" (2 Sam. 5:10; 1 Chron. 11:9).

In recognition of God as the source of his success, the Psalms of David are profuse with praise to the LORD for the great victories granted him. In Ps 18 he sung after God delivered him "the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul": "The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower" (Ps. 18:2).

In verses 31 to 39, he sung: "For who is God save the LORD? or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places. He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation: and Thy right hand hath holden me up, and Thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed. I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet. For Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: Thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me".

Success can be Harmful to Faith

Human nature, given what it is, David’s success went to his head. At the peak of his success (1 Chron. 14:17), King David was goaded by satanic pride to take a census of Israel. And God’s judgment was swift and severe (1 Chron. 21:1-7).

But why would God be angry with David and the nation for taking ‘a mere census’, when He Himself had commanded Moses to count the children of Israel in the wilderness (Num. 1:1-2)?

It was because God knew what had entered David’s heart at the moment he ordered the census (see Prov. 20:27; Jer. 17:10; 2 Chron. 32:24-31; 1 John 3:20). David’s heart was filled with pride at the powerful army he had built from the poor souls that sought refuge with him in the Cave Adullam, where he himself had gone for refuge on the run from Saul (see 1 Sam. 22:1-2 and 1 Chron. 11:10-47). Indeed, in the very previous chapter 20 of 1 Chronicles, the royal chronicler celebrates David’s army with a glowing account of their military prowess and valour in battle, including the slaying of the Philistine warrior-giant, Lahmi, the brother of Goliath, the renowned Philistine giant, and other giants. We see, then, that the singular objective of David, in ordering the census, was to measure the military strength of Israel, as clearly seen from the census results (1 Chron. 21:5; 2 Sam 24:9). And the sin was that he relegated God to the background and gave prominence to the army as though that was what brought him success, not the LORD. He wouldn’t even listen to Joab, his army chief, when he tried to discourage the census (1 Chron. 21:3-4, 2 Sam. 24:3-4).

The Curse of Pride

Sorely displeased with David, God sent the prophet Gad to the king with a grim message:

“And the LORD spake unto Gad, David’s seer, saying,

“’Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee’.

“So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee

“Either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me” (1 Chron. 21:9-12).

In reply, “David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man. So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men” (vv. 13-14).

God slew seventy thousand men of Israel because David took a census of his national army that betrayed a shift from his absolute trust in God to faith in his human army (see 1 Chron. 27:24). Will your comparative success make you forget God? Do you now pray less, read scripture less or attend church less, because your business is flourishing or your marriage is doing great?

Never allow any momentary success you have achieved to lure you from God or weaken your faith in Him. The cost might be too high to bear. In David’s case, it took only God’s mercy and an offering to stop the destruction (1 Chron. 21:15-27).  

‘I am not Conceited’

Given the sobering lesson learnt by David from the census incident, could Ps 131 be one of the Psalms inspired by the lesson learned? It’s tempting to believe so with his call to child-like contentment and faith in God and the suppression of our vain human pride and confidence.

In the Psalm, David states unashamedly that he’s not puffed up with pride but has disciplined his soul to find full satisfaction in God with child-like blitheness. And he describes the attitude of his heart which makes him so. Arrogance has been torn to shreds! He confesses from the depth of his soul: “LORD, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance” (v. 1 Good News Bible GNB).

Pride is the source of much evil in man (Prov. 13:10; Ps. 119:21), and God utterly abhors it: “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; assuredly, he will not be unpunished” (Prov. 16:5 NASB-Update). In fact, God actively resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). Pride then is not the way to enduring greatness; it’s the very opposite of it—it precedes a fall (Prov. 16:18; cp Prov. 29:23, 11:2; 1 Tim. 3:6), of which David was nearly a victim!

God detests pride (Ps. 101:5), not only because it harms human relationships (Prov. 28:25; Ps. 12:2-5), but more seriously because it draws attention from Him to the self; it turns the self into a demigod, as typified by Lucifer and emulated by the conceited king of Tyre (Isa. 14:12-14; Ez. 28:2). Little wonder, David quickly gave up his momentary lapse into vanity and prayed for forgiveness (1 Chron. 21:8; 2 Sam. 24:10).

Bluntly speaking, it isn’t possible to have a meaningful relationship with God without giving up our pride. But as we all know arrogance does not exist in a vacuum. We feel proud or conceited because of who we are, what we have achieved or what we own. Again, this was what gave rise to Lucifer’s haughtiness and subsequent rebellion against God: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you” (Ez. 28:17 ESV). Similarly, it was said of the king of Tyre: “By your great wisdom and by your trade you have multiplied your riches, and your heart is lifted up because of your riches” (v. 5 MKJV).

Does any achievement of yours make you have a particularly high opinion of yourself? Do your good looks make you feel you as if you are in a different world from all others? Your fall could come from lifting up your heart in pride.

The attitude of the Master is the way to overcome sinful pride born of one’s attributes and achievements. Although He is God, He emptied Himself of His Divinity, became a servant in the likeness of man and further humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Php. 2:5-8).    

So the solution really lies in not being obsessed with one’s achievements or being conceited because of them. That’s fundamental to overcoming one’s arrogant spirit. That is why King David belittles his abilities and achievements: “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (v. 1b ESV). In other words, I have really achieved nothing great; nor do I trust in my abilities to do so.

All we have become or have is as a result of God’s goodness, and we must always give Him what is due Him. The apostle Paul instructed Timothy in 1 Tim. 6:17: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).

With such an attitude that has no regard for your achievements nor faith in your abilities, you can certainly hope in the LORD and wait for His salvation. You will neither rely on yourself nor be in a hurry to prove yourself. Instead, you will get into what I call ‘a passive mood of faith’—an unflinching trust in God to do you good ultimately, no matter your present circumstances. The prophet declares: “For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isa. 50:7).

A haughty spirit that relies on the self cannot wait for God’s salvation, even though “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD” (Lam. 3:26). The old saints inherited the promises of God “through faith and patience” (Heb. 6:12).

If arrogance has gotten the better part of you, it’s time to repent, knowing that “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit … is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:4). The first beatitude (blessing) Christ pronounces in the Sermon on the Mount is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Humility is the path to promotion in God (Luke 18:10-14).

After Job understood the mind of God and the ultimate goodness of His doings, he declared: “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee, Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6 RV). In the end, the LORD made Job prosperous again and gave him “twice as much as he had before” (v. 10).

Pride is ruin, but the meek shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5).  

‘My Soul is Tamed’

If arrogance is a crime, its partner in crime is the human soul. The soul is that part of man that gives a person his individuality and defines the self; it’s where his ego or personal pride resides. Is it surprising that the soul naturally craves for earthly enjoyments and delights in arrogance?

If pride will be stopped, the soul will have to be dealt with. The soul must be tamed and cured of its craving for vanities. Hence David says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (v. 2 ESV). The comparison is to a weaned child basking in his mother’s love in an atmosphere of absolute trust and relaxation.

In Israel, a child was weaned around the age of three years, an event sometimes celebrated with a feast (Gen. 21:8; 1 Sam. 1:23-24). At this stage in the child’s life and development, he was put off her mother’s milk and put on solid food. But it also marked a change in the child’s behavior. The child was now mature enough to recognize her mother’s love, care and attention and quite enjoy it. He had outgrown the age where as a little baby he would cry impatiently for its mother’s breast. He was now contented with the fact that he had a mother; a growing appreciation of what motherhood means for him had now dawned on him.

The same applies to the soul disciplined in the fear of God. It’s stilled and does not pine for worldly riches or fame, but is satisfied that it has God (see Ps. 33:12). It’s at peace and relaxed in the LORD and does not fret because of unmet needs or a desire for worldly glories (Ps. 37:1-7).

This is the soul that patiently waits for the salvation of the LORD: “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defence; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God” (Ps. 62:5-8).

Instead of looking to the ego, the soul now looks to God; the LORD becomes its source of salvation, glory and strength.

So tame your soul, restrain it, discipline it; don’t give it a free rein to its wild cravings, and it will be good for your soul. Your soul will come to rest in the LORD in full satisfaction and in joyful expectancy—“anxious over nothing”! (Php. 4:6-7). Yes, your “soul will feast and be satisfied”, and you will “sing glad songs of praise” to God (Ps. 63:5 GNB).

Lest You Forget!

Avoid David’s costly mistake at all costs. Forget not your God who made you what you are today. Don’t ever let your success, achieved with His blessing, go to your head. The blessing is not more important than the One who gave it. Remember your small beginning and express your appreciation to God by faithfully serving Him. If not, your end could be far worse than your beginning, as Moses sternly warned the Israelites (Deut. 8:10-20). 

So shun arrogance and keep a tight rein on your soul. A humble spirit and a soul satisfied in the LORD will have an abiding hope in God in the face of all circumstances (Ps. 131:3). The high and holy God dwells with he who has a “contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15).