Monday, September 26, 2011

Brokenness Is No Fun

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply... A. W. Tozer

I refer to the last year or so of life around our house as "The Year of Things Breaking." The list is too long to recount: dishwasher, new dryer, freezer, coffee maker, computer, printer and my wife's engagement ring --I am sure there are other things too! Brokenness is no fun.

Though it is aggravating when it comes to our material possessions, it is far more painful when it happens to our selves. Those who would serve the Lord will, without exception, find themselves being broken --and it is no fun.

There are various ways that God does this. In my own experience, it has been through health issues for my wife and eldest daughter. God can do it through the stubborn resistance of a much-detested indwelling pet sin. He can do it with business reversals, rebellious children, or a challenging church situation. He does it, the Westminster Confession says, for his own good purposes, a reason that sounded hollow to Job and often sounds the same to us. It is no mystery that the Psalms are filled with the "Why me?" question.

Yet, there are reasons. First, if we are to be used of God, we need to be broken. To be broken means to be disabused of our neat and tidy view of life. We begin Christian adulthood with hopes and dreams --grand aspirations for our families, for our careers, for our ministries. We soon encounter cold, hard realities. The child we groomed to be a star student struggles and needs remedial help. The son upon whom we pinned athletic glory doesn't show much interest in anything. The church on which we pinned great hopes for ministry success struggles along a bumpy road. Our own bodies are felled and hindered by unexpected illness.

People who are not broken are insufferable. People with all the answers --with perfect families as the result of perfect methods, and perfect outcomes. People with perfect churches that go according to perfect plans, and attract perfect people. Such, really, do not exist. It is an illusion --a facade constructed for public show, a path to glory without pain. It is a false path; it does not exist.

God's strength is perfected in weakness. How slow we are to learn that. The treasure of the gospel is put in jars of clay so that we can claim no credit for helping it succeed. Speaking of my own experience, the paltry little bit of suffering I have experienced has made me far more empathetic with others than I would be otherwise.

You cannot be a minister or an elder without empathy, I don't think. You can't remain cold, distant and clinical and really minister to people. You have to hurt for them and with them. That means you have to open yourself up to hurt. This, in itself, is not pleasant. You cannot proceed with the "I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain..." self-protection mentality. You have to open yourself up to public shame. You cannot love your own reputation. You have to be willing to empty yourself as Jesus did. You cannot hire others to do your dirty work; you are called to be a servant, and there is nothing beneath your doing. You have not risen too high to change a bedpan.

I have often felt very broken. It is perhaps the worst feeling in the world. It can feel like life is unraveling without much hope. As Psalm 42 says, our experience can be like that of drowning under all God's waves and breakers rolling over us. This hurts. We have two options: it can make us withdrawn, private, chilly individuals for whom self-protection trumps being useful to God or we can allow ourselves to be broken.

Christ was broken. He was not only crushed physically, but spiritually. He emptied himself of reputation. There was no grandeur and earthly glory in what he did. He was despised and rejected by men and, for a time, by his own Father. He did this, though, for the greater good of bringing many sons to glory. The pathway to glory is through suffering --there is simply no other way. If our chief goal in life is to serve God, then we have already made our choice. We have chosen to be broken and to bleed --but not for no purpose. We have chosen it so that we might be useful to God, and humble before others.


  1. This reminds me that the beauty of the Gospel is that we do not have to pretend that we have it all together and never experience brokenness. The Gospel frees us from the fear of failure. We can be real and vulnerable with one another as a result. The child's toy, Skin Horse, in the wonderful children's story, "The Velveteen Rabbit," says it well. This wise old toy explains to the new toy, the Velveteen Rabbit, what it means to be real.

    "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

    "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

    "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

    "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit."

    "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."


  2. Wow, great, great post.

    My favorite line: "People who are not broken are insufferable." In other words, people who have not suffered much can not usually be suffered much. Just right!

  3. Thank you, Ken. This made me cry.