brokenness in Christianity

9 11 2007

How much have you heard about brokenness?  Henri Nouwen, a Christian writer, once wrote, “It is often difficult to believe that there is much to think, speak or write about other than brokenness.”  But have you ever heard a preacher or teacher speak on it?  Do you know what the Bible says about it?  These days, it’s largely missing in the Church, because we’d rather talk about the peace and prosperity part of the Gospel.  But to get to those things, we must go through valleys of brokenness.  Our spirit has to be broken to set us free from pride and self-sufficiency, to get us to surrender all to Him.

Some church leaders today don’t want to mention any suffering or rough times in Christianity, because that doesn’t “sell” as well to people.  Would you like to sign up for a lifestyle with peace and prosperity?  Of course!  Who wouldn’t?  It’s easy to get a lot of “converts” that way.  And there are numerous megachurches who are using this principle to be “seeker-friendly”.  On the outside, it may look like it’s working well for them — they may have weekly attendance in the thousands, they aren’t persecuted for offending people, and people enjoy the services.  But is that what God intended for His followers?  Are we leaving something out of the Gospel?  If so, what effect does that have?

Before I get too far into this, let me add a few thoughts on the side.  This teaching may go against the doctrine of your church and what you’ve been taught.  It may not seem appealing to some people.  It may even be offensive to some.  But before you rush to any judgments on these concepts, I ask that you read for yourself the Scriptures referenced.  Because even though you may be in a “successful” church that’s growing, they may be leaving out important concepts of Christianity that are hindering growth and possibly even creating false converts.  We aren’t saved just to be happy and prosperous, despite what some famous TV preachers are saying.  God has some things planned for us that may not be fun at times (but it is definitely worth the struggle when we grow closer to Him through it!).

The best way I know to describe brokenness is “reaching the end of yourself”.  By that, I mean that you realize that you cannot continue any further based on your own strength, piety, self-sufficiency, power, holiness, wisdom, etc.  By nature we want to do things on our own, but this is contrary to the Kingdom of God.  God wants us to surrender all we are to Him.  And because we aren’t perfect, we have to do this over and over.  Of course, salvation is the first surrender, but we have to continue dying to self.  We even have a record of Jesus having to surrender His will in the garden before He was crucified.

The times of brokenness / surrender often involve tears, because it can be extremely difficult to lay down our will.  (If you disagree with that, let me ask this : are you doing greater works than Jesus did?  If not, it’s because you are still living part of your life according to your will.)  Also note that when Jesus was praying in the garden, He was “in agony”.  The Greek word for agony means “a struggle”, or figuratively, agony or anguish.  And it was such a struggle that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.  Have you ever thought about what that was probably like?  Can you picture yourself in such a struggle during prayer?

Did you know that God sometimes puts us through struggles for our own good?  That’s part of the process.  We tend to get complacent in our spiritual growth when things are good.  That doesn’t mean we neglect God or forget Him, and we may keep studying and learning, but it’s through the rough times that we learn the best and get to know God in a deeper way.  This concept even applied to Jesus.  Let’s look at Hebrews 5:7-8:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”

Did you see how Jesus learned obedience?  It was through what He suffered.  (How does that fit into your theology?)  And notice that He offered up prayers and supplications “with loud cries and tears”.  This was Jesus, who was closer to God the Father than we are, yet His prayers included loud cries and tears.  Should we expect our praying to be any easier?  Perhaps our lack of brokenness with tears is part of the reason we don’t see more miraculous things from God…

Let’s look at another very interesting Scripture that tends to be looked over in modern Christianity.  Here’s James 4:8-10:

8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  9 Lament and mourn and weep!  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

What is verse 9 doing in there between those great promises?  I suspect most people skip over it because it makes us uncomfortable.  But look at it this way : verse 9 clarifies verses 8 and 10.  It tells us that the cleansing of our hands and purifying of our hearts occurs in our brokenness — in misery, mourning and weeping.  And it tells us that brokenness is humbling ourselves before Him.  The word “humble” means “to depress, or to press oneself down, to be humiliated in one’s heart and to bring oneself low”.  As we bow lower (in submission), the Lord lifts us higher.  As we decrease, He increases.  All of this takes place in the midst of being miserable, mourning and weeping.  This is the brokenness of repentance.  Each time we humble ourselves in this way, God’s grace works in our hearts to make us more whole — to heal, deliver, and transform us more.  Of course this happens during salvation, but also at any other time we realize we have sinned against God by doing something wrong or by failing to do what we should be doing.

Now let’s look at one of the main verses that present brokenness, Psalm 51:16-17:

“For Thou does not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”

Think about what that’s saying.  Now let’s dig a little bit deeper into it.  The word “broken” used in verse 17 translates “crushed, broken in pieces, torn, and brought to birth!”  The word “contrite” means “collapsed physically or mentally”.  These two words describe a soul in devastated brokenness.  That’s not something we want to hear!  It’s not fun or easy to be broken, so we naturally resist it.  But if it makes us grow closer to God… then it’s certainly worth it, however much it hurts at the time.

This is something God put me through even before I knew the Scriptures behind it.  It started with a series of messages (from different sources) on dying to self.  I had to be broken many times, to rid myself of certain parts of my personality and character that weren’t pleasing to God.  There were many times that I wept before God, feeling so broken, but in those times God met me, and I discovered an intimacy with Him greater than anything I had ever experienced before.  It was definitely worth the pain in getting to that point of surrender.  Those are also the times that I have felt the presence of God and His love the most intensely.  Nothing can compare to those times of intimacy, where you’ve laid it all out before Him, and He overwhelms you with His love and grace.  It is wonderful beyond words.  But it was brokenness that led me to that point.

This is a hard message, I know.  I have resisted it at times (and thus had to be broken of that).  We want to be strong, to be self-sufficient.  But our strength isn’t what God is interested in — He wants our surrender.  Think about what God told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 : “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  And it makes sense, if you think about it.  It’s not my talents as a musician or teacher that change someone’s life — it’s only by the power of God, by being anointed by the Holy Spirit.  We have to get past ourselves; we must decrease, so He can increase.

If you’d like to read more on brokenness or to study it further, here’s a link that contains a lot more information on it :

Brokenness and Tears

I encourage you to study it further.  These concepts are mentioned throughout the Bible, and a lot of Christian authors have written about it (though mostly before the 20th century).  It’s very important, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of present-day teachers are neglecting it in order to make their message easier to swallow.  But now you know about it, and knowing is half the battle.  Now we need to apply it and live it…

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One response

17 11 2008
Kevin M.

Great thoughts on brokenness! It is indeed a hard message but it is a much needed message that we need to be sharing!

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