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:

Thoughts on Suffering

As I continue reading through the Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murry M’Cheyne, I keep finding treasures of wisdom that I want to pass along.  The following is from a letter M’Cheyne wrote to his congregation when he was separated from them because of his poor health.  There were several in his congregation who were sick as well, and they had written to him about the meaning of suffering.  Here is his reply:

You have here, then, in Job 23:8-9, a child of light walking in darkness, an afflicted soul seeking, and seeking in vain, to know why God is contending with him. Dear friends, this is not an uncommon case; even to some of you God’s providences often appear inexplicable. He has tried you in different ways: some of you by the loss of your property, as He tried Job; some of you by the loss of dear friends; some by loss of health, some by the loss of the esteem of friends. Perhaps more than one trouble has come on you at a time, wave upon wave, thorn upon thorn. Before one wound was healed, another came, before the rain was well away, clouds returned. You cannot explain God’s dealings with you, you cannot get God to explain them; you have drawn the Savior’s blood and righteousness over your souls, and you know that the Father himself loves you; you would like to meet Him to ask, “Why do you contend with me?”

My dear afflicted brethren, this is no strange thing that has happened to you. Almost every believer is at one time or another brought to feel this difficulty: “God makes my heart soft, and the Almighty troubles me.” Is it in anger, or is it in pure love, that He afflicts me? Am I fleeing from the presence of the Lord, as Jonah fled? What change would He have wrought in me? If any of you are thinking thus in your heart, pray over this word in Job. Remember the word in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God.” God does many things to teach us that He is God, and to make us wait upon Him. And, still further, see in verse 10 what light breaks in upon our darkness: “But He knows the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Observe, first, “He knows the way that I take.” What sweet comfort there is in these words: He that redeemed me, He that pities me as a father, He who is the only wise God, He whose name is love, “He knows the way that I take!”He that is greater than all the world is looking with the intensest interest upon all your steps.

You do not know your own way. God has called you to suffer, and you go, like Abraham, not knowing whither you go. Like Israel going down into the Red Sea, every step is strange to you. Still, be of good cheer, sufferer with Christ! God marks your every step.

He that loves you with an infinite, unchanging love, is leading you by his Spirit and providence. He knows every stone, every thorn in your path. Jesus knows your way. Jesus is afflicted in all your afflictions. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by my name, you art mine. When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon you.”

Second, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” This also is precious comfort. There will be an end of your affliction. Christians must have “great tribulation;” but they come out of it. We must carry the cross; but only for a moment, then comes the crown.

There is a set time for putting into the furnace, and a set time for taking out of the furnace. There is a time for pruning the branches of the vine, and there is a time when the husbandman lays aside the pruning-hook. Let us wait his time; “he that believeth shall not make haste.” God’s time is the best time.

But shall we come out the same as we went in? Ah! no; “we shall come out like gold.” It is this that sweetens the bitterest cup; this brings a rainbow of promise over the darkest cloud. Affliction will certainly purify a believer. How boldly he says it: “I shall come out like gold!” Ah, how much dross there is in every one of you, dear believers, and in your pastor!

Oh that all the dross may be left behind in the furnace! What imperfection, what sin, mingles with all we have ever done! But are we really fruit-bearing branches of the true vine! Then it is certain that when we are pruned, we shall bear more fruit. We shall come out like gold. We shall shine more purely as “a diadem in the hand of our God.” We shall become purer vessels to hold the sweet-smelling incense of praise and prayer. We shall become holy golden vessels for the Master’s use in time and in eternity.

May the promise that God knows and shares our suffering, and that God is using it to refine His people, strengthen you and give you hope as you face trials and afflictions.

Grace and peace,

SDG

Quoted from: McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Logos Digital Edition.