Monday, February 20, 2017

How God Works In The Lives Of The Broken-Hearted And Crushed In Spirit

Image result for broken pottery
Psalm 34:18 "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."


Today's post is going to explore what is meant by the Biblical phrase: "crushed in spirit". The above opening verse derives from David's words describing his personal walk with God during a crisis moment in his life. In Hebrew poetry, it is common for the author to express the same idea in two or more lines with different turns of expression. In Psalm 34:18, we find out that the Lord is near those who are brokenhearted in the first line, with the second line expressing much the same idea except with the phrase: "crushed in spirit". This idea of God being near the brokenhearted or crushed in spirit reveals a couple of thoughts:

1. First, since God draws near to those in such a condition of being "brokenhearted" or "crushed in spirit", the implication is that God permitted such a state to transpire. God's permissive will is revealed in scripture to indicate certain courses of action that He tolerates or wills to allow to work out His ultimate purposes (see Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). 

2. The second implication of the phrases "brokenhearted" or "crushed in spirit" deals with the fact that God's people are never promised immunity from danger, trial or sorrow. This point can be extremely difficult for Christians to grasp in our indulgent Western society that is geared to escape pain and promote personal peace and affluency. If we grasp what the Psalmist is saying in this text, it can revolutionize how we view difficult times with respect to our walk with God.

With these initial observations noted, lets explore what the Biblical text is talking about when it refers to being "crushed in spirit" and how God works in such a frame of mind and heart. 

Understanding what the Bible means by the human "spirit" or "heart"

What exactly is the spirit of a man? It is the contention of this writer that human beings are trichotomous or a composite of three general components: body, soul, spirit. The "spirit" and "soul" comprise man's immaterial or non-physical nature and the body of course represents the physical aspect of man's existence. Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:7 depict God revealing the creation of man from two respective angles: a spiritual being in a physical body who was to walk with God and a soul clothed in a body who was to take dominion over his surroundings and be self-aware. 

In short, here is what we learn of mankind as originally created:

1. Originally, God made Adam's body perfect, capable of interacting and working the physical environment. Being that the body of man was made from the earth, God endued the body with five senses and the capability to be aware of the world. The forming of Eve from Adam's side included these exact same properties. 

2. Humanity's soul is the life of the man.  The soul was breathed from the Spirit of God, resulting in physical life in the man.  Man was uniquely created with the ability to think, feel, choose and have convictions or a conscience. The soul is the man himself. We could say, with older Bible teachers of the past, that the soul is simply man's self awareness and the body is his center of world awareness.

3. Humanity's spirit was to be the aspect of man wherein he communed with God.  As a creature made in the image of God, the idea of "image" meant that man alone could communicate and be communicated to by God in his spirit. Even ancient Greek Philosophers like Aristotle recognized humanity's distinctiveness from the animal kingdom, assigning the term "rational animal" to describe human beings as possessing the ability to reason, express self-reflection and discern meaning, value and purpose. The idea of "animal" in Aristotle's definition refers to a "living being" (Latin term "animus"). Hence, we are living beings, with a body and the additional quality of rationality. 

When we approach God's Word, the Bible, we find terms like "spirit" and "heart" used interchangeably. It is only when we see man described in relationship to God that we find either term, "heart" or "spirit". Proverbs 20:27 gives what is perhaps the clearest definition of the human "spirit" - "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the innermost parts of his being." 

Hence, the "spirit" or "heart" refer to the innermost being of a person. In non-Christian people, the human spirit is dark and unoccupied by the Holy Spirit. At salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to occupy the human spirit of an individual. 

God allows our spirit to be crushed and our hearts broken to put us back together and to heal the wounds

A quick study of this idea of a "crushed spirit" or broken heart" can yield both surprises and hope. The surprise of course comes in finding out that reaching a state of desperation in our inner-most being is how God progresses His people along in their moral and spiritual development. Psalm 51:19 states - "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." The term "broken spirit" or "crushed spirit" literally gives the idea of being crushed to dust, dryness and shattering. For the believer going through this experience, it can be devastating, at first. We in American Christianity think it is our heritage to be free from difficulties. When trouble comes, we begin to wonder whether God still loves us or not. We can be doing exactly what He tells us in His Word, be in the center of his will so-to-speak, and yet, find the dryness, crushing weight of circumstances crack us on the inside. In those moments, we ask God: "what is going on?" 

I know in my life, those moments seem to occur with greater severity and great frequency. The older Christian writers would call such seasons "the dark night of the soul". God permits such seasons, and even allows us to reach the point that we not only approach the cliffs overlooking doom and despair, but allows us to plunge over that edge. It is in that apparent free-fall that we find an extraordinary supernatural side of God's grace that otherwise would had been obscured from us in the good-times. 

The Psalmist writes these words in Psalm 147:3 "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." God wills to permit what He hates in order to accomplish the greater good He intends. Our wounding means the experience of His healing. Our crushing results in Him putting us back together. Our broken heart results in being positioned for the potter to shape and reform it to be better than ever. Dr. Charles Stanley in his recent autobiography: "Courageous Faith - My Story From A Life Of Obedience", notes the following on page 192:

"Instead of seeing the battles against you as a curse, you understand that your loving heavenly Father has planned a special blessing for you through them - that the difficulties you face are ultimately opportunities that will bring you good and will give Him glory. Likewise, knowing that He has permitted the troubles in your life for your benefit makes it easier to forgive those who hurt you and helps you to endure as the battle rages."

Thus we can say that God works in the lives of those who are brokenhearted or crushed in spirit to bring about the wonderful experience of His transforming, healing power. Damaged emotions, past hurts, unseen internal struggles are part of the garden-variety issues that afflict the deepest innermost being of people. Until the deeper work of God is done, those issues will continue to plague us. The Great Physician knows. So, what at first appears to be a mean-spirited action of God towards His people in willing to allow the crushing of the spirit or the brokenness of the heart is actually an extraordinary expression of grace. The point: to have His divine fingerprints all over those shattered pieces so that we can say that we have been handled and healed by the Master. 

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