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Devotionals : The Blessing of Brokenness
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The Blessing of Brokenness

By Dr. Kieran Beville, Pastor of Lee Valley Bible Church, Ballincollig, Ireland
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David was God’s anointed leader. One day he committed adultery, with Bathsheba. It was an act conceived in lust. Then he tried to cover his tracks by commissioning the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who was a loyal and brave warrior in the king’s army. These incidents are recorded for our instruction and one of the most valuable lessons we learn is that contrition and confession are acceptable to God when they are offered from a broken heart. ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken spirit and a contrite heart---these, O God, you will not despise’ (Ps.51:17).

The word contrite means ‘broken’. Do we appreciate the value of brokenness in spiritual experience? It pleases God, it creates a climate in which unity thrives and it enriches those who offer up the sacrifice of a broken heart. In short, brokenness is the very atmosphere of revival. In Isaiah we read, ‘“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones”’ (Isa.57:15).

Brokenness is what God looks for in all our approaches to Him. But what is the meaning of brokenness? How do we define this quality? In one sense it defies definition and like ‘love’ it must be experienced to be fully understood. In Scotland they say ‘love is better felt than telt’. The same could be said about brokenness. It is like a fragrance we can detect and attempt to describe but may not be able to define it.

The meaning of brokenness---what it is not

Firstly, brokenness is not despising our humanity. The Bible does not support the idea that man’s sin lies in the fact that he is human. Our humanity was created by God. Adam rebelled against God and we have all suffered because of that act of rebellion and we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). But God does not despise us because we are human.

Secondly, brokenness is not destroying our personality. There is a brokenness that is the result of violence and brainwashing, the goal of which is the total destruction of the person. In their failed attempt to create a new humanity communist leaders in the former Soviet Union bloc countries attempted to destroy the individuality of their people. They tried to turn them into cogs in an ideological machine. This is not how the Holy Spirit creates the new humanity in Christ Jesus. Brokenness is not the devaluing of our gifts. God redeems us and then uses our talents and abilities in His service.
On one occasion Peter the Great was reproached for the manner in which he had sacrificed the lives of his people to construct St. Petersburg. He replied, ‘we must break eggs to make omelettes.’ We are not talking about that selfish and sadistic breaking of others for vainglory. This is not what the psalmist is talking about when he speaks of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

What, therefore, is the brokenness which the psalmist says pleases God? The word or synonym which helps us to grasp its meaning is ‘contrite’. The original English word contrite means ‘to be ground into particles or powder’. This helps us biblically because in Jeremiah we read, ‘For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns”’ (4:3) and again in Hosea we find these words, ‘break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and reigns righteousness on you’ (10:12). This means that, spiritually, the ploughshare of repentance is to go right through our hearts, breaking up the hard clods and making the soil ready for the sowing of the seed.

Sometimes we understand one word by looking at its opposite (antonym) and the opposite of brokenness in this agricultural picture is hardness. In many African countries the soil can be so hard that the rains do not penetrate but run off and seed just lies on the surface without taking root. God does not want hearts so hard that the rain of the Spirit cannot penetrate down into the depths of our being because the seed of the Word of God does not take root in our hearts and bring forth a harvest. The writer to the Hebrews says: ‘For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God’ (Heb.6:7). God wants to bless hearts that are soft and receptive. But we must allow God to break our hearts; to deal with the wickedness, willfulness and waywardness of the human spirit. This is what the psalmist is talking about. That is the meaning of brokenness but what are the marks of brokenness?

Repentant

Firstly, a broken spirit is a repentant spirit. The whole of Psalm 51 supports this interpretation. Indeed ‘contrite’ is often used as a synonym for repentance. Repentance involves a radical change of min in our attitude toward sin. We tend to think of repentance as something primarily for unsaved sinners but repentance is for saved sinners too! There is a need for daily repentance in the Christian life. Repentance for believers involves a radical change of mind in our attitude toward sin, toward holiness and toward God. Brokenness, from this point of view is the very fragrance of repentance rising to God as an acceptable sacrifice.

Resigned

A broken spirit is a resigned spirit that has submitted to the rule and dominion of God. We have already seen how we grasp the meaning of a word more fully by looking at its opposite meaning. Well the opposite of resigned is ‘resistant’. To be resigned means to be submissive, reconciled, compliant and acquiescent whereas to be resistant means to be defiant. Resistance is stubbornness which is selfish and sinful. The blessing of brokenness comes in our lives when we have repentant and resigned spirits.

Responsive

Thirdly, we must also have a responsive spirit. We may think of Peter, proud and boastful as he declared that he would not deny his Lord but then the Scriptures tell us that he did vehemently deny Jesus with oaths and curses. But that began a process of breaking until Christ confronted him repeatedly with the question, ‘Do you love me?’ Jesus gently broke his heart in order to bless him. From that point on Peter’s heart became wonderfully responsive to so that on the day of Pentecost God chose Peter to preach Christ and poured out blessing upon that preaching.

Restful

Brokenness is characterized by a restful spirit. The person who is truly broken is resting in the Lord and in His grace. There is no attempt on the part of the person with a broken heart and restful spirit to lord it over others. Consider the example of the Master as he washed the feet of the disciples and yet so many in the church today are fighting for the top rather than the towel. Many people want the place of pre-eminence, power and influence but few want to get on their knees and take the meek and menial role.

Something that helps me understand the blessing of brokenness is illustrated by the opal gemstone. The opal is full of tiny cracks/fissures that retain small amounts of water. These cracks refract the light and this is the way the opal acquires its characteristic lustre; through its brokenness. A flawless opal would have no radiance, no warmth and no colour. When I’m broken under God’s hand, God’s light is refracted through the cracks of repentance, resignation, responsiveness and restfulness. God is glorified and magnified in my life when I am truly broken.

Maintaining an attitude of brokenness

Now brokenness is something that must be maintained. John Bunyan in one of his extant sermons exhorts us to maintain that spirit of brokenness. Some of us at the time of our conversion go through a crisis and we are brought to the foot of the cross and broken under God’s hand. But that spirit of brokenness, that contrite heart has to be maintained on a daily basis. How do we do that? Notice what David says: ‘For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, these O God, you will not despise’ (Ps.51:17-18) Here is the most helpful picture of all: a broken spirit is in God’s eyes the equivalent of a sacrifice.

Let us work this out in some detail. Brokenness is the fundamental sacrifice which God requires from us. There are a number of sacrifices which we as believer priests are expected to bring to God, such as our bodies, prayer, praise money etc. but it is the sacrifice of a broken heart which God looks for first and foremost. It is almost like the daily burnt offering in the tabernacle, which was accompanied by many other offerings. Are you offering your body to God as a living sacrifice? Do you have a broken (repentant, resigned, responsive and restful) spirit inside that body? Are you offering prayer to God as fragrant incense? Are you doing so with a broken heart? Are you offering money as a gift to the Lord? Is your spirit contrite in his presence? Prior to any other sacrifices being accepted by God he is looking for a broken spirit.

The opal is a semi-precious stone and I am informed that if it is kept in a cold, dark place it will lose its lustre. What it needs is warmth, such as the warmth of the human hand and it needs light and only then will its glory be revealed. So bring your broken spirit to God and put it in His hands and in the light of His presence your life will be radiant with glory again. We must offer to God the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit as a continual/daily offering.

Why is it that so often in our lives there is a lack of love in our relationships (husbands/wives; children/parents)? Why is there suspicion, jealousy, pettiness and division in our churches? Why is it that in our churches there is no glory/radiance? Does the answer lie right here? Maybe we start the day without offering ourselves as a sacrifice to God. Instead we rush into each day, worried, aggressive, proud and hard in spirit. And we reap the consequences in our relationships with other Christians and non-Christians, because we are not offering to God a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Many of us are like untamed stallions. It is God’s intention to break us in order to bless us but if we resist, refusing His gentle and steady work of breaking then we forfeit that blessing. The Christian life is a relationship with God and what God is looking for, pre-eminently, is a broken heart and a contrite spirit; a heart that is soft and pliable and open to the rains of heaven and the seed of the Word of God, so that are hearts are ready to bear a harvest. Perhaps you are reading this and there are areas of your life which have become hardened and you have become insensitive to what God wants to do in your life. If that is the case then consider the story of the bronco.

When I was a boy I sometimes went to matinee shows in the local cinema. My interest was limited then to action movies such as Wars or Westerns. Some of those cowboy movies had scenes where wild horses were ‘broken’. A mustang would be blindfolded, restrained and fitted with bit, bridle and saddle. Then the champ would grab the horn of the saddle with his left hand and swing up into the saddle; the spur on his right foot glinting in the sun. The bronco reacting furiously; the blindfold and restraints pulled away. The rider would pull the reins tightly to prevent the wild beast from putting his head between his legs and in this manner he would keep him from bucking his best. The horse would lunge forward, rear up on its hind legs, neigh and snort and whinny like he is being stung by invisible bees! The frenetic battle would continue for a time and it would take all the skill and courage of the precarious rider to maintain his position on that wild horse.

Then the bronco would decide to yield and the result of that internal determination of his will would become immediately evident externally. The cowboy didn’t break the horse’s neck or leg and there was no blood spilled. But the horses will was broken. It was obvious that he had reached a point in his struggle where he knew he had been conquered. He is broken. He is not destroyed and it is not the end but the beginning of a new and productive relationship. From now on his master would dictate his every move. He would hear his voice; feel the spur and the palm of his hand. There would be no more aimless wandering and going as he pleased. Rather there would be a planned and purposeful life in harmony with the will of his master.


Kieran Beville is a Baptist Pastor in Ireland and adjunct professor of Intercultural Studies and Practical Ministry at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Amsterdam. He has written several books and numerous articles. He has taught theology and Biblical Studies on leadership training programs in Eastern Europe, the Middle-East, and Asia.
 

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Comments


Amen and amen! It is amazing that I have found myself closest to God in times of trial. When I got my prayers answered, I would no longer spend hours praying and my leisure time became occupied with things other than God. I didn't consider that I was using God. I am so glad God is patient and faithful. I pray that I never lose sight of the fact that he is my best friend, my comfort and my hope. I will celebrate my good and bad times with the praise of God in my mouth. Thank you Father for a broken and contrite spirit and heart. Thank you Master, Savior, Healer and All.
10/26/2018 12:19:21 PM - Psalm91, Member of Delve into Jesus since 9/12/2012



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