When I’m full of myself I don’t listen to others.
Psalm 34 is attributed to David as his response to God after he played the madman before the king of Gath. One distich in the Psalm caught my attention in a new way: “My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.” I take it that David was aligning himself with the humble—those whom he was inviting to hear his boasts about God.
Here’s what came to mind: when I’m full of myself I don’t listen to others. It’s an awkward truth and it exposes the disabling curse of pride. When I don’t listen I find it impossible to learn. If I don’t learn I don’t grow. And if I don’t grow I start to die.
I know I am not the only person with this disorder. At times when I get to hear someone offer some compelling truth I can’t help but notice that some in the same audience may be texting or snoozing—evidently, not listening. Of course they might have very good reasons: a sleep deficit for the one and a small emergency that calls for the texting by the other. But what of the many people who are oblivious to truth—not ready to listen—because of their pride? Who are bored by others because of self-love? Call it an affective dissonance—with desires so misaligned with God’s desires that there is no capacity for the selfish heart to hear God’s heart.
Pride—as a self-blinding quality—may be best cured by things that humiliate us. Our old ways of life—our old vision of self in particular—must be shattered to the degree that they take us away from God rather than towards him. In David’s case he was fleeing the certain death that awaited him in his home region as King Saul was out to kill him. Then as David fled Saul by going to Gath he faced another threat of death—as a warrior known for killing thousands of Philistines—by trying to find refuge in a Philistine town. A rock and a hard place.
Pride comes in having success in our aspirations: in gaining and maintaining our own status and security. When we have success our pride tells us we deserve it. And others need to respect our high standing in the pyramid of life. Those who don’t measure up are no longer worthy of our time and devotion. Status and pride go together: they inflate the self so that we see selflessness is a weakness—something shared by the poor, the lame, the puny, and the undeserving.
David, in writing his psalm, had neither success nor security. He had justifiable fears and doubts. Yet he also had a bond with Yahweh who had anointed him to replace Saul. So David’s humility came in this: his sole hope was in his heartfelt dependence on God, and God‘s roadmap for security invited him into a deep humility. David’s humility—ever recalling his roots as the family runt who was left to watch over sheep—also found a heart-to-heart connection with God, the good Shepherd. A God humble enough to sacrifice his beloved Son for the sake of others who are humble enough to respond to him.
God, it turns out, loves the poor, the lame, the puny, and the undeserving. And he grieves over the refusal to listen that comes with the pride of the successful, the wise, the wealthy, and the great. He was and is ever ready to talk to them, but as Paul put it in 2 Thessalonians 2:10, “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” And that is not a good place to live, even if it is in a lovely gated community supplied with every pleasure and privilege a soul could desire.
So how do we improve our spiritual hearing? One place to begin is by blessing and thanking God for his care. And by asking him to share more of himself with us so that we can, with David (in verse 8), “taste and see that the LORD is good!” Humility is a simple dispositional shift of delighting in God rather than in ourselves.
Thoughts? You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo.
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].