The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
Have you ever been broken before God? Really seriously broken. Emptied. Crushed. Poured out. Resource-less, alternative-less, compelled to simply fall before the Father. This spiritual brokenness is one of the most essential qualities of the Christian life.
Here’s another question: have you ever been unbroken before him? You wouldn’t say proud, but just… “doing okay.” Having a pretty easy time lately. No real needs. No real thirst.
Brokenness can come in many ways, especially through these three major ones:
Conviction of sin: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24
Sorrows: “Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint; heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long? …I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” Psalm 6:2-3, 6-7 (see also all of Psalm 6)
Exhaustion: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering…” 2 Timothy 4:6
God uses all three – conviction of sin, sorrows, and exhaustion – to bring us to a place where we are broken. To a place where we do not, cannot, rely on ourselves anymore. To a place where we recognize that God’s grace is sufficient – and God’s grace alone. Spiritual brokenness is essentially total, desperate dependence on God for all of life.
It is through this desperate dependence that the Spirit breaks us of our self-will. I had a conversation with a friend the other day who said she didn’t go to church that weekend because she feels she “just doesn’t need, or want, God right now.” She said, “Maybe I’ll need him more when I get older.” Isn’t that just how we are? When life is easy and going well, when our sins are pretty minor and “acceptable,” it’s like we’re seeing the desert of our lives through a mirage. And when we feel that we are surrounded by water, our thirst for God dies down.
Now, God doesn’t usually let any Christian get away with this for too long. He breaks us with conviction, sorrow, exhaustion, or all three: and the “fruitfulness” of the breaking come out of the response. Will you fall before the “throne of grace,” give up your sense of ownership, and cling to the Father? Or will you stiff-arm God, become bitter, and continue to say “this is mine”?
Deuteronomy 8 is an amazing chapter. Consider these verses:
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3
Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them… you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 8:11-12, 14, 17-18 (ESV)
Jesus spoke a lot about brokenness as well. He said that the happy people, the people closest to God, are those who are “poor in spirit,” who “mourn,” who are “meek,” who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Don’t miss how paradoxical it is to say “happy are those who are sad.” Jesus intentionally reverses our values: where before we prided ourselves in the ownership of our lives and patted ourselves on the back for our independence, may our prayer now be for God to hunger us so we will be full of him, to break us so we will be whole in him.