Have you ever been broken by God?

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.
  • HumilityWe 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.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9, NIV)

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)

Advertisements

Honor and Humility Part 1: Jesus chose to be born not to a king or an emperor, but in a poor family.

#1 Jesus chose to be born not to a king or an emperor, but to a poor family.

I heard an atheist once attack the origin of Jesus’ birth: Why did Jesus come in a less-populated, mostly illiterate place in the world to reveal Himself?  Why not go to the Chinese, who were so much more intelligent and advanced in society?  Or why not come to us today, when we have the scientific knowledge to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ His miracles?

Soon after I heard this argument, I was captivated by it–but not in the way it was intended.  I was captivated that Jesus, who of course knew what atheists would say about Him in the second millennium, chose to come TO a paltry little people in a dusty wilderness anyway.  I find that a marvel of Him!

This really shouldn’t surprise us about God, if we know Him from the Old Testament.

He is the one who came to a runaway slave woman in the desert (someone who, in her society, was as pretty near worthless as you could get–that was Hagar).

He chose a man who couldn’t have children (that was Abraham) to found a nation, and a man who couldn’t speak well (that was Moses) to lead that nation.

He chose a woman who had the most looked-down-upon job in society (a prostitute– that was Rahab) to rescue His spies, and He gave her a husband from His nation (something that would have been unthinkable in that day!).

He brought a woman who descended from a nation originating from incest and with a long history of idolatry (that was Ruth) into shocking honor (see Ruth 4:15) the line of Christ.

He took a man from the least important tribe and the least important family in that tribe to become king (that was Saul).

And He even brought a king back from exile who had been so wicked he had killed his own children.  But because he repented (whether we would agree with God or not!) God restored even a wretch like him (that was Manasseh), revealing once again that His forgiveness and loving-kindness extends beyond our wildest imaginings.

Through the least likely of sinners, God carried His purpose through time and time again.  Through the lowliest of peoples, God showed His most benevolent grace and revealed that His plan worked through their lives, too (and more so than the lives of the ‘important’!).

Do you get a feeling that God loves humility?  It takes a long time for something as foreign as the concept of humility to penetrate my brain, but I’m starting to get the idea.

Now with this backdrop, let me again look at the birth of Christ.

Let’s be honest, you and I, let’s be really honest.  If we were coming as the Hero to save a people from their sins, how would we want to appear?

I might have something staged like one of the Marvel Comics series.  I’d showcase my super extraordinary superpower with a magnificent, attention-getting outfit.  I’d rescue people in dramatic fashion that would really get everybody’s attention!

I don’t know, I might shoot webs from my wrists and swing from skyscraper to skyscraper.  Or I might fly through the air and, as I pointed at bad people, blow them up.

Or maybe I’d choose not to be a superhero, but just really, really, impressively strong because of my hard work and effort.  I might be a martial-arts warrior with crazy coordination and incredible agility and let people see slow-motion replays of all my moves (I might have the angels videotaping my feats).

Or maybe I’d go more for the Jedi angle and I’d wave a light saber through the air.  Zzzzz!  Zzzzzz!  I’d wave my hand and play mind games and do back-flips and defeat the force of evil to the admiration of onlookers.

Or I could be a stunningly cool Lord of the Rings elf, and let precise arrows fly off my bow with the same ease as brushing my hair.

Or maybe I’d go for a shoot-’em-up style and I’d come with a big diesel truck of illegal weapons with blasting rock music and use machine guns to win my way into the respect of the people.

. . Do you and I think God didn’t know this is how we think?

Do we think He didn’t know that He could impress us more by coming to us this way?

Do we think He didn’t know that we would rather see movies about superheroes and legends and even gangsters than hear the story about how His invincible Son quietly entered the world of human fragility?

Does the nativity excite us the way a multi-planetary fight does?

Do we feel as eager to learn about God’s coming as a little baby as we do about a knight’s quest to slay mighty monsters?

Do we feel as drawn to the story of God’s first night in a barn the way we do to the story of a superhero who can scale buildings and kick-box the world into submission?

And what about all the cool cars, cool drugs, giant wealth, and cool powers of gangsters in movies?  Does not even evil often win our attention and approval over the humble good of the Son of God?

. . Did God not know how we felt?  Did He not know that we would look at the entry of His precious Son and have an attitude so very often of, Eh, before returning to the excitement of blockbuster movies, sports-playoffs and action-packed video games?

Oh yes.  He knew.

He knew.

And He still chose, perfectly carefully, to come as a tiny baby boy in a dark, unimportant, unnoticed manger.  He still chose for cattle and donkeys and sheep to be the first to see the Son of God.  He still chose for a young carpenter to hold Him in his arms.  For a poor, most-likely-teenage girl to be the first to count His ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes.  He chose to come to the world as a totally helpless, utterly vulnerable infant whose little head had to be supported.

Here is the Son of God.

Does that capture your attention?

It does mine.

And, when I think about it . . it captures my attention far more than the fake wonders of a superhero or Jedi Master or wizard or warrior or martial arts expert who cares more about impressing an audience than about saving them.

. . I am drawn to the mystery of that stable.  And the more I reflect on it, the more captivating God’s strength-of-love becomes for me . . and the less inviting the shenanigans of an attention-hungry world.

To be agile and handsome and strong and brightly-costumed and loudly welcomed . . that really is something . . until you glimpse the birth of the Son of God.

She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. (Luke 2:7b, NLT)