Feature Article

Double Take: Brokenness

How does coming to the end of ourselves allow God to use us?

C. Lawrence and Joseph Miller February 16, 2022

Each month we ask two writers to reflect on a quote by Dr. Stanley. For February, C. Lawrence and Joseph Miller explore the role of brokenness in our spiritual walk—and how it leads us to genuine communion with Jesus. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s sermon “God’s Pathway of Brokenness”:

[God] wants to accomplish His purpose and His will in our life—purpose and will that He had in mind when He created us. So God is up to something good in our life. Brokenness happens to be a part of that. Now, when a person is broken, what does that mean? It means God has brought that person’s will into submission to His will … You may feel, “Well I’m not educated enough. I’m not wealthy enough. I don’t have prominence” ... That’s not the issue … God will use you, and He will use you to the degree to which you allow yourself to be broken and brought into harmony with His will, His purpose, and His plan for your life. And He does have a will for your life, no matter who you are or what’s going on.

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Take 1

by C. Lawrence

“Let me hear joy and gladness,” wrote the poet. “Let the bones You have broken rejoice” (Ps. 51:8). These words, written by David after he was confronted over his affair with Bathsheba, speak to one kind of brokenness—the kind we experience when we’ve hit a low point in our life. And it doesn’t get much lower than having a woman’s husband killed so you can avoid the shame of an unwanted pregnancy and take her as your own. (See 2 Sam. 11:1-27; 2 Sam. 12:1-31.)

Psalm 51 is the record of the winnowing one can experience at God’s hands—a portrait of what it’s like for a loving God to crush our spiritual bones. For that reason, Christians have used David’s prayer of contrition as a model confession for two millennia. The psalm is a stunning example of humility before God in the aftermath of sin, and humility is the substance of brokenness. Line by line, the text reveals a human being undone by his choice of what harms over what bestows life, which is sin’s fundamental operation in our lives. Sin alienates and divides. It makes life smaller, less than. It breaks apart. Sin is not merely doing the wrong thing but in actuality involves choosing the way of death over the way of life.

How unfortunate that so often it takes calamity, whether minor or major, to wake us up to the true state of things. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s another path to receiving a “broken and contrite heart”—the kind Psalm 51 says “[God] will not despise.” It’s a condition we arrive at through both personal crisis and intimacy with Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. 

Sin is not merely doing the wrong thing but in actuality involves choosing the way of death over the way of life.

You might be wondering how time alone with God or worshipping Him corporately could lead to brokenness. Isn’t God the source and sustainer of all life? The restorer of broken walls? Didn’t the apostle John say, “God is love” (1 John 4:16)? Yes, but for all our emphasis on the Lord’s lovingkindness and on Jesus as the friend who lays down His life for us (John 15:13), we need to remember that the One we approach in prayer and singing is also beyond comprehension, all powerful, majestic, and holy. Other. 

To stand in the presence of God is to be confronted. No need for a gavel or a lecture. No need to play back the tapes of our missteps or to read a long list of offences. We stand in the radiance of His love, and God’s very presence reveals us exactly as we are—including every false front we’ve put up, every sin, every attempt to lead our own life. Maybe that’s why it can be so difficult to lean into intimacy with Him—why it’s so easy to find ourselves in a similar place to David, having chosen our own path and made a royal mess of things.

God’s very presence reveals us exactly as we are—including every false front we’ve put up, every sin, every attempt to lead our own life. Maybe that’s why it can be so difficult to lean into intimacy with Him.

To repent is not to rehearse through vain repetition the extent of our wrongdoing, cataloging every detail of how we’ve sinned. Nor is it to whip ourselves with shame and guilt. Repentance is the act of coming home to God’s love—of turning toward Him and away from anything that distracts us from that end. To repent is to choose the way of brokenness, renouncing the false self in favor of becoming who we truly are in Jesus. It’s saying, “Lord, crush my bones and let me find life and nourishment only in You.”

Yes, it’s possible to choose brokenness before it chooses us, by walking closely with God and letting the Holy Spirit be our guide. When we’re with Him, we no longer need to be powerful—we can lay aside all earthly cares and discover the freedom and joy that are already ours in Christ.

Take 2

By Joseph Miller

One of the most common questions I’ve received when talking about Jesus with non-Christians is some variation of “How could a good God let evil happen?” It’s a valid query, and one not easily answered. I’ve wrestled with it before, and the Lord gave me His answer for me through prayer and Scripture. However, it’s often not tidy enough to assuage general doubts. I must begin my answer to most people by admitting that, yes, the world is painfully broken, but God is still supremely good. In a way we may never understand, He allowed brokenness to come about as part of His will for creation.

Each time I return to the mirror that is the Bible, I more clearly see the broken places in me.

For myself, acknowledging my own brokenness was a huge step toward becoming a Christian. And then it became a deep, driving catalyst in my soul to constantly recognize my need for the Lord as I learned how to live out my faith. Years later, as I read the Gospels today, I’m still growing in my understanding of what it means to be a disciple. But each time I return to the mirror that is the Bible, I more clearly see the broken places in me. There is no pleasure in recognizing our weaknesses, our failures, our inabilities—so we often run from the chance to confront them. But in a relationship with God, we can’t regularly escape the fact of our brokenness—not if we want to grow closer to Him.  

As tough as it is to hear, brokenness allows us to submit to God—to cast off our way of living, of thinking, and instead put on the mind of Christ. (See 1 Cor. 2:16.) Brokenness isn’t just a byproduct of the fall, wreaking havoc at random. It’s also a way God brings His kingdom into our lives as we choose to follow Jesus.

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