God has a special place in his heart for the weak, the weary, the downtrodden, the broken.
“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden,” and “bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”
He says His special blessing is upon those who are poor in spirit, who are meek and mournful, who are reviled and persecuted. The faith that honors him is the faith of a child, and his power is made perfect in weakness more than in strength. He deliberately chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise and what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
Where we tend to dispose of what has been broken, God treasures it. Where the human instinct is toward those who are confident, assertive, and self-sufficient, the divine eye is drawn to those who are humble, who are contrite in spirit, and who tremble at God’s Word. Where the world looks to those who are whole and strong, God looks to those who are weak and broken, for his specialty is bringing much from little, beauty from ashes, strength from weakness.
God does much with broken things. It was with broken leaves of sweet spices that the priests mixed the incense for the tabernacle, with broken clay jars that Gideon won his great victory over the armies of Midian, with the broken jawbone of a donkey that Samson triumphed over 1,000 Philistines, and with broken loaves and fishes that Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000. It was toward bodies broken by disease that the Lord displayed his miraculous power, and with a broken alabaster flask that Mary anointed him for his burial.
It was through the breaking of bread that Jesus prophesied his suffering and death, for his body had to be broken for God to save the souls of his people. It was God’s will that the eternal Son would take on mortal flesh and his head be broken by sharp thorns, his back by brutal whips, his hands and feet by cruel nails, his side by a savage spear. His broken body was laid dead in a tomb, but through the shattering of rocks and tearing of a curtain God declared he had accepted the sacrifice. There would be no redemption, no salvation, without the broken body of the great Savior.
The history of the Christian church continues to display that God delights to use broken things. It was on broken pieces of a ship that Paul and his companions escaped to land and with a body broken by a “thorn” that Paul was saved from conceit. It was through persecution breaking a man from his congregation that the church was given Pilgrim’s Progress, through a shipwreck breaking parents from their children that worshippers were gifted with “It Is Well,” and through spears breaking men on an Ecuadorian beach that a generation of missionaries was rallied to the cause.
It was through the ravaging of Helen Roseveare’s body, the paralyzing of Joni Eareckson Tada’s, the blinding of Fanny Crosby’s, the imprisoning of Marie Durand’s, the crippling of Amy Carmichael’s, the slaughtering of Betty Stam’s that countless Christians have received strength to sustain them through sorrow and suffering. The bones of Wycliffe were crushed to powder and thrown into the river Swift, but his translation lived on.
The neck of Tyndale was crushed at the stake, but God answered his final prayer and soon even the lowly plowboy was reading God’s Word. The bodies of Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer were broken and burned, but the flames that consumed them lit a fire for the gospel that has never been quenched. And so it seems that God often prefers to use what has been broken over what has only ever been whole.
He breaks our wills so we will turn away from ourselves and come to him in repentance and faith. He breaks our plans to redirect our ways and ensure that his much greater plan will go on not just around us, but through us. He breaks our bodies to display that his power is made perfect in weakness.
And yes, he breaks our hearts. He breaks our hearts by loss to prove to us that the Gospel truly is gain. He breaks our hearts by grief so he can increase our longing for the place where every tear will be dried. He breaks our hearts by disappointment to prove that this world can never truly satisfy.
He breaks our hearts by bereavement to pry our fingers off a world that could otherwise allure and entrap us with its charms. No wonder, then, that so few of us make our way through life without some great trial, some great adversity, some circumstance in which we cry out,
“I am undone. I am broken.”
What can God do with broken hearts? Perhaps the better question is what can God do with unbroken hearts? God delights to use what has been broken. He delights to display his power through what is weak, to display his strength through what is small, to display his glory through what has been shattered. His breaking is never pointless, for he is neither arbitrary nor cruel. His breaking is never purposeless, for he is too wise to ever be wrong and too kind to ever be heartless.
He breaks us to shape us. He breaks us to mold us. He breaks us to use us. It is through the breaking that he makes us suitable for his purposes. It is through the breaking that he makes us a blessing. It is through the breaking that he makes us whole.
Tim Challies is a pastor, author, blogger and book reviewer living in Canada.