|Tree walking on M.D.'s property near Adrian|
"The world breaks everybody and afterwards many are strong at the broken place."
- Ernest Hemingway
In Scotland persons looking for walking sticks pass over the untried wood of the lower slopes, climbing to the weathered heights to search for sticks made strong by storm and wind. This is because these trees have fought icy northern winds and with each fight they bent and twisted and broke a bit inside. But gradually each inner scar became a steely fiber, created by every storm they endured. (From Alan Nelson, Broken in the Right Place)
When I am praying for people who are in denial about their spiritual and moral failure and how it is hurting God, self, and others, I pray for them to be inwardly "broken." I ask God to break them of self-will and self-reliance, and of arrogance and pride. When this happens God is pleased. God delights in persons who have a "broken and contrite heart."
The word "contrite" means: "sorry," in the deeper sense of "repentance." In Psalm 51:16-17 we see David's broken heart as he writes: "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."
God has a special place in his heart for those experiencing brokenness. "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart." (Ps. 34:18) "He heals the brokenhearted." (Ps. 147:3) Alan Nelson, who has written the best book on brokenness I have ever read, says that "a divine romance exists between the broken and their creator." (Op. cit., 15)
The concept of brokenness deals with the process of living and how God tries to make us into strong, dynamic people for his purposes. Much life experience will break you. Your spirit can be forged, like a Scottish walking stick, into a strong, resilient Spirit-breathed heart of strength.
This is, by the way, what God wants to do in you so he can do things through you. C.S. Lewis discovered this, and wrote: "When I invited Jesus into my life, I thought he was going to put up some wallpaper and hang a few pictures. But he started knocking out walls and adding on rooms. I said, 'I was expecting a nice cottage.' But he said, 'I'm making a palace in which to live.'"
How does brokennes relate to what seem to be our natural desires for "success" and "reaching our potential?" Consider these scriptures, in which there is a movement from "greater" to "lesser."
- Luke 9:24-26 - To save your life..., lose it.
- Matthew 23:12 - To be lifted up and exalted..., humble yourself.
- Matthew 23:11 - To be considered the greatest..., become a servant.
- Luke 22:26 - If you want to rule..., then be a servant.
- Matthew 19:30 - To be first..., be last and a slave to all.
- Romans 8:13 - If you want to live..., then you've got to die to the things of the flesh.
- 2 Cor. 11:30 - If you want to be strong..., then boast about your weaknesses.
- Matthew 5:3 - If you want to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven..., then become poor in spirit.
Not surprisingly, God's ways are different than our ways. God's process of character development and spiritual transformation involves being broken, what Nelson has called “the taming of the soul.” This doesn't make sense in our world's value system. As 1 Cor. 1:18 says, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
In brokenness we become less so Christ can become more. To change, be changeable. To be transformed, be transformable. Walk in pride, and God is not only unable to transform you, God is opposed to you. (James 4:6) Learn humility, and the promise is that God's grace will be given to you.
I think Hemingway was right when he said "this world will break you." But not everyone becomes heart-and-spirit-broken as a result. Allow God's Spirit to break you in the right place and produce a true brokenness.