“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)
A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. (Ecc. 3:3)
Dear brethren, children of the day (1 Thess. 5:5), there is a profound and inexplicable beauty in brokenness; that process whereby we are in some manner reduced by our Lord’s loving and artful hand. By failure perhaps, or persistent, nagging sickness or disrepute, or even poverty – all of course working to lead us to that ultimate state of nothingness, that He alone can be the All in our lives and the Substance in our hearts. Consider what Watchman Nee has shared on the need for brokenness –
The breaking of the outward man is the basic experience of all who serve God. This must be accomplished before He can use us in an effectual way. No one is equipped to work simply because he has learned some teachings. The basic question is still: what kind of man is he? Can one whose inner workings are wrong, but whose teaching is right, supply the need of the Church? The basic lesson we must learn is to be transformed into a vessel fit for the Master’s use. This can only be done by the breaking of the outward man. (Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit)
How can this be we wonder. What good can possibly come from such humiliation; from such painful denial; from such a debasing of our stature and station in the world of men?
Yet the beauty, my friends, rests in the loving wisdom of a heavenly Father who wishes to bless us to all abounding with the lasting riches of His fullest and abiding presence. It is in the stripping away of all that inhibits or corrupts this potential gift (the life of Christ in us), where the truest splendor shines. For brick upon rotting brick must be chiseled away until the foundation is exposed. Only then can our blessed Advocate secure Himself as our sure and solid foundation.
The beauty ultimately lies in the purification of our hearts that results from being exposed to the Refiner’s fire. Here is where all the dross of self-exalting pride, temporal ambition and love of the world is burned away from our lives, leaving a pure and refined saint where a sinner and rebel once stood.
“He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:3)
The beauty also shines forth through the dynamic and living testimony that results, as our wise Counselor and Teacher permits us to prove what He is revealing to us, whether it is a test of our faith in His love, or His trustworthiness. When the devil or his darkness comes at us head on, to tempt or corrupt us, our Lord must know that our light (again the life of Jesus Christ; see John 1:4) will remain, that we will stand firm as His faithful lamp stand.
And always resisting and grinding under it all is the swollen, festering pride of humanity, the ‘oh that I were a king’ presumption that surfaced first in that ancient and sordid heart of the archangel Lucifer. How it loathes failure, defeat, demotion and loss of any kind. How it despises dependence on anyone and submission to circumstance. Watch as it writhes and coils under the weight of so many painful setbacks and assaults on our idolatrous self-sufficiency.
I remember vividly when my wife and I relocated to the Midwestern United States from Canada some years ago. Here I was, with a number of university degrees, a growing career and business, a heart full of my own esteem and importance, unable to find a decent job; to support my family as the scriptures enjoin. Despite numerous attempts, every door seemed to close abruptly on me, as if God Himself and all His angels were pitted against me.
I guess I knew intellectually that we are tested as Christians, but somehow this was different, infinitely more real, and more painful. I was forced, for a number of years to take some menial jobs that I felt were far below my credentials and ability. As a husband my self-worth started to sink as I was unable to adequately provide for even my wife. I grew increasingly languid and depressed, with seemingly no way to escape. I would pray, sure, but gradually all that was coming out was “Why Lord why?” and “When Lord when?”
You must also understand, that all of this was happening in the mid-nineties at the height of the health-wealth gospel. Every Christian television station seemed to be littered with sharp-dressed showmen pulling out proof text after proof text to convince us that our material success was indicative of our spiritual condition and faith in God. Here I was, ready to go under, and this was effectively like someone throwing me an anchor.
Other Christians meant well too, but after a while I couldn’t bear to hear another Bible verse used to convince me that God chastened the children He loved, or the pastor telling me that there was some unrepented sin or idol somewhere in my life, that I might not even be saved.
I attempted not to lose heart, too hang on, but it was so terribly hard. The universe seemed to be advancing ahead of me and I just couldn’t keep up. I was angry and bitter and alone. I felt like something was dying inside me, like I was losing my grip on reality.
And you know what, my friends, that is exactly what was happening – and I have since come to realize that all that I experienced, all of the deep down hurt and abandonment was securely in the hands of a loving Father who was breaking me down in order to build me back up again in His Son.
This is the part that is beautiful, if we have eyes to see and wisdom to accept the Lord’s ways. Believe me, I know it is not easy, nor does it appear beautiful while we are right in the middle of it. Yet it shows us vividly how deep our roots run into this world and its self-worshiping spirit. Consider how James describes the posture of a child of God neck deep in the midst of trials and tests –
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-44)
Recently I have been revisiting Watchman Nee’s small but powerful book, The Release of the Spirit. The theme of the book is the Lord’s wise and wondrous work of breaking the individual, such that the life of God might flow forth. Here is an excerpt –
“God is at work in our lives unceasingly. Many years of sufferings, trials, hindrances-this is the hand of God, daily seeking to carry on His work of breaking us. Don’t you see what God is doing in this endless round of difficulties? If not, you should ask Him, “Oh God, open my eyes that I may see Thy hand.” How often the eyes of an ass are sharper than those of a self-styled prophet.
Though the ass had already seen the Angel of the Lord, his master had not. The ass recognized the forbidding hand of God, but the self-styled prophet did not. We should be aware that brokenness is God’s way in our lives. How sad that some still imagine that if they could only absorb more teaching, accumulate more preaching material, and assimilate more Bible exposition, they would be profitable to God. This is absolutely wrong. God’s hand is upon you to break you-not according to your will, but His ; not according to your thoughts, but His; not according to your decision, but His. Our difficulty is that as God withstands us, we blame others. We react like that prophet who, blind to God’s hand, blamed the ass for refusing to budge.
All that comes to us is ordered by God. To a Christian, nothing is accidental. We should ask God to open our eyes that we may see He is striking us in all things and in all areas of our life. One day, when by the grace of God upon us we are able to accept the ordering of God in our environment, our spirit is released and ready to function.”
So often in the Christian walk, our Lord needs to know that, stripped right down to nothing (as the world measures things anyway), we won’t abandon Him. He needs to know that if all else has been lost, that He is our sufficiency; that He will be increased while we are being decreased. Hear this, my friends, for it most essential –
You and I are only on this earth as disciples of Christ for one reason, and one reason only – to represent a true and living witness to the Kingdom of God that is coming soon.
And just as this is true, so it is also true that this testimony; the entire sum of our lives as God’s witnesses on earth; must be forged in the furnace of His refining fire. There can be no exceptions. You can survey all the pages of the Bible and you will not find one. Wherever there is light, there is soon darkness coming against it with all of its hellish fury.
Perhaps this is why the physical birth of a human child is such a violent affair. Where there is newness of life, there is pain, upheaval and tumult – yet look at the exquisite result.
From such crushing and at times bloody denial, the brash heart within us is brought patiently or perhaps abruptly to the point of need. Here is the moment of truth; here is the place where the inner man (spirit) and the outer man (soul and flesh) collide; here is that divine pathway to contriteness and true biblical humility; here is where all things beautiful in the soul of a redeemed human being have their genesis. Truly the grain cannot grow until the seed is made to fall to the ground and die.
Notice how Watchman Nee conveys this –
“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 outward man and his inward man are not in harmony, for both are tending toward opposite directions. He will also sense the inability of his outward man to submit to the spirit’s control, thus rendering him incapable of obeying God’s highest commands. He will quickly detect that the greatest difficulty lies in his outward man, for it hinders him from using his spirit.
Many of God’s servants are not able to do even the most elementary works. Ordinarily they should be enabled by the exercise of their spirit to know God’s Word, to discern the spiritual condition of another, to send forth God’s messages under anointing and to receive God’s revelations. Yet due to the distractions of the outward man, their spirit does not seem to function properly. It is basically because their outward man has never been dealt with. For this reason revival, zeal, pleading and activity are but a waste of time. As we shall see, there is just one basic dealing which can enable man to be useful before God : brokenness.”
The man who would follow the Christ too must be loosed from the self, oftentimes painfully, in order that Christ might prevail and assume His rightful pre-eminence. And just as a broken stallion is both a splendid and useful creature, so the man of God has to be brought by his assorted ordeals to be something better and higher; to assume his proper station beneath the Most High.
Here is some further insight from Watchman Nee –
“There is no one more beautiful than one who is broken! Stubbornness and self-love give way to beauty in one who has been broken by God. We see Jacob in the Old Testament, how even in his mother’s womb he struggled with his brother. He was subtle, tricky, deceitful. Yet his life was full of sorrows and grief. When a youth, he fled from home. For twenty years he was cheated by Laban. The wife of his heart’s love, Rachel, died prematurely. The son of his love, Joseph, was sold. Years later Benjamin was detained in Egypt. He was successively dealt with by God, meeting misfortune after misfortune. He was stricken by God once, twice; indeed, his whole history could be said to be a history of being stricken by God. Finally after many such dealings, the man Jacob was transformed. In his last few years, he was quite transparent. How dignified was his answer to Pharaoh! How beautiful was his end, when he worshipped God on his staff! How clear were his blessings to his descendants! After reading the last page of his history, we want to bow our heads and worship God. Here is one who is matured, who knows God. Several decades of dealings have resulted in Jacob’s outward man being destroyed. In his old age, the picture is a beautiful one.
Each one of us has much of the same Jacob nature in us. Our only hope is that the Lord may blaze a way out, destroying the outward man to such a degree that the inward man may come out and be seen. This is precious, and this is the way of those who serve the Lord. Only thus can we serve; only thus can we lead men to the Lord. All else is limited in its value. Doctrine does not have much use, nor does theology. What is the use of mere mental knowledge of the Bible if the outward man remains unbroken? Only the person through whom God can come forth is useful.”
My friends, as we attempt to understand the harsh trials coming upon us, consider the perfect beauty and power of brokenness; how our bruises are working to purify and refine us for an eternal purpose; how our faith and trust in our God is being established and emboldened from the testing; and how our love for Him is being purged of all devotion to self and any lesser thing. Consider what James wrote after the passage quoted above (James 1:2-4) –
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
Now given the context of this exhortation; this wisdom can only be pertaining to the wisdom associated with coming to see and receive the Lord’s perfect and loving ways when He is disciplining and breaking us. For wisdom is always looking out ahead, to the eternal purpose of the Lord, and can never be appreciated in the present moment.
We understand from the Book of Job and other places in the Word how intimately our Loving Father loves us, and is involved in our development and sanctification, and how He was even willing to release His own perfect Son to the same suffering and death that we could be redeemed and made whole. What a wonderful thing when we see it in the eternal context of His plan for our lives as His children.
Is it easy? No. Is it often painful and humiliating? Definitely. But is it profoundly beautiful when seen through heavenly eyes? Absolutely!
Oh gracious Father, and Lord Jesus, please grant us by Your boundless grace and mercy, eyes wide open in the spirit that we might behold the eternal beauty of brokenness. Lord, we pray for all of your children who are presently neck-deep in times of trial and testing, of loss and demotion, of confusion and discouragement, that You would bring us through, and make us complete in Christ Jesus, as we participate in His rejection and suffering. Oh Lord, we are forever in Your loving care, and we proclaim with Your beloved servant James –
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)
Brethren, to pursue this important topic further, I strongly recommend Watchman Nee’s book, The Release of the Spirit.
I also have another piece, “But if it Dies” that may be a blessing to you!
Please pray for us here at Livingwalk, that we would watch and see the Master at work, and understand what He would have us do.
Kindly in Christ Jesus,