Entitlement and Pride in Psalm 131

This week, Dan Allender continues our series about Psalm 131. Part of the prompting for this series is that, as we move into summer and a season of rest, Dan realized that he needs to pause and reorient himself to open himself to the potential for rest. When our days are filled with important duties and pressing tasks, that act of reorienting is all too easy to forget.

Dan: “Even in the midst of difficult, overwhelming, very heart-demanding times, we are meant to enter this with a level of rest and peace that I so seldom know in the way that I read in the Scriptures.”

In order to explore more of what the Psalmist might mean about contentment, Dan says it’s important to reflect on its contrast in verse one: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty.” These two ideas—pride and haughtiness—imply a sense of entitlement, a presumption that you are better than others and deserve more than others. What often comes with this entitlement is a sense of indulgence—like the prodigal son’s older brother thinking he was more deserving of the fattened calf—and a posture of looking down upon others, believing yourself to be superior.

Dan: “Proud and haughty people who are entitled, full of indulgence, and with a stance of superiority are like unplowed fields whose disdain toward others is a form of judgment. The problem is, we all know people like that, and it is easy to see them when they’re operating. I think it’s very hard to actually see where there’s any implication that we are indicted.”

It’s very hard to actually see where there’s any implication that we are indicted.

Sometimes pride is overt and obvious to all who encounter it. Other times it’s more subtle, characterized by statements like, “I must do this thing or there will be disaster” or “No one else will do it as well as I can.” This harkens back to our recent series on the challenges of leadership, where we so often encounter the pressure of ideas like, It is my responsibility to not fail, to keep others happy.

Dan: “In our weighted exhaustion, fundamentally what we’re saying is ‘I’m enough, I’ve got to be enough, I’m not enough.’ […] It’s the failure of not being able to fail. The failure of being more afraid of disappointments than of bearing burdens that I’m not meant to bear.”

Unrecognized and unaddressed pride and haughtiness are often at the root of exhaustion and burnout, as we attempt to carry the world on our shoulders until we can continue no further. Breaking this unsustainable cycle requires that moment of reorienting we discussed in the last episode—a moment of pausing and listening to the invitation to rest, no matter what else is going on.

Dan: “Character is the context for the capacity to rest. And if your character is bound to pride and haughtiness, there will be no place for you to relieve the pressure, to relieve the weight and the exhaustion, because the pride is going to continue to increase your ambition to do that which is utterly beyond your own capacity.”

This doesn’t mean that we should not concern ourselves with things that are big and bold and beautiful, but that pursuing those things without pride means not letting ourselves be bound to what we perceive as a successful outcome. That cuts to the heart of a message many of us may have internalized without realizing it: If I fail, I’ve known hell. If I succeed, I have tasted something of heaven—a sense that we can earn or succeed or achieve our way back into Eden.

Dan: “Will you be faithful in the small, in the doable? Will you let your heart smile at the impossible, being willing to take on dreams and tasks that vastly exceed any of our capacity, and yet to do so giving over pride and haughtiness? […] Whether I fail or succeed, or whether it’s likely a combination of the two, at one level it is my faithfulness in trusting in the hope of God, more than it is in the product finished, that will then satisfy this deep and ongoing craving for Eden.”