In 2003 I remember watching a NFL playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. At the end of regulation the game was tied, so a sudden-death overtime was called for. At the coin flip, Matt Hasselbeck, quarterback for the Seahawks, called "Heads." When it was determined that the Seahawks won the toss, the referee asked if they wanted to kick or receive to start the overtime period. Hasselbeck leaned in close to the ref and said into his microphone, "We want the ball, and we're going to score." A few plays later, however, near midfield, Hasselbeck threw the ball right into the waiting arms of a Packers defender who intercepted the pass and returned it all the way for a touchdown. Game over. Season over. Suddenly, Hasselbeck's guarantee of victory seemed very ill-advised.
When we think of the word "humble" we usually think of people who put others first, don't toot their own horn very often, or someone who is meek and mild, and that is certainly an accurate picture. But there's another kind of humility - the kind that is forced upon a person when he or she experiences something that takes away his or her pride or self-assurance, and all of a sudden they realize that things aren't as great as they thought they were. For instance, Matt Hasselbeck was made humble. He wasn't humble to begin with. On the contrary, he exuded pride and confidence in himself and his team. But all of that melted away when Al Harris, the Packers defender, ran into the end zone with the intercepted pass.
In Psalm 34.2, David says, "Let the humble hear and be glad." The kind of humility that David is talking about here is the kind that is forced upon a person - the kind that you experience when you've been through the ringer. What David is saying is that people who have been beaten down and who have been through difficult circumstances need to hear some things that he's going to tell them, and as a result, they will be glad. "Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!" David says. Now that would have to be something pretty amazing, because it's exceptionally difficult to go from feeling like the world has walked all over you, to being glad and exalting the name of the Lord. But David says it's possible. In fact, in Psalm 34 he gives us seven things the humble need to hear - seven things that should cause the humble to be glad and magnify the Lord.
1. Blessing comes during affliction (Psalm 34.4-7). In Psalm 34.4-7 David describes experiencing the splendors of God's blessing and deliverance when he is at his worst. It's when he's at his lowest that he experiences the blessing of God's deliverance; it's when he's poor and crying that God hears him and saves him out of all his troubles. Put simply, you can't experience the blessing of deliverance without first being in a situation that requires deliverance. So when you've been through the ringer, when you've been beaten down, you need to hear this: that's the place where you will experience God's blessing, deliverance, and help.
2. God provides (Psalm 34.8-10). Those who have been brought low by some kind of affliction need to hear that God will provide for their needs. "...those who fear him have no lack." (Psalm 34.9) God will always provide you with what you need. Note that he doesn't promise to give you what you want but what you need. God has not promised to protect you from feeling pain, but he has promised to provide what you need to get through the pain to the other side. Check it out for yourself: "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34.8)
3. Seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34.11-14). When you are humbled by your circumstances, one of the things you need to hear is a warning about your propensity to sinfully respond to difficulty. If someone mistreats us, our natural inclination is get back at them and get even. Or, if we are going through something difficult, we can be inclined to numb the pain through some kind of sinful means, or even be tempted to doubt or blame God for what we're going through. During your time of difficulty, expect to be tempted to sin, and start planning now to respond in a way that honors God and seeks peace.
4. God sees and hears, and he is near (Psalm 34.15, 17-18). God knows exactly what people are going through because he is watching over them, and he is ready and willing to hear and respond to their prayers. When I take my kids to the park, I tell them "Stay where I can see you." I want to watch them so I can help them if they need it. In a similar way, God watches over his children so he can help them when they need it. And he isn't watching from afar, but he is close. Sometimes we are inclined to think that God is far away, perched atop his throne in heaven, too royal and majestic and busy running the universe to be concerned with my puny little problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is intimately aware of and involved in the things that concern us. He goes with us into the valley of the shadow of death. He is near. When you've been through the ringer, you need to hear and remember that.
5. The scales will be balanced (Psalm 34.16, 21-22). When we fall upon hard times because of something someone else has done to us, it can be tempting to want to get even. At those times, you need to know that God is just and righteous, and that he will by no means clear the guilty. If we have been humbled by the words or actions of someone else, we don't need to concern ourselves with vengeance or getting even. "Leave it to the wrath of God," Paul says in Romans 12. If you have been humbled by someone or something, you need to hear this: God will see the scales balanced - if you have been wrongly treated, you will be vindicated, and those who have treated you wrongly will not escape justice.
6. Your afflictions will end Psalm 34.19-20). Unfortunately, a lot of people think that believing the gospel means an end to all of their problems, and that everything will be hunky dory from then on out. But the Bible never promises that. Instead, it shows us the reality that problems still exist, and even new problems are created as a result of believing the gospel! "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." The Bible tells us that we will still have hard times, but that the Lord will deliver us out of them all. Either he will provide a means of escape in the here and now, or it might be that we won't find deliverance until we reach heaven. I can't promise when your afflictions will end, but they most certainly will end. One day, God's deliverance will be complete and total.
7. Rejoice and be glad (Psalm 34.1-2). While it sounds counterintuitive, it is not only possible to be glad during hard times, but it is right, because this is the God Christians serve: the one who will bless those who suffer, who provides all their needs, who will see the scales balanced, who is with you wherever you are, and the one who will deliver you. These are more than enough reasons to catch more than just a glimmer of hope in the eye of a Christian who is suffering. We do not suffer alone or outside of the knowledge of God. He will come to our aid. Always. So the next time you feel like the world has chewed you up and spit you out, you can rejoice and be glad, because this is your God.