At Home in the Brokenness

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
(Psalm 51:17)

At the end of the worship service on Sunday, I couldn’t remember the benediction.

It was just gone. Nada. Nothing.

We all got a chuckle out of it. It was a little humbling, a reminder that I am all too human, and an encouragement to everyone else who has experienced moments of forgetfulness.

Monday brought another reminder of my brokenness, but in an entirely different way. I was down for the day with another headache. Eerily similar to the headache that put me in the hospital for a week last year, this one came out of nowhere, with the feeling that a balloon was being inflated inside my head. Having learned from past experience, I didn’t try to push through the pain, but spent the day down, resting and praying that God would bring relief.

And God demonstrated His mercy.  Fortunately, the headache left as quickly as it came on. It only lasted for a day, but the lingering effects remain:

  • Physically, my head feels like its been beaten, tired and sore.
  • Emotionally, there’s now that lingering worry that another headache is just around the corner.
  • Spiritually, I know what it is to be broken.

I’m only 43.  I should be in my “prime active years.”  In running terms, I’m mid race, and should be striding out and setting the pace for the years to come. And yet, for almost an entire day, it was all I could do to just sit up from the couch for a glass of water.

This came as yet another vivid reminder of my brokenness.  I thought I was strong, and a headache brought me to my knees. I try to take on more and more, convinced that I can balance it all, and then I am reminded of just how delicate that balance really is. When I want to bring God my best, I find that my best is nothing more than a broken and ragged mess.

I am reminded of Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” I am aware Paul’s dealing with temptation of idolatry here, but is not our tendency to slip into self-reliance and trust in our own ability another form of idolatry?

Psalm 147:10 reminds me that God’s “delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”  Psalm 51:17 reminds us that, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

I’ve always considered the phrase “a broken spirit” to be synonymous with “a broken and contrite heart.” I assumed that it meant a humility in light of our sinfulness, an awareness of our desperate need for a savior, a penitent heart that seeks the mercy of God. All of that is true. But I’ve come to realize that “broken spirit” means much more. To be broken in spirit is to broken off from self. It means putting to death all confidence in the flesh, and resting entirely upon his gracious work within me.

But there is a beauty in brokenness; a grace found here that is rare elsewhere. In this weakness His strength is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:19). When we find we cannot hold on to Him any longer for our strength is gone, we find “the eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27).

No one asks to be broken, and yet it is only in our brokenness that we truly come to see and know the extent of God’s grace and mercy towards us. It is only in the acknowledgement of the absolute wreck that I have made of my life that I begin to understand the length to which Christ went to secure my salvation. It is only when I consider the frailty of my faith that I begin to comprehend the wonder of God’s steadfast and unchanging love in which I have been called.  It is only when I realize how small my strength is, how short I can reach, that I can rest secure in His “victorious right hand” (Isa 41:10).

Rich Mullins wrote a song that’s been speaking to me recently, appropriately titled, “We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are.” The first verse and chorus go:

Well, it took the hand of God Almighty
To part the waters of the sea
But it only took one little lie
To separate you and me
Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are.

We are frail
We are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart 
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are.

Here’s the video:

Strength in the Lord

The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
(Psalm 28:7)

Here in Cherokee we continue the ongoing work of Flood Relief, now in the middle of our third week.  We are making progress, moving houses off the clean-up list, but there is still a lot to do.  The community has really come together to provide financial relief to the flood victims, and we are doing our best to meet the needs that we know about.  The need is great, but our God is greater still, and by His grace we will continue to help those in need.

Still, in the middle of helping others, I thought it might be good to take a moment to write about helping the helpers.  After three weeks of blood, sweat, and tears, our volunteers are exhausted, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  How do you nurture your own spirit when day in and day out you are nurturing others?  How do you keep your love of neighbor from drying up like the caked mud we’ve been mucking out of basements?

Here are a few thoughts to encourage the encouragers:

You are not the Savior

When you show up to help someone in need, the gratitude and kindness you receive can often be payment enough.  But it can also go to your head.  You are providing something that they cannot do for themselves, you are a much needed kindness, you are a light in a time of darkness, but you are not the Light, you are not their Savior.

The desire to help those in need is good, the longing to give in love as Christ has given to you is beautiful, but you must always remember, you cannot meet their greatest need.  You can give everything you have, but they will still need more.  You can even lay down your life, but there is only one life that was sufficient to meet the needs of a hungry and broken world.

Remind yourself of this: “The people don’t need me, they need Christ.”  Your work should ultimately show others his goodness, his strength, the sufficiency of his care and provision

You are not strong enough

Okay, so that may not sound very encouraging, but bear with me for a moment.

In whatever you do, it is good to know your limitations.  Trying to do more than you are able can lead to disaster, both for you and for those you are trying to help.  The fact of the matter is, on your own you are not strong enough to carry the load of those around you.  If you try you will be crushed under their burden.  On your own you are not wise enough to sort out all the problems of those you are trying to help.  On your own you are inadequate for the situation at hand.

But you are not on your own.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent, to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:4-5).  He is the one who makes you adequate.  He is the one who makes you strong.

When God called Moses to deliver Israel from slavery, Moses was quick to point out his inadequacies for the job, saying, “Who am I that I should go?”  But God reminded him, “I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:11-12).

When you walk with the Lord and serve one another, the very presence of God is your strength and your shield.  His shoulders are strong enough for the burdens you carry, His wisdom is great enough for the problems you face, His arms reach to the farthest corners of the world, His hands have never failed.

Psalm 118:14  The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Find your joy in the Lord

I think it is safe to say that if you don’t have joy in what you are doing, you won’t do it for very long.  No one willing stays at a job that makes him miserable.  When you are wading through the rubble of people’s lives, crying with them as you realize the magnitude of their loss, all joy can quickly fade.  Love in action hurts, and it can often rob you of your joy.

Don’t let it.  Keep your eyes on Christ, and remember all that He has done for you.  He sought you out when you were lost.  He love you when you were unlovable.  He was faithful to you when you rebelled against Him.  He bore the weight of God’s wrath for your sins though He was sinless.  He died the death that was meant for you, and rose from the dead to give you eternal life.  You couldn’t ask for a greater friend, a greater love, a stronger Savior.

When you consider the “breadth and length and height and depth… the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” such a love will fill you with joy; joy overflowing into the lives of those around you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, keep your mind on his love, his grace, his mercy; and let that be the foundation of yours.