THE FUTILE AND FATAL SEARCH:
The story is told of a man who was out hiking in the rugged Superstition Mountains of Arizona just east of Phoenix. The story has a familiar ring because I used to do the same thing around Sabino and Bear Canyons in the Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson, though not nearly so rugged and risky. The Superstitions are a beautiful area of desert mountains punctuated by tall jagged peaks, deep gorges, desert fauna, and little water. To the west and north are towns like Apache Junction, Tortilla Flats, and Gold Canyon . . . all names with magnetic and sometimes mysterious names of native America and enticing adventure. To the northwest is Canyon Lake, and to the north is the famed Salt River running through the Salt River Canyon and into the Theodore Roosevelt Lake to the northeast. Skirting the Superstitions through Tortilla Flats and the Salt River Canyon is the serpentine State Highway 88, commonly known as "The Apache Trail", winding its way in, out, and around deep canyons and foreboding craigs.
The Superstitions are no place for a novice or the faint of heart. Unlike many mountain ranges in AZ that rise up like linear upheavals generally stretching two directions in a relatively narrow line, the Superstitions are more like a enormous "glob" of impassable obstacles, covering hundreds of square miles. The area not only has the mystique of its name, but it also carries the fables and tales of Spanish explorers and mysterious missionaries discovering and hiding millions of dollars worth of gold and other treasures, local tribes and strange spirit rituals protecting the region from outsiders, and foolhardy prospectors trying to outsmart the tribes and discover the hidden riches. One of the most famous stories of all is, of course, that of the famous Lost Dutchman's Mine. Entwined by thousands of rugged service roads, hiking trails, and tiny rivulets of shallow streams and dry beds carrying life-giving water only during the Monsoon season, the area is peppered with places like Clover Spring, Goat Canyon, Little Goat Canyon, Night Hawk Spring, Miller Tunnel Spring, Tortilla Pass, Cedar Spring, Lost Dutch Spring, and Lost Dutch Canyon.
Back to the hiker:
He had taken enough provisions for only a day, or perhaps two if he had to unexpectedly spend the night somewhere. Since few people traveled his intended route, he had no intention of staying beyond mid afternoon so he could get back to his car before nightfall. One doesn't want to be in the Superstitions by himself with meager provisions after dark. Only an idiot would do that . . . or someone who is fool enough to make the hike without having taken the time to learn the risks.
Somewhere along the way, distracted by the soaring peaks, the soaring Harris Hawk and Turkey Vulture, the Desert Bighorns (sheep), and the narrow winding trail, he missed a fork in the trail and ended up in unfamiliar territory. As he tried to retrace his steps, he lost track of time and realized he'd never get back to the car during daylight. Nevertheless, he pressed on as nighttime fell, knowing he was at great risk for his personal safety.
Reaching a particularly narrow spot in the trail hugging the cliff eighty feet above the dry creek bed below, he lost his footing and began tumbling down the near-vertical canyon wall. Clawing and grasping for anything that would break his plummet that was sure to cause serious injury or even death, his hand suddenly caught hold of a Mesquite Bush growing from a crack in the side of the cliff. Unable to get his bearings, he grabbed the bush with both hands and, feeling around with his feet for some kind of foot rest, he finally located a small protrusion that would carry enough weight to ease the strain on his desperate grip.
Spitting dirt and rocks from his month, he caught his breath after several deep gasps and began assessing his situation. Unable to see in the darkness of the cloud-covered sky, he couldn't risk any effort on his part to climb either up or down. He was going to either spend the night where he was with his strength dissipating from his arms and one foot resting on that small outcrop, or he could do the ridiculous and yell for help. One option seemed as impossible as the other . . . his strength wouldn't last the night, and calling for help when no one was around was ridiculous.
Nonetheless, he garnered his strength and yelled at the top of his voice, . . . . "HELP! HELP!"
To his surprise he heard a voice in the distance . . . and then he heard it again, only this time more faint. He yelled out again, "HELP ME! I NEED HELP!" The sound came back to him again. Then he realized it was the echo of his own voice bouncing off the canyon walls.
After fighting his disappointment, and knowing there was no other choice, he cried out in desperation, "HELP ME! PLEASE HELP ME! IS ANYONE OUT THERE???"
Suddenly, to his total shock, a voice spoke above him and said, "Here! Grab this rope! I'll pull you up!"
The hiker, now with a sense of hope in being rescued, asked, "Man, am I glad you're here! Who is this, anyhow?"
The voice respond, "This is God."
The hiker was stunned. After what seemed like an eternity, the hiker yelled out, . . .
"IS THERE ANYONE ELSE UP THERE???"
IT COMES TO DESPERATE BROKENNESS:
It is my opinion that this hiker's name is Sam . . . Uncle Sam. Or as you and I affectionately know him, The United States of America. Uncle Sam has been walking an incredibly narrow and precarious trail along the vast Canyon of Destruction for a very, very long time. And deep darkness . . . blacker than the blackest Midnight . . . has overtaken us. We have, nonetheless, insisted on walking onward, knowing full well it is best that we stop dead in our tracks to wait until daylight returns.
We, however, have refused to stop in spite of numerous warning signs and voices in the shadows pleading with us to turn around and go back home. Instead of heeding those oft-repeated calls to return from whence we came, we have arrogantly and stubbornly insisted on venturing further and deeper into the deep and dark world of godless secularism. For that reason, God has allowed our nation to come to the point where we are today. I'm not certain exactly where we are yet, but I am convinced is is neither where we should be . . . or where we are soon to arrive. Struggle and hardship never complete their intended purposes until it brings one to the point of desperation and brokenness.
While many individuals have, we as a nation have not yet arrived there.
However, we will arrive . . . or we will ultimately arrive at the Canyon of Destruction.
It is either desperation leading to brokenness and restoration, or it is stubbornness and continued rebellion leading to ultimate destruction.
It is my contention that Brokenness is the absolute key to America's future. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it is true.
One day Jesus was out ministering to people in their need, and some guys came along and told Phillip they wanted to see Jesus (John 12:20-26). Phillip told Andrew, and apparently together they brought these men to Jesus and told Him what they had requested.
His response was stunning; it didn't even seem to fit the request —- "The hour is come for the Son of man to be glorified . . . Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone." After developing that analogy a bit, he concludes by saying, "If anyone serves me, he must Follow me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. . ." What Jesus was saying was both simple and yet profound —– apart from dying to everything that even remotely smells of self, like the grain of wheat, you can neither see Jesus nor serve Jesus effectively without brokenness or death to the old self life..
Watchman Nee in his book, The Release of the Spirit, says, "anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the great hindrance to his work is not others, but himself. He will discover that his soul and his spirit are not in harmony, for both are tending toward opposite directions." This is true for both an individual, a church . . . and a nation. Paul said something of the same thing in Romans 7:18-23 when he declared that the things he knew he should and wanted to do, he couldn't; and the things he shouldn't do, he did. There is that ongoing conflict we all face, like Paul, when it comes to the Desiring on the one hand and the Doing on the other.
The only way the Desiring can become the Doing is through brokenness. Like the comic character Pogo from years ago, we, too, will soon discover that "We have found the enemy, and the enemy is we."
Roy Hession, in his little book, Calvary Road, said, "it's always self who gets irritable and envious and resentful and critical and worried. It is self who is hard and unyielding in its attitude to others. It is self who is shy and self-conscious and reserved. As long as self is in control, God can do little with us." Our nation is currently a self-centered nation, and is tragically filled with equally self-centered churches and believers. Where our churches concluded that the blessings of God were to edify "Self" is beyond me, but it has happened. That cancer can come only from the pulpit as preachers have either declared a "I deserve to be blessed" message or have simply neglected the true message of the Bible that following Christ means to "deny Self, take up one's cross, . . ." and follow Him.
Even though this truth is illustrated time and again in scripture, it is one of the least taught and most intensely resisted truth in the Bible.
Gideon's light would not have shown if the pitcher had not been broken. The fit vessel would have never been created if the potter had not broken the clay. Job would have never known holiness if God had not broken him
by taking away everything but Himself. The fallow ground of Hosea 10 would have never produced crops without it being broken up. The people of God would have never returned to the fountains of living water if the cisterns had not been broken. Jericho was conquered because the walls were broken. Jacob the supplanter became Israel the Prince with God because he was broken at the hand of God's angel.
The wild horse of James 3:3 would have been useless if the Master had not broken it. The seed would have been only a seed if it had not been buried and broken. The thousands would have remained hungry if Jesus had not broken the little boy's lunch. And, Mary's alabaster would have never anointed the feet of Jesus if the box had not been broken. In fact, the sign that Jesus had risen from the dead was the seal that was broken on the stone that had been rolled away. The Bible is saturated with examples . . . both objects, people, and nations, . . . of how necessary brokenness is to life and fruitfulness. The same is true for America today . . . and for America's churches. You cannot have new life without death to the old.
Brokenness may be the most ignored, neglected, feared, and resisted principle to be found anywhere in the Bible. Life is utterly impossible without it.
THE REQUIREMENT OF BROKENNESS:
It's simple —- if we are going to fully experience the Life of Christ and effectively serve God, we Must be broken. Until you are broken before Him, all you have is what man can do for God. When brokenness comes, it then becomes what God can do through a servant.
Study the lives of virtually every great preacher or missionary, and you'll find that prior to their greatness there was a time when they were broken before God. I've heard with my own ears the testimonies of men like Duncan Campbell, Stephen Olford, and Billy Graham —- how their lives and ministries were dry, desolate, and fruitless. And then one day God took them to the crucible. When they came out, they were different men.
Finney, Spurgeon, Whitfield, G. Campbell Morgan, —- the list goes on. Even contemporaries have felt the Mighty Hand of God on them, bringing them to the end of everything —- success, reputation, sometimes even family —- where they were fully broken into nothingness in order that the life and ministry of Jesus would be released. Bread is impossible without wheat that has been broken and ground into usable flower. Wine is impossible without the grapes being crushed and broken. Harvest cannot happen without the seed being broken through the death process so that new grain can be produced.
Which would you rather have, my friend? —- what you can do for Him, or what He can do through you?
I've had both —- painful as it is, I'd choose the latter any day. The comparison reveals no contest.
THE REASONS FOR BROKENNESS:
You can probably think of many. However, let me quickly mention the following.
1. God said so —- reason enough! If there were no other reason, that one is sufficient. You see, friend, what was marred in the garden in the fall still has its residual effect on us, and it must be dealt with. It must be made again, "as seemeth fit to the potter".
2. God's holiness cannot use unfit vessels. Romans 8:6-8 tells us, after reminding us that the mind set on the flesh is death while the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. God's holiness cannot, because of His very nature and ours, use vessels that are unfit and uncooperative. It isn't that He won't because of contentiousness; he can't because of His character.
3. The true source of effective ministry must be revealed. God Himself. Paul tells us in II Corinthians 7:4 that "we have this treasure in clay pots that the excellency of the power will be of God and not of man." You see, it's not the box —- it's the alabaster that ministers. We spend far too much time admiring, polishing, preserving, and showing off the box, while the healing and aroma are still locked inside. It will never be released apart from being broken. So it is with your own life.
4. True service must be realized and demonstrated, and it can only happen through a surrendered servant spirit that comes only through brokenness. Otherwise all you have is a cheap performance mentality that focuses the attention on itself and consequently fails to release genuine selfless ministry.
5. Our human inadequacy for a divine task. Again, referring to Romans 8:6-8, where did any of us ever get the idea that our humanity was adequate for spiritual life?
That's the miracle of the Cross —- Jesus puts something to death, and life comes out of it. All of nature shouts that truth out loudly, and yet we walk by, seemingly oblivious to such a fact. Like Paul, we must be willing to say, "In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.", and also "I have been crucified with Christ, and nevertheless I live . . ." (Gal 2:20).
THE RESULTS OF BROKENNESS:
When brokenness is brought upon us, there are many things that happen. I mention only these:
1. All human inadequacies are exposed, crucified, and disqualified. And that, my friend, is a liberating thing. When you realize that all you are at your best is not sufficient, and the humiliation of exposure has taken place, there is no pride left that wants to hide the fact.
2. A liberating transparency and honesty become part of you. Because God knows, you know, you know God knows, and you don't care if others know, you are set free to just be you. No more pretending, no more trying to be a new "savior" or even The Savior's helper, no more trying to crank out a new idea to prove your worth or gain someone's approval.
I'll never forget little Stace. He was about eight or nine years of age that day when he walked to the alter during ministry time and took the pastor by the hand. When Jim asked him why he had come, he gazed into Jim's eyes with the most genuine and child like honesty and said, . . . .
That's the sum and substance of our required response to God's breaking process.
Go ahead, friend —- just say it . . . . . . "I Quit!"
3. God's total capabilities are revealed, released, and realized. As Roy Hession said in his book, "It is God taking center stage while man takes the background". When brokenness brings us to the end of ourselves and the beginning of Him in us, we tend to stand around with our mouths open a lot more. As my friend Jim Hylton says, "nobody acts like Jesus quite like Jesus."
4. Revived Life begins to flow. We become an enigma to some, a mystery to others, and a blessing to still others. We are unexplainable. And, that's what I've always prayed for —- for me, for my family, and for any church I ever pastored —- to be unexplainable apart from God.
When true life begins to flow, others are affected —- they are either puzzled, restored, or offended. But anything life touches is affected. When the brokenness of the cross is completed in the grave, then resurrection is on the way.
And when resurrection life breaks out of the tomb and leave an empty hole, all Heaven breaks loose and shows up down here on earth for all to see —- and receive, if they will.
5. Needs are met in massive proportion. The days of "teaspoon medicine" are over. Now it comes in buckets —- in barrels!
Why is it so hard for us to admit that brokenness is the real key to the kind of ministry that will touch hundreds and thousands at a time instead of just a handful?
For those who claim to care for others but are not willing to embrace brokenness, their true heart has been exposed. They are more interested in honor than in humility. They cherish popularity more than they do purity. They crave spotlights more than they do servanthood.
I praise God that He is so merciful that He will bless some of their efforts; but just think of what He could do through them if they were broken!
Think of what He could do through you and me!