The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34:17–18—NKJV)

Advice given to young parents goes something like this, “bend his will but do not break his spirit.” The intent of the admonition is to counsel moderation in discipline but such advice can also lead parents away from absolute principle and toward subjective evaluations of a child’s whims, moods and appetites. While genuine parental love is always sensitive to a child’s body and spirit, loving parental obligation is to provide the best structure that forms and fuels the individual child for the healthy habits and thought-processes of adulthood. Parenting is not to just survive your child’s adolescence, nor to get “good kids.” The job of a parent, as my bride is fond of saying, is to “raise your kids so that you get good grandkids.” Parents must parent with an eye fixed upon a point far down the road. Our text is teaching that men and women of faith, endurance, courage, original thought, resource, steadiness, and covenant-keeping are ones who are well acquainted with healthy brokenness of spirit.

Every thinking person will agree that there are certain barbarous characteristics of the unbridled human spirit that must be throttled if a person is to come to responsible adulthood, let alone saving faith in Jesus Christ. Willful rebellion, selfish pride, self-deceiving arrogance, ignoring the true God, and insensitivity to the preciousness of life are just a few of the more distasteful characteristics of the natural spirit of fallen mankind, as Romans 1 so aptly explains.

Psalm 34 is one of those texts that was birthed in a desperate time in the life of David. He had been pursued by King Saul and feared for his life. He escaped to the land of the Philistines, the enemies of Israel, and while there also felt his life was in jeopardy. In his fear he feigned madness and was driven from that land. By his own admission, he was dispirited and broken. The psalm is a window into the soul of a believer who has been brought low and has turned to the Lord as his only hope. David’s psalm follows a five-point outline: an invitation to praise God together (verses 1–3), David’s testimony of his humbling experience (4–7), a listing of life lessons for the humble heart (87–16), an eternal principle for any relationship with God (17–18), and the conclusion for all men to know (19–22). Obvious to all is the fact that salvation is linked to contrition.

There are two interesting words that David uses to describe his humbling. First, he identifies himself as “broken.” It is a word that describes the breaking of the back of a ship in a storm or the breaking of a nation when its power is weakened or ruined. Pride is broken when one is humbled and truly penitent. The word is used in Psalm 147:3, 69:20, Proverbs 6:15, and 25:15.

Second, David uses the word “contrite.” It is a word that emphasizes the damage done by the breaking; it can be translated by “bruise by crushing,” to break into small pieces, “the debility of tone, the breaking down of stubbornness, the spirit bruised and broken as with a hammer” (Wilson). Jeremiah 23:29 reads, “’Is not My word like a fire?’ says the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’” God handles the humbled and broken in spirit differently than He handles the self-righteous, as Ezekial 34:16 states, “’I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what is sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.’” For this reason Isaiah 57:15 enjoins, “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose Name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’”

Think on the following verses: “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). “The LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…” (Isaiah 61:1). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise”  (Psalm 51:17). “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Examine your heart for any hint of self-righteousness. Ask God to grant you brokenness in His presence and that you may model biblical humility before all who see your life. Find your strength in your brokenness in Him as you watch for tokens of God’s nearness and His saving grace. Trust and obey.