Being transformed from someone who is focused almost exclusively upon life-on-earth into someone who lives for and like Jesus Christ requires mastering multiple challenges along the journey to wholeness. Brokenness, which is typically the seventh stop on the 10-stop transformational journey, is imperative to experience, understand, and embrace before further growth is possible.
Perhaps not surprisingly, most Christians acknowledge the importance of brokenness but do everything they can to avoid the experience of it. Individual believers seek to avoid brokenness because our culture proclaims that it is for weak people – losers who don’t have the strength, the smarts, the resources, or the resilience necessary to succeed in a competitive world. That same society also tempts people into believing that you need not be broken because the world enables you to have it all, if you set your sights on winning and then play your cards right.
An overwhelming majority of Americans has spent little or no time thinking about or preparing for brokenness. It is not something that families discuss with their children. It is not a lesson taught in schools, even Christian schools. It is not an outcome supported by government programs or rhetoric. In fact, brokenness is not likely to gain much attention from families, schools, or government because it requires a long-term view of life, truth, and purpose that places God and His ways at the center of the discussion. Instead we conceive and promote strategies designed to help us live “in the moment” more effectively, ignoring the well-known truth that such a lifestyle is destined to fail. When comfortable survival and immediate gratification are the chief ends of life, that life is resigned to insignificance.
Churches are partly at fault for Christians not taking brokenness seriously. Because the perceived success of most churches is so intimately tied to the number of people attending, and because it is virtually impossible to draw (and retain) a crowd when the teaching promises the inevitable struggles that accompany brokenness, this is one of the topics that gets little attention and urgency. My studies have found that churchgoers are taught very little, if anything, about the beauty and necessity of brokenness for their own wholeness. Few church people are allowed to reach the precipice of brokenness within their congregational context because individual happiness is often accepted as a natural outcome and a higher end of the Christian life than the necessity of being crushed by our offenses against God. Some Christian churches even preach a theology that claims God will protect His people from all hurt and hardship.
The Importance of Being Broken
The Maximum Faith research indicated that the pain and distress of being broken is necessary in order to facilitate personal and corporate wholeness. Let me briefly share four reasons underlying the significance of this experience.
1. We are called to imitate the life of Christ.
One of the most pressing challenges that followers of Christ face is that of mimicking what He modeled for us. (Eph 5:1) He assumed the burden of our sins, sins He did not commit, and was crushed by them. He did not savor that pain but He embraced the brokenness that led to not only God’s grace and Christ’s own glorification but also to the justification and sanctification of hundreds of millions of human beings.
Many Christians in America talk about following Christ but the true way to imitate Him is to eliminate the grip of sin, self, and society on our mind, heart and soul. That starts with seeing sin, self, and society for what they are, especially in contrast to the incomparable riches available through Jesus Christ, and then choosing wisely between those options. Our salvation is not of our own making but our sanctification is certainly related to our willingness to replicate the model that Jesus gave us: rejecting sin, allowing its weight to break us, and allowing God to restore us through our voluntary and comprehensive determination to surrender and submit to Him.
2. Our intimacy with God is blocked by our love of other things – and can only be restored by willingly becoming a broken vessel.
The concept of “fatal attractions” has no better application than in regard to things that get in the way of our relationship with God. Our life is meant to be lived for Him and His purposes. Objectively, it doesn’t get better than that. Yet 99% of American adults – literally – have chosen to pursue beings, possessions, and conditions that relegate God to a secondary (or worse) position in our minds, hearts, and lives. Those preferences amount to our continuing affair with sin, self, society.
In essence we are adulterers until we voluntarily abandon those errant passions. If we do not master those distractions and preferences they control us and keep us from being who God created us to be: His loving and obedient servants.
In our “sophisticated” culture we denigrate any decision that is portrayed in black or white terms. In reality, our life is based upon a series of pivotal black or white decisions. The most important of those is: Will I live my life solely for the pleasure and benefit of God, or not? Every subsequent choice in life is built upon the foundation of that answer.
3. Brokenness precedes wholeness.
A friend challenged my thinking on this, noting that something must be whole before it can be broken. What he overlooked was that we were conceived by God to be holy before we chose to pursue the elements that offend and replace God in our lives, and that is what created the weakness in us that allows for the benefit of true brokenness. But, of course, once we have been separated from that which made us weak, we then have the opportunity to again be made strong by the One who has the strength to do all things.
Unless we understand and embrace our own brokenness we are insulated from so many of the glorious and desirable promises God has made to us. Rejecting brokenness prevents us from:
1. experiencing all the promises God has made to you in His Word (2Cor 6:14-7:1; Heb 6:9-12, 11:4-19; 2Pet 1:3-11)
2. becoming the “new creation” God envisions us to be (2Cor 5:17; Eph 4:24; Rom 12:2; Gal 6:15)
3. experiencing true freedom from the bondage of sin, self, society (Rom 6:14, Gal 3:22-5:13)
4. worshiping God in fullness because He is not on the throne of our life (Matt 4:10, 15:9; John 4:23-24, 9:31; Rom 1:23, 9:4; Col 3:5)
5. realizing our utter impotence in the grand scope of creation, and the inevitability of either giving in to God or suffering tragic earthly and eternal consequences (Job 38; Gal 6:7-10; Phil 2:5-10)
4. For God to complete His work in your life, you must decide to eliminate the garbage you have chosen that keeps Him at arm’s length.
Jesus told his detractors that the most important task they faced was to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:30). My research with American adults who are people on the journey to holiness emphasized the importance and accuracy of that contention. People become isolated from God and resistant to brokenness because of emotional blockages or pain (i.e., issues of the heart); because of spiritual ignorance, confusion, or self-indulgence (i.e., matters of the soul); because of intellectual distortions and misunderstandings (i.e., challenges of the mind); or because of behavioral and physical obstacles (i.e., manifestations of our strength). Our adversary is expert at blending potential seductions in these areas into a minefield that maims and retards us.
However, in our moments of clarity, we might recognize the truth: we are being held back from the loving embrace of a Father who wants nothing less than to heal, love, preserve, and enjoy us. When we feel that His response to our stray behaviors and thoughts are stern, we have to realize that His unyielding response to our rebellion is the necessary act of a loving parent who must discipline a wayward child for the good of that youngster. And we must see our difficult times as the precursor to ultimate victory in Christ. While the powers of this world have often succeeded at distorting our understanding of the process and purposes of God, in the end the hardships He allows are a necessary and beneficial aspect of our development.
In fact, if we study God’s teachings about our well-being, we cannot escape the realization that brokenness is a biblical promise and an eternal gift. We resent it because western societies have become soft and embrace a sense of entitlement. We believe our own press about our great accomplishments and sensitivities. We seek continual comfort, abundance, security, and leisure. We deem hardships and sacrifice unnecessary, and sometimes believe they are even unfair or counterproductive. We consider pain and suffering to be avoidable and undesirable. We recoil in horror at the notion of voluntary brokenness. Our wholehearted embrace of this worldly perspective is our tangible rejection of the foundation of Jesus’s model and message for us.