A flu bug has recently made its way through many of our friend’s lives. It seemed like every day I was hearing about another person who got affected and “infected.” Although usually, news as such inspires prayer and calls/texts of support, it also brings to mind VIVID memories of experiencing illness in my own life.
You know this to be true – everything looks a little different when you’re lying on the bathroom floor. And while I do sometimes find myself wishing I had cleaned the floor a little better, normally the things that take up a lot of my time and attention don’t even come to mind at all when I am sick. Things like unanswered emails, unplanned events, work commitments and all those daily to-dos simple fall right off the radar.
Illness has a way of boiling things down to their basics. When I’m lying on the bathroom floor, it’s just me and God in a way that is rarely true in my everyday life. And although I sometimes do ask God to help me feel better or at least calm the roiling sea in my stomach, often when I’m sick, all I can think to pray is, “Thank you thank you thank you” because there are only certain things that I can learn ONLY when I am “broken.”
No one likes pain. No one purposely goes someplace that is dangerous without first counting the potential cost. To go blindly into an inevitably painful scenario is simply naïve and stupid. Even so, believer after believer in Jesus Christ often expects pain-free living when initiating and growing into spiritual maturity and effectiveness in God’s Kingdom. Yet, we all know reality, don’t we? And when you stare squarely in the face of “reality,” the only viable conclusion that any thoughtful and honest Jesus follower can come to is that struggle and brokenness is going to be real part of the faith experience.
In fact, a man by the name of Parker Palmer once wrote, “when spiritual intimacy is developed in the heart of a sincere Christ-follower, brokenness will be the end result.”
Any denial of the actuality of the brokenness experience will only cause the hurt to entrench itself in a dysfunctional emotional underground that will eventually lead to a variety of potential behaviors. Someone once told me, “you are only as sick as your secrets”. Because of that psycho-spiritual truth, the earnest Christ-follower should pursue a path of vulnerability that leads to an honest wrestling with the dynamic of spiritual brokenness.
Truthfully, every growing disciple must wrestle with the time-honored truth that the change that occurs in the human heart only occurs when it is “mixed lavishly with pain, sorrow, and crushing.” That is what is called, ‘brokenness.” Now, there are many ways that we use the word “brokenness”. We break open bottles of wine…we break a horse…we break into a house or into a box to get to a toy. Look it up online – every definition given, and there were numerous, had to do with no longer being in “working condition”. Words like “weakened, lacking, hurt, imperfect” are woven into the fuller definition of the word. Now, as I looked at that definition, I was first tempted to get discouraged. But then it dawned on me…God wants into the heart and spirit of a disciple…and often being “broken” is the only way that that can happen.
As he worked through the process of his own brokenness, the Apostle Paul actually quotes God as He spoke to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is the perfect prototype for God-honoring living.
Brokenness is not a path that we can avoid in our lives. As I mentioned above, sooner or later, we all clock time on the “bathroom floor.” Now, I believed for many years that God could not and would not use a “broken tool.” It was not until I started to embrace my brokenness that I came face to face with the truth…”God’s favorite tools, those servants who are most powerfully His, are those that have been broken.”
Brokenness is where trustworthy and enduring faithfulness is forged.
As Alan Nelson remarks, “As you study different difference makers, you will find that many of them rose out of personal tragedies and overcame personal barriers such as poverty or physical or relational challenges. Tough times are necessary for the production of strong personality traits.”
The bottom line…once you take a serious and comprehensive look at the reality of what Holy Spirit can do in the midst of a broken heart and life, you will undoubtedly and consistently discover that brokenness leads to new faithfulness, new dreams, and bigger visions.
We are all a mess. Yet, spiritual truth reveals to us that we will not be the person God dreams for us to be until we look deep within ourselves, acknowledge and embrace our brokenness and humbly lay it at the feet of Jesus.
Gene Edwards states: “…many people pray for the power of God. More every year. Those prayers sound powerful, sincere, godly and with an ulterior motive. Hidden under such prayer and fervor, however, are ambition, a craving for fame, the desire to be considered a spiritual giant. The man who prays such a prayer may not even know it, but such dark motives and desires are in his heart…in your heart.”
Only when all of our personal and spiritual wounds are replaced by a new life and power in Holy Spirit can we be whole, available and useable for the Kingdom. Until we are able to allow Holy Spirit to perform a spiritual coup d’etat in our hearts, our spiritual fruitfulness and faithfulness will be deterred. Without embracing our brokenness, we will end up not obedient and worship-filled servants of the Kingdom but slaves to our passions and dysfunctions.
God uses people who are humble, teachable, and responsive. God empowers hearts that are tender and open to supernatural indwelling. Because of the depth of human sin…because of the prevailing pride that infects the human spirit…brokenness is the only means of preparing oneself for embracing all that God has in store. Brokenness is not necessarily revealed most vividly through a person’s humility…although often humility is the result of brokenness. Brokenness involves destruction. It is often the way that God allows the reality of the sinful world to work on the heart and spirit of the disciple. God does not cause suffering…but God uses suffering. Suffering is often the “school” of a growing disciple. Suffering is often necessary to accomplish all that God purposes in every person’s life…in other words, our obedience…our submission to the Lord begins at the point of our brokenness. Just as Jesus said in that garden during Holy Week, “not my will, but YOURS be done.”
There are some things that can only happen when a person understands that the only way to be the person God wants us to be is to allow suffering and the vulnerability that accompanies a disclosure of that aspect of a person’s journey to hit us full force. The only way a full heart allegiance is going to be rendered to God is for a complete and total surrender to occur. Only when a person is able to say, “I can’t” will they be able to allow the Spirit of God to heal them. Only then will the “I can’t” transform into a confident, “God can.” Only in brokenness will a disciple move beyond feelings of spiritual entitlement and consumption in order to move into true worship and authentic personal sacrifice.
In actually, brokenness is one of the many complex human experiences that is easier to recognize than to describe. If someone were to use an academic system as a paradigm for describing brokenness, one might say that it is an “upper division” class in the pursuit of Christian maturity. God seeks brokenness in the hearts and lives of His disciples (e.g. Luke 9:24ff, Romans 12:1, Psalm 51:16ff). God knows that most often the avenue to effective spiritual development comes via the pathway of brokenness. It is in brokenness that dependence upon the Lord is shaped…it is by experiencing the “stripes of pain” that we experience the depth of His healing and love!
As this devotional closes, here are some notable quotes on the power and presence of God that is released in our brokenness and humility. May the Lord bless YOU as you gaze into the depths of your soul accompanied by the healing presence of the Spirit of God.
Henri Nouwen once remarked, “The way of the Christian is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”
David once wrote at a time of his own brokenness, “In your strength, I can crush an army; with my God, I can scale any wall” (Psalm 18:29).
“Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time, there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in a success-oriented world.” Henri Nouwen
“There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” Rabbi Manachem Medel