When I was younger, as the reality of life started to unfold and I began to experience difficulties, I coped with it by assuming that my life was going to be mapped out in two phases—a period of brokenness and a period of blessing. Once the brokenness was over, when I had learned what I needed to learn, the new phase of blessing would replace the season of trial, and it would pretty much last the rest of my life.
Not Just a Phase
But as I think about the call that Christian believers share—the call to take their cross—I have to question my assumptions. Luke is explicit here—In Luke 9:23, he quotes Jesus as saying that we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him. It doesn’t sound like a phase to me. Believers are to continually pay a price for following Christ, which infuses an element of brokenness into their lives. Brokenness is not an event, it is not a phase; it is a lifetime. We will see this clearly if we take a closer look at the “blessing phase” of the lives of the most notable leaders in the Bible—the phase that occurred after they were elevated to leadership. Moses endured one rebellion after another. David did as well. And Paul? Well, if you look at 2 Corinthians, you can’t miss his account of his own personal walk of brokenness. Specifically, look at 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, and you’ll see how real the pain was for him. He was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. His was a life of brokenness. This is why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:12 not to be surprised by the fiery ordeals that we experience, as if those experiences represent some strange thing. That was my mistake. “This is not supposed to be happening,” I said to myself and to God, as I shook my fist at the silent heavens. After all, I thought we had a deal.
God is Chasing Us
Those of us in ministry are chasers, always looking for the right program, the right seminar, the right strategy. But while we’ve been busy chasing, we often fail to realize that God is chasing us—with a call to brokenness. It is a call that only those who have ears to hear ever pick up on. But if we hear well and subject ourselves to His will instead of shaking our fists, we will reach a different level of living. The sudden shifts that life inevitably brings will no longer shock us, and we will find ourselves moving through these same circumstances with a measured calm. We will find that, in the end, God is not cruel; He is not inconsistent. In fact, He is very wise, for in the breaking process, He is making us more fit to minister to others. Here is the truth I have learned: A broken world cannot be fixed by unbroken people. And this is the reason the church so often fails—too many unbroken people are trying to show the way. But to those who are chosen to succeed in God’s eyes, He pursues us and overtakes us in order to train us in the way of brokenness.
Brokenness Brings Out Humor
Honestly, the subject of brokenness sounds like a downer. We stereotype a broken person as moping around like an old, beaten dog. But a walk of brokenness does not mean being down-in-the-mouth all the time. In fact, as counter-intuitive as it seems, brokenness often brings out our sense of humor better than anything because we don’t take ourselves so seriously.
Notice something about the sower in the parable of the sower; he is almost happy-go-lucky, tossing out seed randomly. The idea is captured well through music in Robert Schumann’s “The Happy Farmer.” Give this one-minute clip a listen and you’ll get the idea. It’s almost like our happy farmer is saying, “I’ll throw some seed here, and maybe some over there. Maybe it won’t develop over there, but that’s not up to me. My job is to just throw seed.” The key phrase in my projected self-conversation is “that’s not up to me.” When we hold our ministry—and our lives—loosely, we are then able to step back and basically look at ourselves from the outside. This is a key step. It is only when we step out of ourselves that we can learn to smile at all that is happening, even when things blow up on us and on our ministries. In all honesty, so many things that happen to us are out of our control. When we really learn that “it’s not up to me,” and start to relax, our disposition changes, which leads us to a central truth—broken people are actually lighthearted people, and you can always mark them; they are the broken blessed that Jesus refers to when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Translation: If you are walking in brokenness, you are truly blessed of God.
Believers in the West and the Element of Surprise
As the age of Christian freedom ebbs and an era of resumed persecution casts its shadow over the European and North American continents, we will begin to understand what Paul and Peter have been trying to help us understand for some time. Believers in the West are far behind the learning curve when it comes to brokenness. If you doubt it, all you have to do is look at the internet. When someone violates the rights of Christians in the West, we see hits on Facebook; we see rants. And believers elsewhere, along with Peter and Paul, look at each other in amazement and say to us, “Hey, Christians in the West, why are you so surprised? If martyrs can withstand their extreme trials, what is your problem?"
So many church leaders in the West are now asking, “Why aren’t our churches growing?” I believe it is primarily because we are missing a key truth—brokenness is attractive. Many churches today are obsessed with finding the right brand. On the surface, this leads us to conclude that if we want to attract people, we will need to adopt a brand of brokenness. But to embrace this strategy is to miss the point; it is self-contradicting. It is not the persona or the brand of brokenness that will attract others; only a walk of genuine heart-felt brokenness will affect people at a deep level. People can tell if we are genuinely broken or not, and the fact that they are not filling our churches tells us that they have discerned something that people in the church are still missing—we’re not broken, at least not yet.
Fragrant Aroma Means Constant Breaking
Paul stretches our natural assumptions when he mentions the aroma of death in 2 Corinthians 2:14–16. Read it for yourself: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life . . ..” This fragrant aroma cannot come out of a tightly sealed, well-packaged container. It only comes through a vessel that is broken. And here is the thing I missed—that vessel must be broken again and again. This is to be the defining characteristic of our lives—continual brokenness. This is our normal state. And until we recognize this, we will never stop shaking our fists at God because, after all, we are assuming that this breaking thing is supposed to be very rare and must only briefly interrupt our beautiful lives. Anything less, and He’s defaulting on His end of the deal.
Life Through Death
Someone might be excused for protesting at this point: But are we not to be a model of life, not death? Yes, but we model life through death. Again, going back to 2 Corinthians 2:14–16, we can see that Paul is speaking of an aroma of death and of life at the same time. It is only as we mirror Jesus in His death that we can model Him in the power of His resurrection. The error of my thinking was in seeing death and life in phases, when both are involved in a daily walk. Strange as it seems, death and life are mingled together in a fragrant, attractive aroma, and it can’t happen without our willing acceptance of the circumstances that break us.
Blessed, Broken, and Useful
This truth is illustrated beautifully in Jesus’ feeding of 5,000 people. According to the New Testament, when Jesus fed the 5,000, He took the bread and the fish and blessed them, then broke them, then distributed them. At first glance, this looks like phases, but remember that He did the same thing later, feeding 4,000 people. This is a repeated process—blessing, then breaking, then using. It is only when we learn to place ourselves in His hands for whatever He chooses to do that we can begin to relax and laugh and be truly useful.
Have you been through a period of brokenness? Has your life been characterized by brokenness? If so, give thanks because, according to the words of Jesus Himself, you are blessed, very blessed. So pick yourself up, pick up your bag of seed . . . and happy sowing!