What's required to know true contentment and humility - the sort that makes us satisfied in our circumstances, that causes us to be neither envious nor disdainful of others?
Psalm 131 is David's reflection on exactly this. I suppose that as king of Israel - and all that such an office represented (with all its riches, fame and celebrity) - the temptation to be proud (and derisory of others) might have been very real. Those of us involved in full-time Christian ministry can also face the temptation to be proud and to look down upon others. It occurs to me from this psalm that a right view of the LORD (and of the believer's relationship with him) is essential to fighting this temptation.
Firstly, David is happy not to play God. This is what he's getting at in the last section of verse 1: 'I do not concern myself with great matters or things that are too wonderful for me.' There are certain questions that we will not have answers to in this life; for instance, why particular forms of suffering happen to certain people. Likewise, there are certain situations in which we are impotent and have to rest in the sovereignty of God. It's hard not to want to take these things upon ourselves. But David is happy to trust these things to the living God of the Universe.
Secondly, David's relationship with God has caused his ambitions to change. Once we see ourselves as creatures in relationship with the Creator, it's not surprising that the way that we see ourselves changes. We can no longer be obsessed with self. This change occurred in David.
Whilst I consider myself to be at the centre of the Universe, my ambition will know no ceiling. But once I know that God is rightly at the centre of the Universe (and my Universe), everything changes. For many, being king of Israel was an office to desire because of the kudos and personal benefits it brought (desires seen in the case of Absalom and others). For David, it was merely the role that the God of the Universe had asked him to fulfil.
Likewise, once a person has been brought into the relationship with the God of the Universe for which they were created and experienced his grace, their desires for other things change. The relationship with him is satisfying in itself. That's what the powerful image at the end of verse 2 describes. Just like Paul (in Philippians 4:10-13), David has learned the secret of being content. He is quiet and easy. Spurgeon surely hits the nail on the head:
'To the weaned child his mother is his comfort though she has denied him comfort. It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forego the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us: then we behave manfully, and every childish complaint is hushed. If the Lord removes our dearest delight we bow to his will without a murmuring thought; in fact, we find a delight in giving up our delight. This is no spontaneous fruit of nature, but a well tended product of divine grace: it grows out of humility and lowliness, and it is the stem upon which peace blooms as a fair flower.'Verse 3 is a very fitting end to the psalm: here we see a man weaned off from obsession with himself demonstrating a concern for others. David models Jesus' exhortation to the disciples who, having deeply experienced God's grace, were called not to lord it over others but serve others (knowing that they're no better). A deep experience of God and his grace is what is required to serve radically.
Oh for more of the heart of humility and others-centredness that God granted David!