The Battle for Brokenness


A few years ago, we were confronted with the twisting of our language by forces seeking to redefine everything we believe when the most powerful politician in the world said, “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

We continue to fight for the vitality of our language because, for Christians at least, words have real meaning. Co-opting words and finagling definitions have brought us to the “Newspeak” days of George Orwell’s 1984. How else can quoting from the Bible be branded “hate speech” except that we have altered the very definition of love itself?

The Church is not immune to this. One of the current trends in many Christian circles is to confuse brokenness with, well…brokenness. The rise of inner healing ministries in the 1970s resulted in a modification of the definition of “brokenness.” What has occurred is that we now consider brokenness to be a reflection of all the painful events we’ve incurred in life rather than the traditional, Biblical meaning of brokenness.

The Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah:

For thus says the
One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
For I will not contend forever,
nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
and the breath of life that I made.
Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD,
“and I will heal him.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
—Isaiah 57:15-21

True spiritual brokenness is a reflection of a life given to humility, a contrite spirit, and an understanding that we are like brute beasts before God unless we allow Him to break us like the horseman breaks a stallion. Real brokenness is the man who acknowledges that he is no longer his own; he has been bought with a price. Such a man yields himself to God to be broken and formed into the image of Christ.

See how this plays out in the life of the prideful man who experiences true brokenness:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
—Daniel 4:28-37 ESV

Here is the natural man broken by God. His pride is broken, his position is broken, his self-worship is broken. And in the place of all these comes praise to God for being broken by Him.

Contrast this with the “brokenness” we so often hear spoken of today in Christian circles. We are fragile not because they are being broken by God, but because we dwell in the pain of our circumstances. This is not to say that God does not use circumstance to break prideful people, but too often we who revel in our pain exhibit a pride in displaying just how broken we are! No one has been as hurt as badly as we have been. No one has endured the tragedies we have endured. In short, we become immune to the very brokenness God desires to instill in us so long as we make an idol of our pain.

Acolytes of this “new” brokenness must always talk about it, wear it as a badge of honor, and retreat into it whenever anyone questions the need to dwell in the pain. Worse yet, we can use our pain as a way to assuage our guilt before the Lord. We make ourselves appear downtrodden when we are anything but, refusing true brokenness and holding instead to the mire of our own making.

Such is not God’s brokenness, but a counterfeit that leads us away from real healing and growth in Christ. Dying to self means abandoning even our pain, no matter how great, to take on the image of the Savior. Only then can the scales drop from our eyes and we be raised up to stand in true brokenness before God.

14 thoughts on “The Battle for Brokenness

  1. Dan, you are right on the button again, thank you so much. I have taken to printing off your posts and taking them with me into my “closet” because there is always something meaty to pray into that by providence seems to speak to where I am at or highlight something of which I needed to be reminded.

    Blessings to you and your’s.

  2. Very good take on the word. Honestly, I hadn’t even connected the word with the equine concept, but I’ll admit that I haven’t given much thought to the word before this.

    This will certainly give me some food for thought.

  3. gnileno

    I was searching for the word christianity and brokenness and it brings me here. I am inspired by what you wrote here.

  4. Flower_in_the_rain,

    I hope God was able to direct you to find a greater wholeness in Him. If part of that came about because of your visit here, then I am as blessed as you are.

    Have a great day!

  5. hey there, i’m trying to explain brokenness to someone who isn’t a Christian, and your material is really helpful, thanks. I’m also trying to understand for myself the difference between brokenness and chastening/discipline, if there is any.

    God bless,

  6. Deborah

    Wonderful meditation. Thank you for sharing your perspective on brokeness. I am in the midst of a 21 day Daniel fast, and I believe that this is the prelude to my journey with Christ. To “share in his sufferings” with a spirit of brokeness. This devotional hour I’ve spent away from eating has filled my Spirit in a way that is indescribable to type. Thank you for your thoughts, this has done my soul a world of good. Be blessed.

  7. Pastor Holland

    AS others I was looking for some additional insight on brokeness for a sermon I am preaching on “broken to be a blessing”. Your article helped me to identify the difference between spiritual brokeness and circumstantial brokeness. Thank you and the Lord continue to bless you.
    Pastor H.

  8. Sukkumar George

    In India most christians think ‘brokenness’ means weeping and shedding tons of tears acknowledging they are sinners. Wailing that Christ died on the cross for them and lamenting how he pulled them out of the miry clay – the instant they are out of the church after sunday morning worship, each one becomes a great Nebuchadnezzar in his/her own right.

  9. Sukkumar George

    Unless the hard ground is broken, it will not yield a fruitful harvest. Unless the Alabaster Box is shattered it will not give out fragrance. Unless the grape is crushed it will not yield wine. In Texas.. unless the horse is broken it cannot be saddled.. I Thank God for His servants like John Mac Arthur through whom our Heavenly Father brings out the true life imparting meaning of every Biblical word for the edification of the Church.

  10. John Wilson

    The word “Saved” in our Bibles means to set free, to deliver or to make whole, and we Christians all need to experience being made whole mentally, emotionally, socially, sexually, parentally, martially, financially, spiritually and physically.
    And for this to happen we often first need to be broken in these areas of our lives, and this can be messy and often be very public.

    Yet we rarely if ever allow this process, thus find we are rarely if ever found worthy of being chosen by God. Instead we want to look good, sound good and be seen to do good, having it all together, so it is all a religious act, and rarely not a spiritual one, with us wearing masks of chronic niceness and super-spirituality.

    In the psalms David asks whom God will let stand in his holy place, and the answer is “He who has clean hands and a pure heart” and we have envied those who have seemed to have had a clean heart and hands and who seem to know God and are doing exploits.

    The sad truth is that much of what we have seen in Christian Ministry has been an act here too, and the real answer to Davids question is “He who has cleansed hands and a purged and purified heart”.

    And by looking in the Strongs Concordance at the word translated as ‘heart’ we will find that it really means “the feelings, will and intellect” or as we say it today, our mind, will and emotions.
    It is those who have experienced brokenness mentally, emotionally and in regard to their will, who go on to be found of God.
    So next time you ask God to heal you, bless you or to use you, expect him to instead get you to examine your so-called recipes for success, and to recognise that they are inadequate and lacking in that area of your life.

    Allow the renewing of your mind as he reveals truthes that can and will set you free mentally, emotionally, martially, sexually, parentally, socially, financially, physically and spiritually, and step by step you will be closer to a true mountain-top experience with the one you seek.

    Don’t run from it, don’t hide and don’t pretend that all is well, for it isn’t and never can be until we go through these processes and come out the other side, finally a vessel that God can choose to use.

    All too often we ask for blessings and then our life turns to custard and we rebuke the devil and wonder why he doesn’t flee and then let the blessings come. In truth the one exposing our wrong recipes for success is in reality the hand of God, or often the rod of God, His Holy Spirit as he tries to cleanse the Temple of our bodies, so that God can eventually come and dwell within us, when made whole, set free and delivered.
    First we need to recognise this, and to then step back from public life to let Him do this cleansing work, or else we will allow it to be half done and want to go back and change our worlds before we ourselves are truly changed or made whole, so tarry, remain seated until you are cleansed and then you will be sent forth, empowered to do more in a month than most of todays Ministries will ever achieve in a life-time.

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