The angriest emails I’ve ever received were responses to my articles about self-love and self-esteem. And yet . . . yet I remain convinced that the greatest obstacle to hearing God lies in precisely our self-love and self-esteem.
Most of us unconsciously believe that God speaks only to those who are mature and pure.
To cover our inadequacies, we jury-rig our hearts with positive self-talk like, “I’m a good chap” and “I really feel bad about what I did.” Or else we excuse our failures with, “I was deeply wounded as a child” and “If you had a spouse like mine, you’d understand.”
We disguise our shortcomings because our thinking is distorted: we believe God is attracted to the spiritually successful. So we scurry for good feelings about ourselves and we explain away our faults.
The trouble is, positive self-talk forms barriers to hearing God: he loves thebroken-hearted.
Who are God’s constant conversation partners?
Who does God tell us he loves to talk with?
- My sheep [the dumbest of livestock] hear my voice. (John 10:27)
- I didn’t come to those who think they are well but to those who know they are sick. (Luke 5:31 paraphrased)
- The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)
- Walk humbly in the company of our God. (Mic. 6:8)
- I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. (Luke 10:21)
When we forget the gospel, our spiritual hearing takes a vacation: God can make the littlest of us great, but he can’t use the greatest among us until we become little.
Who does God find attractive?
Each culture and every age devises its own attributes of attraction. Feudal societies adored daring knights and Victorian England loved demure “domesticated” women.
Hollywood drives today’s desirability: its women are blond, skinny, and big-busted and its men are cool, suave-talking, and sport the day-old beard. But the waists are liposuctioned, the busts are silicone, and the savvy quips are read from scripts.
It’s all fake, bluster, and swagger; even the casual beards require makeup-artist-scheming to make them look unplanned. The details of attraction rise and fall with the tides of time.
Except one: God has always been attracted to the humble.
The Imitation of Christ
The almost six-hundred year-old Imitation of Christ has recently captivated me. I read it slowly in 2014 and I’m re-reading it even slower this year. Three weeks ago I began the chapter called Self-Abasement in the Sight of God, and I can’t get past the first page. It starts simply:
I will speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. (Book III, chapter 8)
His total poverty, lack of pretentions, and utter emptiness, they move me. He approaches God with complete humility, nothing to offer, no self-justification, and no excuses. He asks to converse with God on the basis of God’s great mercy alone. He continues,
If I abase myself, if I humble myself to nothingness, if I shrink from all self-esteem and account myself as dust, Your grace will favor me.
The God of Scripture is attracted to the humble, and it is the humble he loves to raise up. That’s why Jesus invites the broken-hearted: “Come to me all who are weak and heavy-burdened.” Thomas à Kempis continues,
“If You look upon me for an instant, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy.”
Jesus didn’t come to us astride a war horse, the high and mighty son of Caesar; he came riding a donkey, the meek and lowly son of a poor tradesman. Why would we come to him any different?
We can approach God full and walk away empty; or we approach him empty—no excuses and no self-esteem—and walk away full.