The Cutting Edge of Brokenness

Bible Book: John  12 : 24-26
Subject: Brokenness

Sam Ross is an Iraq veteran who was injured in an explosion during a munitions disposal operation in Baghdad. At 20 years of age, he was blinded, deafened in one ear, and lost his left leg below the knee and in a New York times article Sam said, “I came home a hero, and now I’m just a bum. I was overwhelmed by severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including routine nightmares of floating over Iraq that ended with a blinding boom, when I was “self-medicating” with alcohol and illegal drugs. I finally hit rock bottom when I landed in the state psychiatric hospital, where I was thrilled to be. Seventeen times I tried to commit suicide, and then I just gave up. People like me screamed all day and all night for help in the hospital, but nobody paid attention. Thank God, somebody finally has. I am 24 now and I still face charges of attempted murder, assault, and arson for burning down a trailer where my father murdered my stepmother. I did that after I spent months on alcohol, heroin, crack, and other drugs. Like so many stories about Iraq veterans, I fell through the cracks of the overtaxed veterans’ system—because the system is broken. It’s broke, because its scope is limited, so my body was given more attention than my mind. The bottom line is: asking for and accepting help is not what the military prepares a person to do.”

We are all aware that the people who came to Jesus were people whose lives were in disarray, people dealing with illness, loss, disappointment - people grieving over the death of a child, people who were sick, people who were on the fringes of society, people who were broken.

It is sad that when we encounter a painful event in our life like Sam did - or maybe it’s a divorce, death of a family member, or a financial setback - we immediately wonder if God really loves us! What we don’t seem to fathom is that God doesn’t use “tough times” to punish us, he uses them to help us reach a level of spiritual maturity that cannot be attained any other way. It is hard for us to understand that what feels so painful now, will make us stronger and more beautiful down the road. It is also hard to understand that God uses the breaking process out of love, hoping we’ll respond to it in a way that brings us closer to him.

Now let me give you a principle that may help you to understand this concept: the breaking process is a calling reserved for very special people that can be trusted by God, with it!

I want to offer an encouraging look at the hopeful side of brokenness, but we must understand that the process of brokenness won’t necessarily stop the hurting, but it will make the pain bearable. Perhaps no principle in God’s word is less understood than that of brokenness.

I. Brokenness is Required

Brokenness is a condition during which God allows circumstances to control our lives to the point that we must totally depend on him. From both experience and observation, it seems the greater God’s plan for a person, the greater the brokenness he requires.

The life of the apostle Paul reflects both great power and great brokenness; yet, unlike most of us, Paul never considered his personal circumstances as punishment, he saw it as a calling of service to Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:5 says, "Just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." For both Saul of Tarsus and Chuck Colson, brokenness resulted in salvation.

At other times, God uses brokenness to get those who already know him, to let go of whatever prevents them from experiencing him more fully. In either case, brokenness means recognizing that what we have is not enough!!

II. The Purpose of Brokenness

In God’s wisdom he realizes what it takes to keep us attuned to his direction, so he allows problems to occur that will break our will and keep us dependent on him. James 1:2-3, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance."

Now let me make this very clear: the word "brokenness" never appears in the scriptures, yet we know by inference that it is the most important concept to the Christian life. Brokenness is expressed in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when Paul writes, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Brokenness is a state of mind, whereby we recognize our personal weaknesses and limitations before God, and surrender to his will. Now please don’t miss this: "total surrender" is the starting point of brokenness!

Your trials, are a heartfelt invitation from God that ensures his nearness, and his active hand in your daily life and then his ministry will be magnified through you. 2 Corinthians 12:9 paraphrased states, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.”

That is why Gideon needed only 300 men to rout an army of thousands.

That is why Moses, with his hands outstretched to the lord, in the presence of his enemies, was able to cause the defeat of that enemy and the parting of an entire sea.

That is why a small boy named David was able to kill a lion, a bear and a giant.

That is why David’s three mighty men were able to penetrate the camp of the enemy.

That is why Joseph was elevated from the depths of a prison to the rank of second in command in Egypt.

That is why Jehoshophat needed only a handful of worshipers to defeat an army of 100,000 men. And that is why Jesus needed only 12 men to turn the world right side up.

Remember the prophetic identification of Jesus found in Isaiah 53:3-4, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

III. How is Brokenness Accomplished?

Believe it or not, finances are the most discussed topics in the New Testament, and it is obvious that God will use this area to test our obedience to him. Many Christians have had their egos shattered by financial setbacks, and they respond by panicking to the point that they abandon their Christian principles and revert to cheating and lying to protect their security. Others fall back in defeat and lose their trust in God. Some even live a life of fear, and as a result, they lose their witness. Others accept God’s authority over their lives, and use their trial as an opportunity to trust God more fully, and to demonstrate to others that they are totally committed to God.

For example Job 1:22 says, "Through all this job did not sin nor did he blame God." We read in 1 Samuel 2:4, "The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.” There is an oxymoron throughout the Bible that says brokenness is strength, but how can this be?

How can brokenness be strength? When a person is broken, they are often disillusioned and hurt beyond expression, but in order to use men and women to their fullest extent, the lord has to break his people so they have a new kind of strength that is not human in origin.

It is strength in Spirit that is born only through brokenness.

Paul was broken on the Damascus road.

Peter was broken after Jesus was taken prisoner. Jacob was broken at Peniel.

David was broken after his sin with Bathsheba.

The list of those the lord had to break in different ways before they could be used in the kingdom, is endless!!

We should never fear brokenness, because it is the missing ingredient to a life that emerges with a new kind of strength and experience not known before! For some it takes a shattered marriage, the loss of a loved one, a failed job, or ruined finances. For others the discovery of cancer or an emotional collapse may trigger a season of brokenness. God can use any of these episodes to tame our souls, but the source is not nearly as important as how we respond to it.

IV. Laying Your Best on the Altar.

Psalm 51 is David’s soul-wrenching response to Nathan’s confrontation of his sin with Bathsheba and at the core of his confession, David realizes that what God really desires is a broken and contrite spirit (vv. 16–17). God doesn’t want us to present a sacrifice at the altar; he wants us on the altar!

Much later, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, “… Presenting ourselves as living sacrifices.”

In genesis 4:3–4, both Cain and Abel brought their best to the lord, but God favored Abel’s sacrifice. That tells me that sometimes our best is not good enough for God. Many of us offer our busy lives to the lord. We offer him larger portions of money and better ministry and more Bible study and worship and all these are our best efforts! Like Cain, who offered the finest of his vegetables, we naively assume that sincerity is all that matters, but all offerings are not created equal!! God is very picky about what we lay on the altar.

You see dear friends, what He desires most is our penchant to control, our need to be in charge, to have it our way. That is the sacrifice he finds pleasing and acceptable. That is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite soul.

V. God’s Worst Enemy is our Ego

Times of brokenness are so sacred, that few Christians are willing to share their experience with brokenness.

I am always puzzled so when I am talking with people who equate their problems with sin, and illogically conclude that they are being punished by God! If that’s so, Paul was the worst sinner in the history of the world, because he was flogged (five times), beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, bit by viper snakes, and deserted; and yet he said that he was in God’s will!! In 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul wrote, “We do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." God desires to break our egos and pride, not our spirits. Paul was truly a broken man but not a defeated one.

If you’re going through a time of trials and testing, don’t get discouraged, God is in control and he knows exactly what he’s doing. If we are serving Him, nothing can befall us unless he allows it. It will rarely seem beneficial at the time, but if we believe God’s word, we must believe He will ultimately receive the glory.

Romans 8:28 says, "We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose."

Brokenness is never completed, because it is an ongoing process of three steps forward and two steps back deal, which can be frustrating. But the catch-22 is that the more we can accept the ‘process’ the better the process. Conversely, the more we are frustrated and annoyed at the process, the bumpier the process.

There are two things that hinder us from being broken, and the first is not recognizing the hand of God in our trials, as a means of shaping us. Joseph, in Genesis 50:20, recognized that God had meant Joseph’s awful trials "for good", even though his brothers had meant it "for evil".

The second thing that hinders us from being broken is self-centeredness. We want our own will, not His. We want things to go the way we want them to go. We want what we want, and we will jolly well do whatever it takes to "make it happen!!" It sickens us to see this in a child throwing a temper tantrum, or an adult thinking only of themselves. There is no direct remedy for a self-centered, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing attitude, except the work of brokenness itself.

So here’s the cycle or process of brokenness: the more we are broken, the more we can be broken, so the more we’re broken, and so the more we can be broken. Few things are as important to our brokenness as prayer, and yes, prayer does change things, but more importantly, prayer changes us!!

VI. Recognizing Brokenness.

Dr. John Maxwell in his message: "Security or Sabotage" listed twenty four items describing broken people, but I’m just going to give you eight: "You are broken if. .

1) All your rights are surrendered.

2) Your willing to be rejected.

3) Your willing to share failures.

4) You have a sense of total inadequacy.

5) You trust God undeservedly.

6) You are totally obedient to God.

7) You are genuinely humble.

8) You are teachable.

2 Corinthians 3:5 reads, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God..." so biblical "brokenness" is "dying to self"!!

People who resist the elements that God uses to tenderize their spirits usually end up as the walking wounded and they are all around us, in our offices, homes, schools, sports teams and even our churches. Perhaps the most common walking wounded is the person who has an underground river of anger ready to burst through the surface like a geyser. Some walking wounded carry the agonizing hurt inflicted by a parent, spouse, child, or boss. Others blame God for the pain of their broken dreams and lack of fulfillment and tend to have a tainted view of the future, because they never grew out of the pain of the past. Like the grumbling tribe of Israel in the wilderness, their lives reflect a holding pattern, because they fail to yield to God, out of their time of brokenness. In fact, as they consistently avoid spiritual breaking, they grow older without really maturing spiritually!

Conversely, when we’re broken in the right place we experience a sense of growth and fruitfulness, in the spirit only available post brokenness. While we are being broken, there is a strong sense of loss and death and this metaphor is common in spiritual teachings. Paul said, we are to "put to death the old nature," "to be crucified with Christ," and "to present our bodies as living sacrifices."

Tony Snow, the former Bush White House press secretary, in a recent article written in Christianity Today said, “We are all fallen, sinful and imperfect people and as a result, our bodies give out, but through our frailty God offers us the possibility of salvation and grace. Therefore, I consider my cancer a “calling of God.”