Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Lord Is Close to the Brokenhearted - Promise!

Have you ever been through a bad time, or experienced a difficult loss, and had some sweet friend share this verse with you? The Lord is close to the brokenhearted...etc? I think this Bible verse may be the default choice for "religious" sympathy cards. And why not? It sounds good. When someone is absolutely crushed and brokenhearted it sounds kinda comforting to say and hear that The Lord is close at hand.

And of course He is right there and fully available to brokenhearted people, but the verse sort of suggests that God is closer to the brokenhearted than to the folks who are feeling fine. And guess what? In a sense, He is! But I think there's a catch...a bit of perspective that's needed to really appreciate why this verse is comforting.

Remember the scene in the classic Christmas film, It's a Wonderful Life, when the main character, George Bailey, has come to the end of his rope? It's Christmas Eve, and George's life unravels because his Uncle Billy lost the $8,000.00 bank deposit for the family's building and loan business. The bank examiner is in town to review the year's receipts, and there isn't enough cash on hand to cover the payments shown in the books. The whole issue can mean scandal and jail for George and Uncle Billy, not to mention the effects on George's wife and children, and the townspeople who have their money and loans with Bailey Building & Loan.  

Out of time, options, and hope, George comes unglued. He yells at his wife and children, storms out of the house, and ultimately ends up at the local bar. In a moment of deep desperation, George Bailey bows his head...right there at the bar.

George was brokenhearted, so he prayed. I won't give away the ending (just in case you've never seen the film) but The Lord was close to George Bailey. George was in trouble and cried out to The Lord, and The Lord showed up...not the way George ever imagined, but God was definitely on hand to save George Bailey.

But we do a great disservice to the verse from Psalm 34, and other verses like it, if we think of it as a kind of magic wand rather than an insight into how God works in our lives. Look at our friend, George Bailey. He'd come to the end of himself; his usual way of toughing it out through difficult situations could not save him from the bank examiner. George had nowhere else to turn except to God...his last resort. 

George Bailey's broken heart made him willing to humble himself before God. Do you see where I'm going with this? God wasn't close(r) to George because George was in trouble. God was closer than George had ever realized because for the first time George's heart was truly broken. George Bailey's prayer at the bar is a desperate, humble admission that only God could rescue him. The Lord saves those who are crushed in spirit. 

Just in case you think we're talking about situational rescue where God simply sweeps in and shows up with $8,000.00, let's look at a few other Scripture verses where we find similar words of promise. Matthew 5:3-4 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are those who mourn." When we are considered blessed we are understood to be in God's favor. To be blessed by God is to receive supernatural favor—an extra, generous measure of God's underserved help and lovingkindness. 

These verses tell us something very wonderful about God. He has a special love for the underdog.

And that is as it should be. Don't you think? Isn't it generally more thrilling when the one with the most working against him—the one with the fewest opportunities and resources, the one with the most to lose—overcomes the obstacles and comes out a winner? But the thrill is short-lived and shallow if it turns out that the underdog is arrogant and proud. 

The underdogs that God is most interested in are those who are humble and who are eager to give God all the credit, and the honor and glory forever...whether they win or lose.

Take a look at these verses from Isaiah 61. 

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,

Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

There they are again...those same kind of promises from God that we see in Psalm 34 and Matthew 5, the same merciful heart of God toward people who are grieved and broken, the same promise to bless, comfort, and rescue them.

So...what if we read Psalm 34 in this this way: Hey! Look up! You're heartbroken? God sees you, and He's standing right there next to you with His arms open. If your heart is torn apart—if your spirit is smashed to bits to the point where you're ready to give up the entire situation to Him—take His hand. Fall into His arms. When you admit that you cannot rescue yourself, and that He is the source of all hope all the time, He will save you.

Think along the same lines as you re-read the verses from Matthew and Isaiah. The reason The Lord is so close to the heartbroken, and so ready to save the crushed in spirit, is because those people are ready to be humble. They are out of options and they are ready to relinquish their lives to the will of God. The promise to those who come to the place of "not my will but thy will be done" is that they will receive comfort. They will receive something beautiful, and experience real that leads to the kingdom of heaven and the earth's inheritance.

But it's worth noting that the true blessing doesn't come until we're really knocked down and all the fight is out of us. Remember George Bailey's prayer? Take a look at what happened immediately after George prayed.

POW! Right in the mouth! Down goes George! And if you remember the rest of the film, George has to endure another series of humbling experiences before he comes to the true end of himself. He is forced to examine and respond to his situation through a lens of faith that came through humility and brokenness. George needed a willingness to trust in the power and blessing of God's sovereignty to turn around a seemingly impossible situation. With that kind of faith in God's ability and power, it no longer mattered to George if God sent him to jail or provided him with a way out. George found a blessing that did not depend on circumstance.

Isn't that what happened to Job—that poor soul whose entire life was stripped away, including his family, his possessions, and his health? God was right there and close to Job the whole time! He had never once lost track of what was happening in Job's life. God was in the midst of Job's unimaginable encounters with death, poverty, and sickness.  God was there in Job's suffering. He is always in our suffering too.

Still...Poor Job. He'd worked so hard to live an obedient and holy life, and he still ended up brokenhearted and crushed. But the moment that Job stopped focusing on what happened to him and why—the moment Job stopped pleading his case and was instead reminded of God's infinite power, might, wisdom, knowledge, and creativity—he became very, very humble. Job was finally ready to receive God's blessing and give God the glory. Job found God's abundant mercy blossoming and alive in an INCREDIBLE mess!

Read Job 42. When Job focused completely on God's character and nature he repented. He even prayed for some of his friends who had misrepresented God and been miserable comforts to Job amid his agony. Job also made a sacrifice. Though he had nothing left, not even his health, he went to the altar and made a sacrifice. 

Job's heart was changed. He was no longer simply a good man who gave to others out of his wealth and obedience to follow the law. Job learned true reverence and fear of The Lord. He laid down his life, his grief, and his grudge. Job sacrificed to God out of his humility and poverty. Ever faithful and infinity merciful, God receives Job's offering and blesses the latter part of Job's life even more than the first. God's favor and abundance came to Job through suffering, grief, sorrow, and sacrifice.

Dear ones, when you think about the resurrection, and when you look to the Cross of Jesus knowing that He suffered, died, was buried, and then rose from the grave to conquer sin and death, realize that you are released. You are free from the captivity of your own suffering and death. You are healed and set free. 

You will receive comfort, beauty, and joy when you trade in your sorrows for the joy of the Lord that leads you to praise. 

This is the praise we find in our Easter celebrations. Our "Yes!" to The Lord, and our "Amen!" that acknowledges the fulfillment of that "Yes!" is something we must say in faith and submission to God. These responses are found at their richest and most rewarding when they are born out of grief over the sins of this world...including the sins of our own hearts and lives. It all happens at the foot of the cross.

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