Learning to Listen

In 1 Samuel 25, we read a revealing story about David and a foolish landowner named Nabal. David, while on the run from Saul, lives in the wilderness with the shepherds who care for Nabal’s flocks. During that time David and his small military force protected the sheep and shepherds from predators and marauders. David even freely shared food and shelter with the shepherds. Later on, when David was in need, he asked Nabal for food and shelter, but Nabal greedily denied his request. Nabal’s servants, wife, and friends told him to do otherwise and show David hospitality, but Nabal refused to listen. His deafness to others led to his death.

The author of Samuel wrote this about Nabal,

He is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him (1 Samuel 25:17).

The author is saying that Nabal was so worthless, that he refused to listen to other people’s wisdom. His pride prevented his friends from confronting him!

We’ve all met people like this. Everyone fears approaching them about problems, sharing honest concerns about their lifestyle, and confronting them about sin. They respond to loving wisdom coldly and stubbornly. In truth, all of us struggle with being like Nabal; all of us respond defensively when someone corrects or rebukes us.

So what happens to Nabal? David, so incensed by Nabal’s brash refusal of hospitality, decides to lay siege to Nabal’s property. David plans to destroy all of Nabal’s livestock, property and even murder him, his family and his servants. David’s anger is violent, murderous and sinful.

Thankfully, Nabal’s wife, Abagail, intercepts David on his way to Nabal’s house and begs him to turn away. She reminds David that if he attacks Nabal he will disobey God and have “bloodguilt” on his hands. She encourages David to trust in God to judge Nabal, rather than himself.

David listens to Abagail and says to her,

Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice and granted your petition (1 Samuel 25:35).

The author of samuel intentionally juxtaposes David’s listening, to Nabal’s deafness. Because David listens to wisdom, he turns away from sin and sets his faith in God. Because Nabal is deaf to wisdom, he sins against David, and is judged by God (ten days later Nabal dies).

This narrative reminds me that Christians cannot fly solo. On our own we become foolish like Nabal, and make destructive decisions. God blesses us with our Christian friends to help us guide our hearts in wisdom – if only we are humble enough to listen.

When we turn our hearts cold to the rebukes, corrections, encouragements, and wise words of our friends, we often turn cold to what God is doing in our life. Likewise, when we turn our hearts cold to the Bible – either by not reading it or rejecting it – we utterly destroy our ability to grow in Christ and live fruitful lives.

To listen to others we need the gospel to produce humility in our hearts. You see the gospel forces us to acknowledge ourselves as we are: sinful, broken, messed up. The gospel humbles us, it allows us to acknowledge that we’re in need of help.

Yet, the gospel also gives us confidence that we’ve been – through Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf – loved and accepted by God more deeply than we can comprehend. Our humility never leads us to despondency, but joyful thankfulness. This also means that we can stop trying to find our worth in being right. Our worth comes from God’s love.

So when the Bible or our friends rebuke us, we’re able to humbly admit that we need help. We’re able to deeply meditate on their wisdom, repent of our sins, and turn to walk in faithfulness. And yet, in admitting our pblems, we’re not emotionally devested, because we have the unbreakable worth of the love of God.

Do you see yourself humbly enough? Do you listen? Do you trust that your worth comes not from being right, from our loving God?


About Patrick K. Miller

Currently I am living in Columbia serving at the University of Missouri with Veritas, The Crossing's campus ministry. In December 2010 I graduated from Mizzou with a degree in English Literature. My beautiful wife, Emily, works is an Interior Designer with a local firm. I like espresso, 30 Rock, and books. My favorite old dead guys are John Owen, Augustine and Francis Schaeffer. You should read something by them.
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