Chapter 13: BrokennessSo she, having been prompted by her mother, said, "Give me John the Baptist's head here on a platter." Matthew 14:8Opening Prayer: Lord, some days, it looks like the Bad Guys are winning. I've done my best, but now somebody with power is asking for my head on a platter. Lord, help me to have your perspective so I can make it through this time of distress. Amen.
Have I missed God somehow?
During the past year, several of my friends lost their jobs or had their businesses fail as the economy weakened. Some of these friends are Christians, with sharp minds and great personal integrity. They worked long and hard, but have little or nothing to show for it.
Some friends of mine are experiencing tremendous physical pain: cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Others are trying to recover from broken marriages or relationships.
All of these are painful and cause our hearts to grieve. We feel broken, discarded.
Does that sound like you? Congratulations. You qualify for the greatest power in prayer. If your heart can get empty enough, the Holy Spirit can fill you with mountain-moving power.
This is yet another lesson in how the Kingdom of God is upside-down and backwards compared to what we knew in the world. But it's consistent with the other lessons you've learned so far:
- You realize that you've spent all your life in a battlefield, getting attacked by a hateful, invisible enemy who wants to destroy you.
- You have decided to take action by receiving salvation as a free gift from Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, who paid a terrible price to purchase it for you.
- You have been baptized in water and with the Holy Spirit.
- You have resigned your position in the devil's army and have enlisted in God's Army.
- You have been given the weapons of our warfare: the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the panoply (whole armor) of God.
- You have learned that your fellow soldiers (the B-Team) are a pretty odd-looking group.
At this stage in your Christian walk, you've probably been attacked and involved in some type of spiritual warfare. You didn't ask to get involved, but the Lord has permitted it.
By now, you probably suspect there's something backwards about warfare, too. And you're right. God has established an absolutely crazy way to get you pumped up for battle: by grinding you into the dust.
Truth #1: God will let you fail.
There are many important lessons to be learned from the life of David. God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel. God had empowered David to slay the giant and to lead the armies of Israel to many great victories.
David had achieved great success and fame. Everybody loved him - except King Saul and a few people who bore personal grudges. Saul was actively chasing David to kill him, so David fled the country, seeking refuge among the Philistines.
We read the story in 1 Samuel 21:10 Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, "Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: 'Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands'?" 12 Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them, feigned madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, "Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? 15 "Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?" (NKJV)
Truth #2: Not only will you fail, but you probably will look bad in the process.
David "succeeded" in escaping the Philistines by pretending to be a madman. But how do you suppose he felt afterwards? Had he missed God somewhere along the way? Was it God's will for David to act crazy? Was it God's will for Saul to be chasing him? What will people think of David after this little scene? Would he live long enough to be the next king?
Fortunately, we don't have to guess at David's reaction. He recorded his thoughts and feelings in Psalm 34, so we could see how a God-fearing warrior copes with hardship. Let's start with the first three verses:1 I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. (NKJV)
At first glance, you'd never guess that David was experiencing bitter failure, alone in a cave in enemy territory. In fact, you could read these verses aloud in Church and nobody would have a clue about the writer's circumstances.
Truth #3: Stay focused on God, His faithfulness and His character.
We get our first hint of backwards warfare in verse 2 above: "My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; The humble shall hear of it and be glad."
David had lost everything at this point. He had been chased out of his home, out of his country, and had to humiliate himself to keep from being imprisoned by Achish, the Philistine king. David had no money, no land, no army, no prestige.
All he had left was his relationship with God. That was enough to make David break out singing praises to God. Was David a nut case or did he see beyond his circumstances?
David knew that God had made promises to him, and those promises were more real to David than the threats of King Saul. God's promises were real, because God's character is faithful.
God has made promises to you, too. Your promises might be less dramatic than David's, but they could be huge nonetheless. God will keep every one of those promises, even if the process of claiming these promises could be painful.
Pay attention, now. David begins to give instructions for spiritual warfare in verses 4 and 6 of Psalm 34:4 I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. 6 This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. (NKJV)
Notice that God has sharply divided battlefield responsibilities. Your job is to seek the Lord and cry out to Him. God's job is to hear you, deliver you from your fears and save you from all your troubles.
Would you rather have it the worldly way? Picture how the United States conducts war. The Commander in Chief (the President) confers with his military advisors and determines policy and strategy. Then his military generals send orders down a long chain of command to the troops (you!) to break camp and attack the enemy.
That's the worldly way. The worldly way would have God calling out to you, like Commissioner Gordon calling Batman, and having you ride out and fix the problem.
God's way is backwards. An individual soldier cries out directly to the Commander in Chief of the Entire Universe. Then the Commander in Chief of the Entire Universe bends the rules of all creation in order to rescue you from the enemy.
Would you rather have the warfare depend on your strength? Would you trust your future to that? Neither would I.
Let's continue in Psalm 34, with verses 15-16:15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. (NKJV)
For the umteenth time, God is telling you to trust Him. His character is good and faithful. He is constantly attending to the righteous folks (those who have taken advantage of the Big Loophole), and His ears are open to their cries.
By contrast, He is very hostile to His enemies. When you pray for God's will and against evildoers, You can be sure God is listening to your prayers and leaning your direction.
Now for three verses, 17 through 19, that really sum up the power of brokenness:17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. (NKJV)
Truth #4: Weeping is a powerful weapon.
Face it: if you are righteous, you will have many afflictions. Hardship will break your heart and drive you face-down into the dirt. You will have no strength to fight. You will barely be able to raise your voice to cry out to God for help.
Fortunately, that's all it takes. If you have given your heart to the Lord, the Lord knows when your heart is broken.
When you are so broken that you give up even the illusion of strength, God can help you.
When trauma strikes, cry out to God. Cling like a drowning person to the promises of Scripture and the character of God.
Give up your pride and your fašade of self-sufficiency. Confess that your strength is not sufficient to handle the hardship. Let the Holy Spirit break your heart.
In the middle of that weeping and brokenness, the Holy Spirit will do a work. God Himself will be moved with compassion. The power that created the universe is now fully tuned in to you and your problems.
Truth #5: Be sure you're confessed up
Notice that verse 18 above says that God saves those who have a contrite heart, who repent and turn away from their fleshly failings. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. "All" translates a Greek word pas that means "all." It includes you and me. If you can't think of any ways that you have sinned or come short of God's glory, then get on your knees and repent of your pride.
Most of us, though, are painfully aware of our shortcomings. We're aware of the little weaknesses and habits that distract our hearts from the Lord. You are probably aware of your tendency to anger or to impurity or to gossip. Confess it and let the Lord take it from you. That tendency can put invisible handlebars on your heart, and make it easy for the devil to steer you around like a kid's scooter, right into trouble.
Major unconfessed sin can make you more dangerous than a hijacked scooter. Maybe you're fond of extra-marital sex, substance abuse, pornography, or some other life-wasting habit. Give it up. Being "under the influence of" one of these practices makes you more like a hijacked airliner; unless you give control of your life back to the Lord, you'll crash and burn and hurt lots of innocent people.
Your favorite sins have already caused you enough pain and grief. Don't let them cheat you out of the wonderful blessings of being in the Lord's will and in His mighty presence. Even "little" sins can cripple your walk, if you don't repent and confess them.
Remember the words of 1 John chapter 1 verse 9:If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Confess your faults, your pride and your self sufficiency. Then cry your way through everything about the original problem (which drove you to prayer in the first place) and turn everything over to God. When you have utterly come to the end of your strength and pride, God will pry the problem out of your hands and start fighting for you.
The first thing he will touch is your heart. At some point in your crying, you'll feel the burden lift. The crying will stop. You feel peace.
Your mind will object that your circumstances haven't changed and that God hasn't done anything yet. Your mind is wrong, because the Lord's power has already worked one miracle: He's given you peace.
Paul describes this as the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding." (Philippians 4:6) You won't be able to understand it, but you can surely be grateful for it.
Truth #6: Peace is a miracle. Be grateful for it.
When the burden lifts, you'll probably still feel pretty weak and fragile, but move forward in faith. Let God lead you. He will resolve your situation His way, and He'll bring an answer according to His own timetable, which is always different from yours.
Truth #7: Faith involves moving forward when God directs, even before your eyes see all the answers.
Your mind will drive you crazy, running over all the details that aren't cleaned up and fixed yet. Your mouth will tempt you to sin by asking why hasn't God given you a satisfactory answer to This, That or The Other Thing. "What am I going to do? God knows that I need This!"
Just remember that God is pretty smart. He won't waste His time giving you a false sense of peace and safety. If He gives you peace and direction, walk boldly right where He shows you.
True confession time: this author is a low-energy guy. Much of the time, I don't feel capable of doing God's work. After work, I often don't have the time or strength or will to do anything constructive.
But God has other tasks in mind for me - to minister to my family, to my friends or to the visitors who read the material on my various ministry web sites. In recent months, there has been the work of book publishing.
My flesh is tempted to say, "I can't do this, Lord. I just can't spare another ounce of energy tonight!"
We've all felt like that, but still the Lord will say, "But what about my dear children Charles and Wanda next door? They would love to have you drop by and share encouragement from Scripture! And what about Mary, who just poured out her heart in an e-mail, seeking any word of hope from Me? I'll give you strength to minister to them, I promise."
God's work is impossible in our own strength, so we must lean on His strength. He gives us some clear guidance in Psalm 126, verses 5 and 6:5 Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. 6 He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. (NKJV)
Were you raised on a farm? Neither was I. But this passage speaks volumes to men like my father, who was raised on a dirt farm in North Dakota. Every winter, a portion of the grain harvest had to be reserved as seed for the next crop of wheat. If the harvest had been small, the seed represented a larger portion of the family's livelihood. Planting the full measure of seed was an act of faith, because this same grain could be sold for cash or ground up to make bread to feed the family.
Some years it was painful to plant the full measure of seed, knowing there would be several lean months before harvest, which was never guaranteed. Likewise God calls us to step out in faith for Him even when we're heartbroken ourselves.
A wheat harvest is never assured. But Jesus promises to give us treasures in Heaven, where rust and moths and terrorists cannot destroy them. The rewards of our faith will be like the farmers' precious sheaves, and we will rejoice in time if we persevere.
God is faithful. His promises are trustworthy. His harvest of blessings for you is assured.Closing Prayer: Lord, I understand the broken feeling, but I haven't yet gained complete confidence in victory through Your Holy Spirit. Change my heart to see the wisdom and truth in Your difficult way, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.