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Four Bases Of Brokenness

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

Number 318

Brokenness. Though the difficulties and pain experienced vary widely, the process of brokenness is relatively constant. Sometimes knowing these stages provides a sense of support and confidence of God’s working in us.

There are many things which can help provide support during our experience of brokenness. One of the major ones is to have a blueprint for brokenness. One of the most helpful blueprints may be the baseball field with four bases.

 In brokenness, as in baseball, going from base always involves certain actions, processes and conditions. These actions will determine whether one advances, retains, or regresses.

Batter Up!
Obviously one cannot get on base without going up to the plate. This action is absolutely determinative. Unless one goes to the plate, one cannot get a hit, walk, or even an attempt to get the healing process of brokenness going.

Standing at the plate of brokenness, however, requires several things. First, it requires a willingness to step up to the plate. Fastballs, curveballs, inside and outside pitches will come your way. Any or all of them will challenge you. Any or all of them may be your ticket to a hit or a strikeout. Failure is always possible.

As if the always present threat of failure to hit the ball weren’t enough, the ball is often pitched at a speed which can hardly be seen. Most importantly, it not dealt with properly, the ball can strike the unwary, unprepared batter. When the ball comes, the runner can advance by hitting the ball safely—or getting hit. In brokenness there are no walks. Strike outs always send one back to the dugout.

In the dugout the traumatized batter must decide whether they will face the pain which brokenness requires by stepping up to the plate. If they decide not to, they will continue to live in an ever-growing sense of isolation. The invitation to growth and healing is the purpose of brokenness. To gain such growth, however, one must be willing to step out of the dugout and up to the plate.

At the plate, God is the pitcher. One never knows what will come. But, since the pitcher is God, He never pitches anything hurtful. All to often, the batter’s pain is self-inflicted or induced. They either didn’t see, didn’t move, didn’t swing or acted or reacted inappropriately.

First Base
When one reaches first base, one does so by quickly reacting to the hit ball. The hitter scrambles, sprinting to get to safety. Fearful of being thrown out, the runner may look back. Often, however, the looking back is what causes failure. That’s what the first base coach is for. He offers the support, the love, the encouragement needed to help the runner move through the experience of brokenness to the first base.

Once there, the runner discovers that though the fear which the brokenness presented was great, the healing, supportive love offered is greater. While on first base, the runner takes a breather, regains strength, and enjoys the support of the first base coach.

Amid this experience of connection with those who ministered their love the runner sooner or later comes to the realization that the pain has just begun. There are three more bases until the process is done.

The fearful recognition that their experience of brokenness is not done yet. Getting to first base was just a "warm-up" experience to prepare them for greater brokenness. As various issues of brokenness are healed, others—some of them much larger—expose themselves.

The first base runner, looking to second base, notices that second base is a very, very lonely place. There’s no coaches there to come beside you. The base is situated in the very heart of the opposition territory.

For this reason, many Christians—like the vast majority of baseball hits--never get beyond first base. Healed of their brokenness, the relief from the pain yields to a stubborn pride which has yet to be exterminated. What results is a Christian who claims to have gone through the brokenness. It’s like believing that getting on first base is the same as a home run. For both, people cheer.

But the results are much different. These differences can be seen in a shallow spirituality which seeks attention, power, control and fame. The result is that they will remain stuck on first base. Though they will gain the admiration of many who are still in the dugout ancticipating their first hit, the truth is that they have no ability to take anyone any further than they are. As Jesus said, "It is enough to be like one’s teacher."

Sadly, these people can actually revert to a greater depth of the loss of faith than what they had when they first began their journey. When the pride returns, they can become controlling, antagonistic, unloving. Of course, because of their new-found spirituality, these will be generously camouflaged with the fruits of the Spirit.

At Second Base
Second base is known by it’s extreme vulnerability. It’s just not a safe place to remain. The runner can’t go back without going out. The runner can’t just stay paralyzed. They must go on or fail.

From first base you can see third base and the advantages it has. There’s a coach, it’s near the dugout, and it’s the last step to home. The runner can look eagerly toward third base and home…but not without facing the fear of second base. Getting to second base is the most vulnerable offensive move there is. Double-plays, fielder’s choice, forced outs most often happen at second base.

If one can overcome their fear and advance to second base, they are in scoring position. They know that the road home is possible. The healing is in sight. However, fear can also affect the brokenness-bound base runner. Second base is the most isolated base on the field. When one gets to second base, they realize that they’re at the halfway point. If they move any further ahead, they must face greater and more intense fears. Once past second base, there’s no turning back.

At Third Base
Moving ahead toward third base is the recognition that once past the halfway point, one has irrevocably left behind one’s past. Though the complete new reconstituted life is not yet realized, distinct signs begin to emerge. Even as the second base runner’s perspective changes to recognize they he is in scoring position, the sojourner moving toward third base also recognizes that a substantial change will occur.

Things which may mark this change include a greater awareness of one’s weakness balanced by a profound sense of God’s amazing strength. The presence of God begins to take on a more quasi-mystical character. The wonder of God’s power and presence, as indicated in the Psalms, becomes a profound yet moment-by-moment realization.

The will of God, once thought to be mysterious and only revealed in the spectacular, begins to be seen in the everyday, the normal, the common. One no longer seeks signs of God’s presence. His presence is seen and recognized in everything…and everyone. God is even seen in gift of water, food or clothing to the stranger with whom Christ identified Himself in Matthew 24.

With that is an even more profound understanding of love. Whereas love brought hope and healing in the run toward first base, getting to third base requires a deepening of that love by those things listed in First Corinthians thirteen: faith, hope and love. This deepening is centered is the testing to see whether the love will "remain" or not.

The word "remain" in I Corinthians 13:13 is "meno." Simply it means to "abide" or "dwell." It also means to "continue, endure, and to wait." Interestingly enough "meno" also means "to sojourn" indicating "meno" belongs to the vocabulary of spirituality and brokenness.

Further meanings for "remain" include "to tarry or wait," "not to depart," "to continue to be present." Relative to faith it appeals to one’s spiritual, emotional and physical capacities to endure, survive and live without perishing. Without this, the sojourner can no longer press forward. Like the runner caught between bases with defensive players in front and behind him, the sojourner which cannot "remain" will regress to their former pre-brokenness pain, sorrow and shallow spirituality.

How is one to remain strong? The word "remain" also means "to remain as one." Thus, one’s spiritual strength is directly and unmistakably tied to their connectedness with God. It is this inextricable oneness which characterizes the third base spirituality.

Finally, the use of the present tense for "remain" in the original means that this is on-going, continuous, never-ending action. The struggle is never over as long as we are in this world.

It’s not simply enough to have had and received love to get to first base…or even second. It's not enough to simply be able to have enough love to get over a major experience of brokenness. What’s required is a continually persevering love which neither doubts, denies or forgets the importance of faith and never, ever gives up hope. 

This can only be maintained by a truly changed perspective of God and self nurtured by an ever-growing insatiable thirst and hunger for God’s Word and a thirst for the renewal by His Spirit. The Psalmist described it this way. "As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee" Ps. 42:1 (KJV).

Most surprisingly, while running toward third, the runner recognizes they are a sojourner, a pilgrim, simply moving at God’s beckoning as water droplets flow in a river’s current. 

While on third and rounding the corner, the sojourner begins a sober reflection on the transformation which God has made. He recognizes that love is always the reason God brings the opportunity for transformation. He recognizes that much of the pain in transformation is self-generated not God-given. This pain comes as a consequence of one’s own resistance to God’s less intense ways to get our attention. 

When the pain arises, the sojourner with a third-base understanding recognizes, acts and deals with the pain by totally surrendering it—and oneself—to God.

Coming Home

Though it has been such from the beginning, by the time one has moved past second-base, the journey is specifically and distinctively homeward-bound. This heightened awareness grows as one develops "ears which hear."

This hearing specifically recognizes how the Scriptures are permeated with not just Biblical doctrinal content, but food for the journey and strength for the soul. It also recognizes that the strength for the soul can only be accessed by full, complete and unhampered admission of one’s total helplessness before Christ. The hymn writer described it with these words, "Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling."

Such recognition can only occur as one give up their stiff-necked-ness and experiences the peeling away of the veil (literally the layers of skin) which hinders one’s relationship with God. Paul wrote, 

"But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away." 2 Corinthians 3:14 (NIV)

Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians wrote how the poor reflection starts to give way to the hope and expectation that "we shall see face to face" at home. 

"Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" I Corinthians 13:12 (NIV). 

When the journey is done and we reach our heavenly home, this will become realized completely and in it’s overwhelming—yet exuberantly joyful—totality.

Some Observations

1) First, nobody is totally broken by just one brokenness - precipitating event in their life. Brokenness, like many aspects of the spirituality of Christian sanctification, is an experience that is repeat throughout life.

2) Second, only those willing to grow will move through the bases of brokenness. This willingness to grow requires a "John Fifteen" faith. Specifically, it requires a continued openness to God’s pruning—but loving—direction in our lives.

3) Third, any and all growth can be slowed, stopped or lost by fear. The shame and guilt which characterize and propel this fear are Satan’s most effective tools for causing the broken ones to shatter in deep disillusionment of faith.

4) Fourth, the only strength one has to remain and grow all along the journey is Jesus. His Gospel is one which counters fear. Indeed, His perfect love alone casts out all fear.

5) Fifth, continued insight, strength and courage come only from God’s Word and the promises given. To avoid His Word is to deny access to God to provide greater insight, strength and courage necessary to stand firm and patiently away the gracious giving of God’s promises.

6) Sixth, as baseball players usually have several opportunities to bat each game, God also provides several opportunities to bat again—even when we strike out. The key is not necessary how well we hit. It’s whether we’re willing to hear God call us to the plate and work through us so that we can get on base and begin the spiritual journey of faith. 

Ministry And Brokenness
Perhaps the most difficult thing about ministry is that it is to the broken-hearted. Tragically, those who aren’t broken often, won’t break. Neither will they receive ministry. Instead they will destroy, attack, resist and bring untold pain to the ministry of Jesus Christ.

To be able to remain strong against these attacks requires that those who lead and pastor God’s people also know, understand and experience deep, spiritual brokenness and healing. The basis of the habitus practicus Western Christianity often ignores or refuses to acknowledge the necessary, essential role of brokenness.

Most tragically, many pastors will leave, ignore, deny or leave when their opportunity to bat or run the basis arrives. This can come in the form of personal difficulties, family struggles, church conflict and antagonism, ministry disillusionment, etc. 

Whatever it’s manifestation, however, God’s purpose for it is always singular: to transform us for the realization of greater joy in His calling.

Paul and I Corinthians 13
I Corinthians Thirteen is widely known as the "Love Chapter" of the Bible. Though true, this title tends to mask what may be an even deeper reality. First Corinthians thirteen may be Paul’s autobiographical summary of his brokenness.

He spoke with the tongues of men of angels. He could fathom all mysteries and knowledge. He was willing to give remarkable sacrifices of himself for his Jewish faith. Yet, as the opening verses of I Corinthians 13 indicate, these were all vain, proud and worthless actions of "a child."

When he became "a man," he recognized his childish, immature pre-broken spirituality. He recognized his reactivity, his perfectionism, his obsession with gain and recognition, and his drivenness by fear and shame. 

As Paul persevered through this transition, he discovered that it was "faith, hope, and love" that brought him through the bases. But the greatest of these was, as he said, "love." 

Love enabled him to give up envy, boastfulness, rudeness, score-keeping and all those things in his laundry list. This love he experienced was the "perfect love that casts out all fear." It was the love of God which comes only in Jesus Christ His Lord.

Reflections for Us
When brokenness occurs in the lives and ministries of church leaders, the initial experience can be overwhelming. The unprecedented pain which is the hallmark of brokenness can be debilitating. 

Ironically, the harder one tries to overcome the brokenness, the worse it gets. Why? Because as long as one is unbroken they will depend on their own efforts. 

In this way God uses the profound experiences of brokenness to give us what we need most: the profound, soul-immersed experience of grace. Though Christians and leaders may understand the truths of faith and the Gospel, it's only when we experience brokenness that we are challenged to incorporate these truths to the deepest levels of our soul. 

In terms of "grace," brokenness finally teaches us that God promise of grace is that there will never--ever--be a time when His promise to be with us will ever be revoked. No matter where we are, what our condition or how deep our aloneness, God is there in His sufficient grace. 

When we finally discover this grace in the deepest parts of our soul, the aloneness of brokenness is transformed into the confident solitude of faith. As the aloneness becomes solitude, we find that the rest of our being is also transformed. 

This transformation illumines God's real, specific inner calling for our ministries and our gifts. As we realize the greatness of His calling to us, it becomes for us the greatest source of joy, conviction and vision for ministry renewal. 

Are you broken yet? Are you going through the four bases? Whereever you are, never forget that God really is there. He really is. And He will give you the strength in your weakness to bring remarkable transformation to you, your ministry and your walk with him.

Brokenness? Let it come, Lord! Let it that I can experience the joy of Your remarkable presence and power.

Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:39 PM