A Crushed Spirit, who can bear?

I have been reading through the Book of Proverbs in the Bible and have been noticing the term crushed spirit. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:23) “The human spirit can endure a sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” There was also a verse in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who crushed in spirit.”

We experience a crushed spirit when we find ourselves in the valley of despair due to circumstances that involve a loss of hope. Moses was so discouraged in his leadership responsibility that he asked God to take his life. (Nu 11:10-15) Job grieved the loss of his children and loss of his health so much so that he cursed the day of his birth. (Job 3:1-26) Jeremiah faced such opposition from his contemporaries that he cursed the man who brought his father the news of his birth. (Jeremiah 20:14, 15) Hannah deeply grieved her inability to have a child. (1 Samuel 1:1-16) Tamar lived a desolate life after she was raped by her step brother. (2 Samuel 13:1-21) Naomi was filled with bitterness because of the loss of her husband and two sons. (Ruth 1:1-20) And Hagar was in despair because her son was dying. (Gen 21-15-16) We could cite many more biblical examples of people with crushed spirits because of the overwhelming nature of their suffering. Many of you are experiencing such pain and loss that happiness and hope seem gone forever.

There are some things in Scripture that will help us when we find in ourselves with such a crushed spirit:

First, realize that this state or condition is temporary. It is called the dark night of the soul, not the dark month or year of the soul. This doesn’t mean we “get over it,” but that we are not made to withstand such intensity of grief or hopelessness for very long. We usually find a way of coping and learning to live with our affliction. When I was first diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer about 2 1/2 yrs. ago, I was overwhelmed. I still have cancer, but I have learned to cope and even flourish in my affliction. This is why I am writing this, to help you cope.

We have already mentioned Proverbs 18:14, that “the human spirit can endure in sickness…” God has given to humanity a sustainability and a will that naturally desires to survive and not die. Obviously there are exceptions to this in the case of those whose despair and hopelessness, guilt and shame, drive them to suicide. Judas is probably the most famous biblical example of this. The sadness of Judas’ self-destruction is found in the fact that he did not need to go that route. Unlike Peter, who was also in despair for his three-time denial of Christ, Judas did not seek the forgiveness that Jesus would have given him. This is what is so sad about all suicide; it does not need to happen.

As an aside: “Suicide rates have risen to their highest since WW II. The odds of dying from a suicide or opiate overdose — the diseases of despair — are now higher than that of dying from a motor vehicle accident.” (Michael Gerson, Daily Herald, September 6, 2019) This is why we have suicide prevention hotlines so that people with crushed spirits and in depression and despair can talk to someone and find help. Such crushed spirits need people in their lives. They need friendship and a sense of belonging, not increased isolation. They need someone to whisper “I care, and am here for you; I am worried about you, so how can I help?” And part of this help is the counsel not to ignore the spiritual life and soul-issues, and turning to God who will never ignore the brokenhearted.

Second, God is near us in the darkness. We mentioned Psalm 34:18 that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Also, in Psalm 147:3, 4 we read, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of stars and call them by name.” Did you hear that? The God of the stars is also the God of the brokenhearted. He is transcendent in power and glory. He is also immanent in humility and suffering. He is near, and in my suffering I can say, by faith, if not by feeling- He is here!

That is what Pastor Martin Niemoller preached to his skeleton-like congregation huddled together for warmth in Dachau’s cell room 34 on December 24, 1944: ” God, the eternally wealthy and Almighty God, enters into the most extreme human poverty imaginable. No man is so weak and helpless that God does not come to him in Jesus Christ, right in the midst of our human need; and no man is so forsaken and homeless in this world that God does not seek him, in the midst of our human distress…. You need not go search for God; you should not imagine that he is far from you and is not concerned with what crushes you! He is here and is close to you in the Man who, as a babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, was lying in the manger…. Whoever can grasp this in faith is not forsaken in prison and in death; for in the worst darkness he may say, “Thou art with me; thy rod and staff comfort me. (Ps 23:4)

Third, in your despair use the key of Promise. People who know me know that I love John Bunyan’s English classic Pilgrims’ Progress, which is a great allegorical story about the journey of the Christian through life. In the story, there is an episode where Christian (the main character) and his friend and fellow-traveller, Hopeful, are captured by the Giant Despair and his wife, Gloom, and thrown into the dungeon of Doubting Castle. The Giant beat them everyday and threatened them with death. He even left rat poison in their cell hoping they would commit suicide. Just as Christian was actually contemplating ending it all because of all the doubts he had about God’s love for him and all the shame he felt for his disobedience, he remembered something. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Key of Promise which had been given to him when he became a follower of Prince Jesus. This key could unlock the door of any Castle of Doubt and with it the pilgrims made their escape.

Likewise, when we find ourselves in the dungeon of despair we should learn to make use of the rich promises that God has given to all of us who are his children. The only way out of despair is to trust what God has said. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of things we do not see.” (Heb 6:1) God is our Father and he has covenanted himself to us in Christ and has promised that in the face of everything that life can throw at us; nothing in life or in death, will ever be able to separate us from his love. (Rom 8:39) Do you believe this? I didn’t ask whether you feel that this is true, but do you BELIEVE it? You must, though everything around you screams the opposite! You must never let go of God’s promises.

Though darkness hides his lovely face, I trust in his unfailing grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the ‘whelming flood. When all around my should gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand… (Edward Mote, 1797-1874)

May those of you with a crushed spirit find hope and comfort in Christ today.

 

Wasted Pain…

Charlotte Elliot lived at the close of the eighteenth century and in great physical pain most of her life because of a childhood illness. She also struggled with bouts of depression. An old family friend once asked her whether she had ever come to know the peace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. She became defensive; upset that anyone would dare ask such a question, but after cooling down she admitted her need of spiritual help. She confessed her desire to receive Christ and said, “I want to come to Jesus, but I don’t know how.” Her friend replied, “Come to him just as you are.” She did and experienced the peace of God in her life in spite of her many struggles.

One Sunday she was at home unable to attend church because of her pain. She took a pen and paper and began to write these words: “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me. And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!” She published this hymn anonymously in a small Christian newspaper, and it began to gain popularity all over England.

One day her doctor handed her this poem thinking it would be of encouragement and she recognized it as her own. She began writing more hymns of encouragement and invitation. Her pain became the source of a deeper walk with God and a well-spring of opportunity for ministry to others. A century later a young man named Billy Graham went forward to receive Christ when this hymn was sung.

Is your pain being wasted? How could God use it for His glory and the eternal good of others? Just a thought….

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Rom 8:26

God of the Stars, God of the Brokenhearted…

The Incarnation: God became flesh and dwelt among us. The infinite, eternal God became one of us and fully entered into our human situation so that he might redeem us. I think we still have this mythological notion that if we are facing difficulties, feeling depressed and experiencing life’s unfairness then our Christmas will be ruined. I’m going to make a bold statement; it isn’t until we do experience these things that we will understand the true nature of the incarnation; that the God of the Stars has become the God of the brokenhearted.

The birth of Christ was revealed to the outcast, the old, the brokenhearted, and the dispossessed. This is the truth of the Christmas Story: God stooped so low in Jesus that no one is excluded from his grasp.

I want to take you back to Christmas Eve 1944. The place is the Dachau concentration camp where a German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller, has been held prisoner for seven years because of his involvement in the Confessing Church. Niemoller was the man who wrote the now famous “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a Trade Unionist. The they came for the Jews and I did not speak out- because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.” Listen as Pastor Niemoller preaches to his congregation of skeleton-like figures huddled around him in their cold-dark bunk room:

God, the eternally wealthy and almighty God, enters into the most extreme human poverty imaginable. No man is so weak and helpless that God does not come to him in Jesus Christ, right in the midst of our human need; no man is so forsaken and homeless in this world that God does not seek him, in the midst of our human distress…This is what is so singularly peculiar in the Christian message of salvation, which tells us, “You need not go to search for God; you should not imagine that he is far from you and is not concerned with what crushes you! He is here and is close to you in the man who, as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, was lying in a manger. All your need is so far from being alien to him that on the contrary he gave himself freely to bear it with you.” Whoever can grasp this in faith is not forsaken in prison and in death; for in the worst darkness he may say, ‘Thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me.

It is the people who walk in darkness who will see a great light. It the people who live in a land of deep darkness who will have a light shine upon them. (paraphrase of Isa. 9:2). O Blessed Incarnation!