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Are You Broken Yet?

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 305

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; 
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17 NIV

The question was totally unexpected. "Pastor, did you enter the ministry because God 'broke' you?"

I hesitated not knowing what to do. Anxiously I reflected, "Should I say the "politically correct" answer? Or should I tell the truth. "

Slightly hesitant, I opted for the latter. In a non-anxious but clearly less than confident voice I responded, "No. God didn't break me until five years ago."

I then recounted the difficulties of the experience of severe church conflict. The inquirer, of course, recalled and had been a strong supporter during the extreme events of 1994. The precipitous drop in morale, finances, and worship attendance, and the total annihilation of the Sunday School also nearly killed the congregation. Having pastored the congregation for eight years through unprecedented growth, the heartbreak of seeing it all dissipate within a matter of weeks was truly the most heart-wrenching, soul-deviating experience I had ever encountered.

As so many pastors who have experienced significant conflict know, such experiences are nearly always physically, emotionally and spiritually devastating. Far too often, as in my own situation, the healing can be slower for the pastor than the congregation. Though externalities such as worship attendance, finances and "ministry-as-normal" returns, the pastor's internal experience may not rebound so quickly.
Such is the experience of broken-ness. Brokenness is not simply the experience of a failure. It's not simply the experience of a significant realization of the unexpected. Such experiences can happen to individuals without necessarily "breaking" them. Certainly they may be unexpected and painful. But such brokenness is much more than that. 
Brokenness In Biblical Perspective
Broken-ness is the experience of Christians. Brokenness can be seen in Scripture in a variety of senses. In Acts chapter two, Luke described the "brokenness" of those who responded to Peter's Pentecost message.
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  (Acts 2:41 NIV)
The Greek original, "katanusso" denotes a vehement piercing of sorrow. The tense of the verb indicates a one-time striking of the heart which brings one to the realization of the sorrow for one's sin and the need for God's grace.
This Word-wrought conviction was that which moved them to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit to produce faith and its fruits (Acts 2:38). It is this brokenness which is at the heart and core of the daily contrition and repentance to which Luther and Scripture refer.
Brokenness In Davidic Perspective
Biblical brokenness can have a much more pervasive effect. Virtually every true Christian  recognizes and experiences the brokenness and healing each time sin is confessed and absolved. Such daily brokenness, however, is seldom more than a mere course correction in one's life and spirituality.
Scriptures also speak of another form of brokenness. Such brokenness is described in David's confession on Psalm 51:10. The hearers of Peter's sermon repented for having crucified the Lord of Glory. David's brokenness was due to his adulterous affair and murderous dealings with Bathsheeba's husband, Uriah. Both parties, when confronted with the enormity of their sin, finally experienced  the renewal of brokenness.
The brokenness of Acts chapter two is not unlike that of Psalm 51:10. In broad terms they both...
* were in response to a life marked by a spirituality not rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
* precipitated the awareness for the need of a marked change in life;
* were a response to the recognition that one could no longer lead one's life as one has been accustomed without full-scale repentance and renewal; and
* the brokenness is the beginning of a new life either by conversion or by renewal in an already present--but insufficient--faith.
"Shabar" Brokenness
The dynamics of brokenness of Psalm 51:10 are most explicitly detailed in the Hebrew word "shabar." The Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew Lexicon denotes "shabar" with remarkable concrete-ness. Such meanings given for this root in it's various moods include to break, to destroy in pieces, to break down, to hurt, to  tear, to crush,  to rend violently, to wreck, to rupture, to   be maimed, to be crippled, to be wrecked, to shatter or be shattered.
The Septuagint Greek translates the Hebrew "shabar" in Psalm 51:10 with the Greek word "suntrimo." It's meaning is "to bring calamity, destruction, or to lay waste."
The "Shabar Effect"
Whatever the event that precipitates the brokenness--personal failure or sin, circumstances beyond our control, dashing of expectations for ourselves and others, health, rejection, or other painful events--brokenness always bears similar marks. 
Such marks include...
* loneliness;
* anger and depression;
* deep depression and disappointment;
* extensive searching of one's soul;
* re-evaluation of one's relationship with God;
* a total, comprehensive and overwhelming sense of weakness, futility, and worthlessness of what one has done, accomplished, attained, and/or hoped for.

Considered in the light of the experiences of the Biblical narrative, the shabar effect is that which moved writers such as Solomon in Ecclesiastes to write of the "vanity" of the world. Paul wrote of the brokenness of the shabar effect in his life in Philippians 3:7ff.

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7ff (NIV)

Marks Of Broken People
A.W. Tozer said, 

"It is doubtful that God can use any man greatly 
until he’s hurt him deeply."

John Maxwell in his Injoy Life Club tape, "Security or Sabotage" (Vol. 14, No. 1, July 1998) listed twenty-four items describing broken people. "You are broken if… 
1) You are overwhelmed with a sense of your own spiritual need.
2) Are compassionate and forgiving, and look for the best in others.
3) Esteem all others better than themselves.
4) Have a dependent spirit and recognize their need for others.
5) Surrender control.
6) Are willing to yield the right to be right.
7) Yield their rights.
8) Have a giving spirit.
9) Are motivated to serve others for their sake, not your own ego needs..
10) Desire to promote others.
11) Are thrilled to be used at all, and eager for others to get the credit.
12) Rejoice when others are lifted up...higher than you.
13) Are humbled by how much they have to learn.
14) Are not concerned with self at all.
15) Are willing to risk getting close to others and loving intimately.
16) Accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong.
17) Are easy to be entreated.
18) Receive criticism with a humble, open heart.
19) Are concerned with being real.
20) Believe that all that matters is what God knows.
21) Die for their own reputation.
22) Are willing to be open and transparent with others.
23) Are willing to be exposed in areas of weakness.
24) Are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness.
Many of these things may be marks of brokenness. Others, however, may not be. Some may be understood as indicators of codependency or other dysfunction. The most hideous observation, however, is that those who have not yet experienced the shabar effect in their lives may feel they meet many, most, or all of these criteria above.
Real "Shabar" Brokenness
Real marks of brokenness are perhaps more akin to "Twelve Step" processes than those things listed above. 
Recently, a student wrote the following response to an essay item, "Please give an example of how God changed your life?"
"The best example that I can think of relating to a life-changing event of brokenness in my life would be the realization that my relationships could not bring me true happiness.
Throughout my life I have tried to run my life the way I wanted to and not by what God wanted. I wanted my relationships to bring me all my happiness; this exerted extreme pressure on the other person(s) in my relationships.
This huge burden that I placed on others was unfair and too large for mere humans. My focus for happiness rested with another human being and they never lived up to my expectations. This created a great deal of conflict that resulted in many failed relationships.
When I accepted God as my true happiness I then realized my mistake and my unfairness towards others. Now God is the source for my happiness and my existence. Being in a loving relationship is wonderful now because the source of my happiness is God, and not the human I choose to be with in a relationship.
My life has enjoyed a remarkable shift toward the source of true happiness and everything now works so much better. My break from independence from myself and dependence on God was how I found happiness outside myself: by giving myself to God completely and depending on Him for all my needs. My need for happiness is fulfilled through God and I am not bound by the limitations of humans.
Your Brokenness
There are many ways to analyze and evaluate brokenness. Brokenness can be described in terms of needing to address developmental issues, personal dysfunction, family of origin issues, breaking addictions, dealing with compulsive behaviors, and, of course dealing with spiritual issues. 

Perhaps one of the most simple approaches to the major areas of which need to be addressed in our lives relate brokenness to our primary task or people-orientation.

Primarily Task-Oriented: Those who are most proud and/or compulsively driven by their task accomplishments and their competency and mastery over things almost undoubtedly experience their greatest brokenness in the loss of the ability to perform, accomplish or attain the task. In the brokenness, God may either take away the ability to achieve, the possibility to achieve, or having achieved, may destroy what had been so expertly and exhaustibly constructed. Either effect can leave on devastated, broken, and "shabar"-ed.
Primarily People-Oriented: Rejection, abandonment and death key means toward brokenness for people-oriented individuals. When God takes away key supportive and affirming relationships through death, rejection or other circumstances, the intense sadness of brokenness often begins.
Virtually every shabar event entails a mixture of both. To the degree that both are incorporated, the shabar effect will likely be most dramatic.
Jesus And Brokenness
Paul referred to Jesus' brokenness is Philippians chapter two. Yet, the greatest examples of the shabar effect in Christ's life are those which indicate that He lived a lifestyle in the submission spirituality which is the mark of brokenness. Though not a sinner, His vicarious brokenness for us demonstrated what true, spiritual submissive leadership looks like.
The brokenness of which Scripture speaks is truly profound. It signals an entire paradigmatic shift in our lives. We can either accept it or reject it.
Brokenness And New Birth
The word "shabar" not only denotes crippling brokenness. It also denotes the pain of "new birth." In this sense "shabar" reflects the very deepest core of God's nature. His purpose is not to destroy but to give new birth. This new birth is rooted in a Gospel-predominated lifestyle. It is driven by those grace principles of the Kingdom expressed in the parables. It is no longer driven by crippling fear, mistrust, anger, doubt, and loneliness. Having put behind compulsions, addictions, and other anxiety-driven behaviors (e.g. codependence),
Perhaps the greatest mark of recovery from brokenness is the death of the ego-driven self and the rising of the "new man."  Theologically, this "new man" lives a totally different lifestyle than the unbroken individual.  Paul described this in Romans.

"But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." 
Romans 7:6 (NIV)

Instead of relying of the default tendency of the ego-driven self to satisfy spiritual hunger with all kinds of varying degrees and combinations of addictions and compulsions, the shabar-ed individual discovers that they must depend exclusively on God.

Marks Of Recovery
Though recovery only comes through intense pain, it has several major consequences.
First, the shabar experience shatters one's former "mythology" of faith. This "mythology" may look like, talk like, and appear Christian. It uses the right words in all the right places. From nearly every respect it appears God-pleasing. But it lacks on thing.  This "mythology" is our subjective re-interpretation of the Bible in such a way that we can avoid the heart and core of the Scriptures by putting God on our terms, not His. When one comes to the Scriptures on God's terms, one lets go of one's personal "mythology." What replaces it is an intimate grace-based relationship with God on His terms.
Second, the new birth is a realization that real joy can only come by releasing ones' self into the hands of God. As long as we believe we are in control, our joy will never be complete. True joy comes at the realization that all that is done in, with and through us is not us, but God. To believe that we are to receive credit is to revert to the previous egocentricity which was the central core of one's former "mythology of faith."

Third, the new birth at its deepest level deals with one's resistance to exploring spirituality and God. Phillip Ziegler, author, professional therapist, and Twelve Steps practitioner wrote,

"Addiction is fundamentally a spiritual malady and that compulsion is a symptom of spiritual hunger." *

In other words, God must shabar our addictive relationship-orientation and our compulsive task-orientation so that our spiritual hunger will be satisfied exclusively through a vital "all-your-heart-soul-and-mind" intimate relationship with God. In this relationship, we will see God, our world, our ministries, and ourselves with the new eyes. We will see them--and everything in our lives--through the lens of our God's calling for us.

Fourth, the new birth will be evidenced by the acceptance of our personal flaws and recognition of inner needs and insecurities. Our need for belonging, competency, self-worth, recognition, and purpose will be driven on our relationship with God not on our relationship with compulsions, addictions and the things, people, and events of this world.  Phillip Ziegler wrote,
"I believe therefore that the solution to the problems of addiction and compulsion must involve satisfying that spiritual hunger. The great psychologists William James and Carl Jung both spoke of a spiritual force within the depths of all human beings. This force, they said, is a motivating feature in all of our lives whether we are aware of it or not. If we fail to attend to it we will fail and experience dis-ease."* 

Through the new birth of brokenness, our spiritual hunger and thirst for the Bread and Water of Life will be satisfied.

Fifth, egocentricity is shattered and replaced by Christocentricity. Brokenness is directed toward egocentricity. Anyone whose life is "shaped by egocentricity will experience much fear, mistrust, anger, doubt, and loneliness. His ability to be intimate with others and to know peace within himself will be very limited."*

On the other hand, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.

 Shabar: Give Birth

Job 31:9 ff records Job's brokenness.
 "Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends-- those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life."
 It also, however, records his new birth resulting from his brokenness. 
"But I trust in You, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in Your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let Your face shine on Your servant; save me in Your unfailing love. Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I have cried out to You; but let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave." Job 31:9 ff (NIV)
Share The Brokenness!
All of God's children--ordained or not--share in this experience of brokenness. It is God's way to bring them into the most intimate relationship and understanding of His will possible. 
Have you been broken? Do you feel like Job? You will. But if you share in his brokenness, go with him all the way. Share in his new birth, too. Those who do can trust their Lord. They be saved in His unfailing love. They will never be put to shame.
Feeling put to shame? Feeling broken? Follow the pain to where it leads: the brokenness and new birth into a deeper and more profoundly intimate relationship with your God. After all, isn't that why Christ was broken for you?
Thomas F. Fischer

* For more, see Phil Ziegler's article "Nature of Recovery" at

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:37 PM