“Brokenness” is a term I hear bandied about by Christians. “We need God to break us” or “We need to be broken before God” are some usual phrases. I wholeheartedly agree. That said, I don’t see a lot of actual brokenness in the church. In fact, a lot of the teaching aims to fix us.
Part of the problem is what we think brokenness is. Brokenness is often presented as a thing of beauty and power. Spiritually speaking, I agree. But the experience of brokenness is another matter that many of us don’t want.
To be truly broken is what the word implies—something has been damaged and no longer works as it once did. Think: a bike that’s lost a wheel or a tablet that’s glitchy from being dropped. Think: a cracked vase or an action figure with a broken leg.
Broken things aren’t as functional or desirable as they once were. This is not the beautiful, glorious state we mean by “brokenness.” But it is what the Bible means.
Consider Jacob. God dislocated his hip (Gen. 32:24-25). The shrewd entrepreneur became a limping shadow of what he used to be. How about Moses? He was a privileged member of Pharaoh’s house. When he first sensed his calling to deliver Israel, he boldly killed an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew slave (Ex. 2:11-12). Years later we barely recognize Moses. He’s a stammering shepherd full of self-doubt (Ex. 3:11, 4:10). Neither of these men worked like they once did.
We often imagine brokenness as an emotional time during worship or in our prayer closet. We acknowledge self-reliance or something not submitted to the Lord. Under the Spirit’s conviction, we “break.” At this point, we may cry, pledge ourselves more deeply to the Lord, whatever. But we expect to remain basically as we were—our strengths, abilities, and winning smile intact—just more submitted. Rarely do we imagine a change that is crippling and permanent.
We need to know the difference between real brokenness and the romanticized version of popular piety. Why? When we’re really broken we can be a useful and powerful instrument of God. But we don’t feel like it. We just feel like damaged goods. We feel like, at one time, we may have been valuable to the kingdom. But our usefulness has passed.
Pop-theology reinforces this lie. It aims to fix us so we can realize our full, natural potential. But maybe we don’t need fixing. As jars of clay, maybe our job is to be broken so that God can be our power and treasure (2 Cor. 4:7).
Years ago, I heard about a minister who admitted he couldn’t overcome a certain demonic oppression in his life. He said he was trusting God; he also claimed God was using it to develop him spiritually. But he lost credibility with many of the churches where he ministered. Add to that some rumored legal problems, and this minister was ostracized by people he had discipled for years.
It turned out this minister did go to jail. He served a life-sentence and died in prison. Talk about damaged goods. The fact is, many churches wouldn’t have much use for a minister like this. Who was he? A truly broken man. We know him as the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:7-11).