My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Ps 27:8-9
“How can a man extinguish pride? By knowing God. For if we know of him, all pride is diminished.” Chrysostom
Humility is not one of our most venerated values. The self-made man, who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and conquers all opponents by his superior will and tenacity of purpose, he is the one we idolize. British poet, William Earnest Henley’s Invictus captures the spirit of this ideal, when he boasts, “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
Western culture has been greatly influenced, realized or not, by the power philosophy of Nietzche, who envisaged the emergence of a “daring and ruler race.” His hero was the Ubermensch, a tough, brash, masculine and overbearing superman who would become “lord over all the earth.” Hitler picked up on Nietzche’s teaching and proposed a pure Arian race that would create a Third Reich that would last for a thousand years. Closer to our home and time, Frank Sinatra belts out his boast in these popular lyrics: “I lived a life that’s full, and I travelled each and every highway, But more, much more than this, I did it my way.”
The man or woman who has had the eyes of their heart opened so that they can see the awesome glory of God has quite another take on life. The purposes and promises of God for man are so much higher and greater than our puny minds can imagine or our finite wills can attain, that the only wise response in the face of such glory is abject humility. Humility is at the core of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Richard Baxter put it like this, “Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creature.”
The psalmist was no Ubermensch, nor was he captain of his fate. He tried his way and found it didn’t really satisfy. He found an infinitely greater way, God’s way. Life was not about promoting his glory but enjoying God’s. It would not be easy. He would have many enemies that would seek to keep him from his awesome, God-given destiny. But, he discovered that the Lord, who created him and called him, would also protect him and bring him to final victory. So, his boast was not, “I did it my way,” but “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”
We have seen that in verse seven, the psalmist changes from talking about God to talking to God. Discovering the promises of God naturally moves to praying for the reception of his blessings. In verse 8, he gives voice to an inner passion to see “the face of God.” What is he asking for? Moses had a similar request, but the Lord responded, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” [Ex 33:20] So, I think what he was really asking for was not an epiphany but for intimacy. He wanted the assurance of God’s personal presence.
Maybe it can be illustrated like this. When I am on my trips to the other side of the world, I always take a picture of Barbara with me. In the dark and lonesome nights I take out the picture and see her face, her lips, her eyes, that cute nose- you get the picture. It helps a little, but it does not satisfy. I want the real thing, not the picture. I want to see her face, in person. That is what is happening here. The psalmist knows God is in heaven. He even knows God cares and watches over him. He is just asking for a little evidence of that. He wants the Lord to speak, “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” [Ex 33:11]
But, God may have other plans. We see this hinted at in his prayer: “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn away in your anger.” I think we all can relate to what the psalmist is going through. There are times when we feel like God is distant from us, and we know we have given him plenty of reasons to move. We think and say and do things that go against his holiness and our friendship. We sin. So, in our time of need, in our darkness and in our struggle, we suspect that what we are going through is just what we deserve. And, there is biblical evidence for this terrible possibility. When God’s people are “unmindful of the Rock” and forget the God who gave them birth, he did say he would, “Hide my face from them.” [Deut. 32:18, 20]. But, sin is not the only reason God hide’s his face. There are times when we just don’t know why God seems silent and hidden.
Here is where humility comes to the fore. Humility is just honesty, acknowledging the truth about ourselves. We are not the captains of our ships nor are we the saviors of our souls. We must admit we don’t know what God is doing. Humility cries out to God for mercy. Humility trusts God’s heart when we don’t understand his ways. What is the basis for his hope? The answer is simple: God is our “helper.” The psalmist has a confidence that the Lord who called him will not desert him no matter what. He had the same hope that Paul expressed when he wrote to Timothy, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Phil 1:6]
God may seem distant and even silent, but he can never be charged with abandonment. “For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. [Rom 8:28] The details of our nights may differ, but God’s purpose remains the same. He is determined to squeeze all pride and self-reliance from our lives. He is committed to conforming us to the likeness of his Son [Rom 8:29], who was meek and humble of heart [Matthew 11:28-29]. At every stage of our lives, whether it is salvation, or sanctification or Christian ministry, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.
The great English pastor Charles Simeon once wrote, “I long to be in my proper place, my hand upon my mouth, and my mouth in the dust….I feel this to be the safe ground. Here I cannot err….I am sure that whatever God may despise…He will not despise the broken and contrite heart.” It is when we go down in humiliation that we go up to adoration. When we confess the depths of our weakness, we can possess the heights of his greatness.
Deuteronomy 32:11,12, describes how he brings this about. “Like the eagle stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided them.” To increase our trust in his goodness and greatness, God stirs up our nest. We are pushed out of our comfort zones. Falling and flailing we feel forsaken. But God is there to catch us, to bear us up, to guide us. It is in those moments that we learn to trust him in ways we never before imagined. And in the process, we learn to fly and spread our wings of faith. We discover more of God’s glory.
Teresa of Avila was traveling over a very bumpy road when she was thrown out of her carriage. As she struggled to her feet she looked to heaven and said, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder that you have so few.” She could be playful with her God because she knew that the ups and downs of her life were purposefully planned by her Lord, not just for her pain, but for her greater pleasure.
I think that we who boast of our trust in the Lord in prosperity are often humbled by how little we really do in adversity. But, God’s design is not to charge us but to change us. He pressures us into digging deeper into his treasury of truth. William Cowper knew much about darkness. Most of his life was spent in struggles with depression and despair. From his tortured experience he gives us this insight into the gracious purpose of God’s hidden work: “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense; but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence; He hides a smiling face.”
There is no greater lesson for us to learn. God is our helper! That will not change. You may be going through a night when the truth of that testimony is being tested. No “feeble sense” of God will get you through. Cry out to God. Open his Word. Your confidence will grow as you put your trust in his sovereign grace. Then, you will discover that behind his “frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”
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