Brokenness is Necessary

Do you like being wrong? Do you enjoy knowing you made a mistake? Do you live for disappointing someone you love and cherish? Most of us would answer all three questions with a simple, “No.” Spiritual brokenness means coming to the realization that we’ve done all three. It’s heart rending. We don’t just come to an intellectual understanding that we’ve sinned. We actually hurt over it. Maybe we don’t ache physically, though that’s possible, but we do feel pain emotionally and mentally. We are more than just uncomfortable. We want to reverse the situation, to no longer feel the trauma that is affecting us. 

So why do I say brokenness is necessary? Brokenness is a starting step for true repentance. Without brokenness, there is no turning away from sin. There is no chance at revival. There is no ability to restore our estranged relationship with Jesus. 

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.  – 2 Kings 22:11, ESV

and 

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  – Jonah 3:6, ESV

Two separate examples from Scripture show us how people react when they are confronted and understand the depth of their sin. In the first case, Josiah heard the Law read after it was rediscovered in the Temple. Upon hearing the truth and realizing just how sinful he and the rest of the kingdom was, he reacted in sorrow and anguish. In the second case, the king of Assyria heard the message from God preached by Jonah. The king realized just how wicked he and the rest of his kingdom was (see a theme?), and he threw off his royal robes, covered himself in harsh sackcloth, and sat down in ashes – a symbol of pain and suffering. 

Then, out of both of these suffering situations came repentance. And then came forgiveness. In Josiah’s case, the kingdom experienced revival. In the Assyrians’ case, that kingdom experienced revival. Those who did not know God came to worship Him and love Him. Those who did know Him found themselves back in fellowship with the King of kings. Relationships were established and/or restored. God moved among His people, whether Jew or Gentile. It all started with their brokenness.

If you’re praying for revival, pray also for brokenness. Pray that brokenness starts within the Church, with the saints. Pray that God reveals to us the depth of our sin, and allows us a glimpse of how He views that sin. While brokenness may be painful, it is necessary. We must undergo it if we are ever to see revival. We must endure that well-deserved suffering if we want to see God move in a mghty way again.

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Music: At the Cross

Chris Tomlin has a new worship song called At the Cross. The words are powerful. This particular video also includes the chords for guitar. 

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Coming to God First

When I was younger, I made the mistake of thinking I had to have everything right before coming to God in prayer. I felt that if I didn’t have my act together, there was no point. As I’ve matured, I’ve learned how wrong this view was. 

From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.  – Ezra 3:6, ESV

The first thing the returnees to Jerusalem did was build an altar. Once that altar was built, they began to offer sacrifices. Note that the foundation of the temple, much less the whole structure, wasn’t started. These were people, led by God, who had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Yet they didn’t wait on the temple.

When I was looking to have everything right in my life, I was looking to have the temple complete, swept out, dusted, and shined up. That differs greatly from how these folks acted. They began connecting with God according to the ways they had been taught as soon as they could. They didn’t wait. The situation didn’t have to be perfect. They just needed to connect. 

The reality is that no matter how clean we think we have our lives, there is still trash and refuse in it. On our own we can’t completely clean it. So waiting until everything in my life was lined up was me lying to myself. The right approach is the one the returnees took: get connected to God as soon as possible. 

It doesn’t matter where you are today. Maybe you don’t have any relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t worry about trying to get everything right. What is more important is starting that relationship. Perhaps you’ve drifted away. It is amazing how a phone call can pull people back together again and erase the years of disconnectedness. Prayer with God can do the same thing. It is just a matter of deciding to reconnect in such a manner. Or perhaps you are struggling with some sin. If you want to be done with it, if you are truly desiring repentance and forgiveness, He isn’t going to turn you away. And it may be you need His help to overcome the sin in the first place. You only get that by reconnecting with Jesus in prayer. 

Don’t wait on anything else. Come to God first. If you are earnest in your desire to do so, He will take care of the rest. Don’t stress over trying to clean yourself up. The truth is that we can’t ever be clean enough for God without His help. There will be time for cleaning once you are connected to Him. 

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How do I know I can trust God?

Is trusting God easy? In my experience, it hasn’t been. I realize that every person is different. Some folks have found it easier to trust God. I will say it is easier to trust God the more I experience Him at work. I know that as I experience God more, I grow closer to this perspective penned by King David:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;he will answer him from his holy heavenwith the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses,but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  – Psalm 20:6-7, ESV

David had seen God do the miraculous. David had seen God deliver him personally time and time again. David had witness God turn that which was intended for evil for the good. Based on when we first meet him in Scripture, David started with a strong belief and over time it became even stronger. Experiencing God at work changes us. It gives us the capacity to trust Him more.

However, it has to begin somewhere. For me, it began when I first trusted that He would save me as Scripture promises. That was a hard, hard thing for me to accept. I had drilled into my head for twenty years that if I were to succeed or fail, it was all up to me. That clashed with what Scripture presents: salvation wasn’t something I could do on my own. It wasn’t up to me. I was powerless.  This started a war in both my heart and my mind. Then, finally, I trusted. 

I can’t tell you to trust God and that be the end of it. I can ask you to trust God and point to experience after experience of other people who have trusted God and seen God deliver. They’ve seen God honor His promises. They’ve been part of God doing the “impossible.” Scripture is filled with such examples. So are our churches. I can askl you to trust God but then I have to leave the decision to you. That’s where it is: with you. Will you trust Him? 

One proviso: trust God in His promises. Scripture tells us when, where, and how we can trust God. Don’t trust God for something Scripture doesn’t state. For instance, don’t think, “I need a new sports car and I’m going to trust God for it.” That’s a want, not a need, and God didn’t make such a general, unqualified promise. However, if the situation lines up with the Bible, trust, trust, trust! Then watch as God works to expand your trust in Him by delivering over and over again.

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Where is God in my despair?

Are you in a time of deep sorrow? Are you hurting and wondering where God is in your time of pain? Do you feel like He has abandoned you? Maybe you feel like Job:

“I loathe my life;I will give free utterance to my complaint;I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.  – Job 10:1, ESV

Job hadn’t done anything wrong. Satan was allowed to test Job. God offered Job up. Satan was ruthless. He went as far as he was allowed in tormenting Job. God didn’t intervene. He let Satan do what he wanted, up to the limitations that He placed: the first time Satan couldn’t kill Job, so Satan killed his children, and the second time, Satan couldn’t kill Job, so he gave Job such horrendous sores that Job was in tremendous pain, enough pain to want his life to end. We are picking up after the second time. Where was God?

“Today also my complaint is bitter;my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him,that I might come even to his seat!  – Job 23:2-3, ESV

Job had that same question. His so-called friends were telling him that he deserved his “punishment.” Job pleaded his case to them, explaining that he wasn’t guilty of what they claimed. They didn’t believe him. Job then told them he wished he knew where God was so that he could present his case before Him. Sound familiar?

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  – Job 38:1-2, ESV

After Job’s friends take another round of accusations against Job, God steps forth. God was there the whole time. He heard the arguments between Job and his “friends.” God wasn’t in hiding. He wasn’t too busy. He wasn’t asleep. He wasn’t hard of hearing. There was a purpose for everything Job was going through. The interchange with Job’s friends allowed their mistaken arguments and beliefs about God, man, and sin to be spoken. Job himself provided a continual defense of himself, but as a friend pointed out to me, Job in the end was being self-righteous. Our righteousness comes from God, not ourselves, and that was something that needed to be brought to the forefront. Of course, the only way any of that would come out into the open was if God waited to answer. That’s exactly what He did.

When God seems silent to us, that doesn’t mean He isn’t listening. It doesn’t mean He isn’t around. He is both. God cannot not be there. Though we may not sense Him, He is there and He does still care. We aren’t alone in experiencing the silence of God. Even Jesus experienced the Father’s silence when He was on the Cross. Therefore, we do have a God who sympathizes with us. He has been there. And because He is good, He doesn’t remain silent without good reason. He doesn’t remain silent longer than necessary. 

God is with you in your sorrow. Believe that He is there and that He loves you. Take hope in the fact that God cares and He will not leave you in that state unnecessarily. God promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He always honors His promises. Take hope in those promises as you work through your sorrow.

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Why doesn’t God give me what I’ve asked for?

You’ve prayed for something earnestly. Perhaps it’s a little extra to help make ends meet. Or maybe it’s a new car to replace your old one. It could be about a relationship. Maybe you’ve prayed for a loved one’s healing. Yet you haven’t seen God answer that prayer. Why doesn’t God provide what you’ve asked for?

This goes along with yesterday’s devotional about why God doesn’t always remove an issue from our lives. There are a multitude of reasons why God may answer our prayers with, “Not yet,” or an outright, “No,” but first let’s look at the verses often quoted with respect to God delivering what we ask for:

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.   – John 16:23-24, ESV

At first glance it seems like the Scripture says that if we ask Jesus for it, the Father will give it to us. All we need to do is ask and we will receive. We just aren’t asking. Jesus uses the phrase, “in my name,” and that’s why we hear people sometimes end prayers with, “In Jesus’ name.” The catch here is what is meant by that phrase.

Some would preach that the reason we don’t have something we want is because we haven’t prayed enough or demonstrated enough faith. They would say that we aren’t taking this set of verses literally and powerfully and that’s why God isn’t delivering. There are some cases where this may be true, like with the father who asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief for the sake of his son. However, this set of verses isn’t about praying harder or believing more that God will give us what we ask for, because “in my name” has a specific meaning. 

It means that if we ask for something Jesus would ask for, the Father will deliver. Think about how an ambassador works. The ambassador represents the nation or organization. The ambassador’s words and actions should meet the desires and agenda of whom he or she serves. So if someone is an ambassador of the United States of America, you would expect that person to deal with representatives from other countries in keeping with what the USA desires. It can be said that the ambassador goes in the name of the United States. That’s how the phrase, “in my name,” should be seen. 

This raises the obvious question, “How do I know to pray for what Jesus would ask for?” Scripture is a huge help here. As we get to know the living God through Scripture, we come to understand what He is like, what He values, and what He is opposed to. We also learn His commands for us and what promises He makes towards us, as well as the conditions for those promises to be met. Having a good understanding of all that helps us consider what Jesus would ask for. Yes, there’s some work to be done here. After all, one doesn’t become an ambassador of the United States without doing a lot of work and having a lot of discussion as to what the interests of the United States are. The same is true in our role as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. 

If God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers, we must consider if it’s something He would pray for and if it is, why. If we can’t answer why, if we can’t point to something solid supported by Scripture, we’re probably off-base. But what if we can and we still aren’t seeing God deliver? There are at few considerations to make. 

The first is whether or not the prayer request would be of overall benefit to us. Yesterday we looked at the fact that Paul’s thorn wasn’t removed because without it Paul would become conceited. Paul realized that and he understood why God wouldn’t deliver him from his thorn. God may not deliver something we ask for because in the end it will hurt us – we will be left worse than before. Another thing to consider is that God knows and sees and understands circumstances that we don’t. He may choose not to answer our prayer in the way we like because He has something bigger at work. If you want to see this in action, read the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk learns this lesson first hand. The book of Habakkuk also reveals another reason and the last consideration I’ll mention: sin. Israel’s sin was ever-present and overwhelming. God was dealing with that, and thus couldn’t honor Habakkuk’s request. There could be a sin issue you haven’t dealt with that’s stand between you and God. The bottom line is that if God isn’t delivering on a prayer request the way we want, He has a good reason. We might not understand the reason, but we can trust that God has one. God is good.

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Why do I keep struggling with this issue?

Is there something you struggle with that you wish you didn’t? I mean something along the lines of a persistent sin, an addiction, or a bad character flaw. Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t just take it away? After all, the Bible says that He came so we might live life more abundantly. Whatever that issue or problem is, it gets in the way of you doing so. So why does God allow it persist in your life?

Scripture has an answer for these questions. We find the answerer no other than Paul, who struggled with something that he didn’t call out specifically (we’d classify it today as “an unspoken prayer request”). Whatever it was, it was bad enough that Paul called it a thorn. Here are the verses:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV

If the apostle Paul struggled with something, it shouldn’t surprise us that we can, too. Diving deeper, Paul knew for sure that God allowed whatever the issue was to continue in his life. Paul was not given relief from it. We could make the argument that whatever it was, it must have impaired Paul’s ministry. Therefore, it seems inconsistent that God would permit such an obstacle for a man called to do so much. However, that’s not the way Paul saw it. Paul knew God isn’t inconsistent. Therefore, Paul considered carefully why he had the thorn. He found the answer.

Paul stated twice that the reason for the thorn was it prevented him from becoming conceited. Stop and think about that for a second. Conceit would have been devestating to Paul’s ministry. It would have rendered him ineffective. Case in that light, we begin to see why God allowed this thorn to remain in Paul’s life: the consequences were worse. 

Now one could argue that God could make the conceit go away. After all, we do see in Scripture miraculous changes in people. Look at how Jacob/Israel turned around. Or look at how Judah went from a plotter, schemer, and murderer to the one who would put his own life to save his brother Benjamin’s. In those cases God did change the hearts of those men. However, he did so over a period of time. We know they experienced some hardship. To what extent, we don’t know. That sounds an awful lot like Paul’s thorn, doesn’t it?

Having such an issue in our lives should humble us. It should remind us that we can’t do everything on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to change us, to guide us, to strengthen us. God makes those promises. He reminds Paul of those promises when God explains that when Paul is weak, God’s power can work fully to perfection. Paul didn’t have the strength to get in the way. The same is true of us. Areas where we are weak or struggle with are where God can show His power, His faithfulness, and His mercy. They are additional opportunities to get a blessing from God. Also, those issues may be shielding us from something bigger, just like Paul’s thorn sheltered him from self-conceit.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have to work on our issues. It’s just a reminder that some things are bigger than we are. When they are, God steps in if we will yield to Him. Whatever it is that you can’t seem to shake, don’t give up. Keep pushing yourself to overcome it. However, also make sure that you yield to God so His strength can be made perfect in your weakness. Like with repentance, even when we are at our lowest point, God has more of Himself, more of His perfection, lined up for us. God is good.

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