My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)
I don’t know for sure about you, but I resist being broken.
I’ve never broken a bone that I know of except for maybe a rib, but one of the most painful experiences I had as a child was a time when astonishingly I did not break a bone.
I was in a park on a playground, and I’d guess I was about 8 or so. I was fascinated by the teeter-totter, and I wondered how the mechanism worked that tilted it up and down.
I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I went over to the teeter-totter to check out the axis. While I was sticking my hand in to see how the mechanism worked, two kids got on either side of the teeter-totter and started using it.
It was one of the most extreme pains I’ve had. The weight of the teeter-totter bearing down on my arm was so agonizing I could not even find my voice to tell the children to stop. I’m sure it all took place in a matter of a few seconds, but I found my voice and in what seemed to me to be a dazed murmur asked them to get off the ride.
They got off, in surprise, and I pulled my arm out. I was in shock about what had happened as I held my throbbing arm out.
Since then, I’ve rarely put my hand in any kind of mechanism again without seriously thinking about it first (I’m reluctant to get something out of the garbage disposal).
The idea of God breaking us is not one I think any of us can honestly say we are comfortable with. For one thing, many believers still don’t fully trust that God is love, and so when they (and most of the time I am included here) think of Him breaking them in their lives, they think secretly of some ill-purpose or ill-will.
I would assert that we try very hard not to be broken by God. Have you ever been listening to a sermon that was convicting, and found a way to distract yourself? Have you ever been reading a book that was too uncomfortable about radical devotion to God, and found something else to do? Have you ever felt God convicting you of a sin and been too fearful to face the consequences?
We are masters at resisting God’s breaking. At 3:00 in the morning, if God is working on your heart, you can not only read a book, but you can turn on the TV, surf the internet, play a video game, or chat on Facebook. Some people are even able to work from home and answer emails or write new proposals during the uncomfortable time.
The goal for us seems in whatever way possible to resist God’s breaking of us.
And for reasons that seem very valid to us. God’s breaking of our hearts can be far more painful than the time my arm was caught in a seesaw.
But why would God want us to break? If He doesn’t desire to be mean to us–He doesn’t enjoy kicking us around the way a criminal might kick a dog around–and He doesn’t seek as an end result for our sorrow, then why would He cause something so terrible to happen to us such as breaking?
Here are a few reasons I can think of. You might add your own.
- Salvation. The most obvious reason is salvation. Many people feel broken before salvation, though some (because they were a small child or because they had already gone through a breaking time previously, or for another reason) may not experience this breaking pre-salvation, but post. After months of feeling broken, God in His grace brought me to His salvation in a time of healing. God knows how each of us work. Many come to Him in broken-hearted repentance. (For me, much of this repentance came after inviting Christ into my life. I was on a journey to confessing [and admitting] all of my sin before God, a journey I’m still working on, fearful that He wouldn’t forgive me if He really knew me. But I did come with the mindset of already knowing I was a sinner, and having known that for years.)
- Confession to evaporate guilt. There are two ways to look at this: God is cruel or God wants you to be free of entanglements and burdens. The entanglement and burden of unconfessed sin is huge. If you are too afraid to give God a sin because you think if you “acknowledge” it He’ll stop loving you (personal experience here), then you carry a weight that God doesn’t intend you to carry as His child. And He will increase the pressure and pain of that weight until you give it to Him, so you can walk free.
- Confession to evaporate denial. Sometimes, it’s easy to not give certain sins to God, mainly if we want to keep doing them (again, spoken from experience). Rather than looking at God as someone who is all to overjoyed to punish you for your sin, realize that He wants you to walk a life that is a witness to others, and that He is working to bring about your sanctification (the purity of your walk before Him).
- Eternal perspective. It is so, so easy to hear the message of Christ drowned out by the so-called ‘goodies’ of this world. I find myself struggling to resist looking at magazine covers as I walk through the grocery store aisles; distracted by bulletin boards that idolatrize materialism and physical beauty; and overwhelmed at times by the plethora of possessions one can own in their lifetime–each with the personal, very intimate, and totally deceitful promise of a and then I lived happily ever after claim. Other times we feel inundated by work or relationship demands, sexual cravings, physical needs, retirement concerns, etc. The list is nearly endless. And in all this, the eternal perspective we should have is forgotten or put on a back burner. When God breaks us from these things, what happens? We are able to focus on the delight of Him, and to truly draw others into His Presence.
- Passion. Becoming dull for God can begin to happen in a single moment. One choice can cause us to stumble and fall out of fellowship with Him. In this time, we are not only on a self-destructive path for ourselves, but we do warfare against the precious testimony we have toward the world. God wants to create in us a zealous, earnest passion for the lost, for His Truth, and for His everlasting love.
- Humility. We can get to where we think we are the coolest Christians on the block. God breaking us reminds us to have an eye out for the broken. When we are standing proud with our chest puffed out, showcasing the ‘metals’ we think we’ve earned in our Christian walk, we nearly always ignore the needs of the lost around us. God wants us to remember the lost, including the ‘undesirable’ lost. And not just to throw money at them or pity them, but to reach out and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them!
- Dependence on God. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes in our Christian walk, we can think we are soo special that God could scarcely do without us, rather than that we cannot do without Him! Ever been there? I have. When God breaks us, it isn’t an act of trying to force us to see Him as boss, but a gracious kindness to remind us that He is our Life. When we stray from dependence on God, we become dependent on things that serve as ‘mini-idols’ in our lives, like our relationships, our career, our plans, etc.
- Bravery. When we have an area in our life that we feel we can’t achieve victory over, God can give us the courage to have victory by breaking us of our love for that wrong thing or or the fear holding us back from doing the right thing. God can break us of our fear of sharing our testimony, witnessing to people on the street, etc., or our love of materialism, forgiving those who have hurt us most, etc.–by destroying the false hope we have in doing something wrong and destroying the false fear we have in doing something right.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)
I am so afraid of being broken. I am so afraid of suffering. If you’re like me, you probably are, too. But there are times in my Christian walk when I’ve prayed for God to break me. In fact, one Christian song we sing, Hosanna (Hillsong United), invites God to do just this with the line,
Break my heart for what breaks Yours.
We may artificially request for God to break us and be shocked by the very real answer He gives us. True brokenness is terribly painful and we struggle to accept it, even from the hand of our Rescuer. But think about the verse from the Psalm, and these other Scriptures, and you and I will see a bright torch of Hope in our brokenness.
“Son of man, groan before the people! Groan before them with bitter anguish and a broken heart.” (God, Ezekiel 21:6, NLT)
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (David, Psalm 34:18, NLT)
My days are over. My hopes have disappeared. My heart’s desires are broken. (Job, Job 17:11, NLT)
“I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the LORD.” (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:15b, HCSB)
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (David, Psalm 147:3, NLT)
I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. (David, Psalm 38:8, NIV)
Ezekiel (whom God commanded to groan), David, Job, and Hannah all followed God. They had hearts that sought Him. Job is a man whom God said about him,
“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8b, NIV)
Surely Job had a life that we should look carefully at to learn what a follower of Jesus might expect to experience in this world. (By the way, “blameless” does not mean “sinless” but that he followed God exceptionally and was forgiven of his sin. In Job, he refers to sin he has had in the past, and indeed he sins against God in his anger/doubt towards Him.)
What do we find? Job had a time of intense grief, questioning, doubt, struggling, and terror. God broke him. And in this, Job discovered the wonder of God.
What about Hannah? She wanted children, probably more than just about anything. Maybe even more than she wanted a relationship with God. But she came to God in great brokenness, laying her grief at His feet, and she rested in whatever answer He would give her. Then, when God did give her a child, she did something that seems almost unthinkably hard–she gave her first child to Him, to live in the temple. She got to see her child, the boy she’d so longed for, once a year. And how did God honor her for giving over what she most wanted to Him? He gave her sons and daughters to raise, and the baby she dedicated became perhaps the greatest Old Testament judge during the time before the kings.
And David? David lived a life of soaring highs and terrible lows before God. After he became trapped in sexual sin, he killed men, including the husband of the woman he had violated. He became terribly broken (see Psalm 51). God forgave him, and in his beautiful, broken Psalm about his sin (Psalm 51), we find these words:
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:12-18, NIV)
David knew something that many kings who came after him didn’t: only the Messiah could truly take away sin. No matter how wealthy David was, or however mighty a warrior he was, or however talented with musical instruments, nothing and no one but God could take away his sin.
In summary, there are many reasons why God might break a person. For a lost person, the reason is always for the purpose of salvation. For the saved person, God sanctifies us through times of brokenness. Resisting His brokenness as a lost person is to resist Eternal Life. And resisting His brokenness as a believer is to resist His work to purify your life and testimony here on earth.
In a time of brokenness, however deep and fearful and even hopeless it may seem, remember that God’s ultimate desire is not for you to remain in this brokenness, but for you to be saved by it (if you are lost) or for you to experience His delight more deeply and draw the lost to Him (if you are already saved).
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Solomon, Proverbs 17:22)
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. (Solomon, Proverbs 15:13, ESV)
Although this blog might seem like a detached commentary on the pain of brokenness, it is far from it. I write this during a time of very personal and painful brokenness in my life. I am not fully out of the feeling of having my arm caught in a seesaw yet. I still feel the new wound of brokenness and I still have an unsettling, restless angst of, What if it does not go away? I don’t know who said this first, nor is that really important, but I hold to the line, God does not waste our pain. Whether you are a believer or not, God isn’t bringing suffering on you because He enjoys tormenting you. Rather, He longs for you to be saved, or, if you are saved, to know Him better.
Although much of my heart still wants to resist the experience of breaking in my life, and though I still at times feel like a wild animal struggling to be tamed, I believe in, I hold to, and I desire to cling with white-knuckled grasp to the love of Christ. I know that times of breaking are not senseless, needless, or for the purpose of my destruction, but rather to bring my heart closer to God, to bring my will in dearer alignment to His, and so that I may “rest on His unchanging grace” (Edward Mote, hymn On Christ the Solid Rock).
And one more Scripture each for unbelievers and for believers going through a time of brokenness.