Lent is a good time to think about brokenness, and I have been. It is a good time to praise God in our brokenness, and I have been.
Those of us who received ashes on our foreheads (The imposition of ashes) on Ash Wednesday heard the words, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
I’ve been thinking about my own brokenness and the brokenness of the world in the days since Ash Wednesday when I received ashes on my forehead in the form of cross from a Presbyterian pastor.
It’s pretty sobering, I’ll tell you, to be standing in line with a group of redeemed sinners considering your brokenness. Suddenly you are next to receive ashes. You step up, facing the pastor. Then you feel the pastor’s finger making the sign of the cross on your forehead with black ashes. To top it off, you hear him say, “Don, from ashes you came and to ashes you will return. During Lent, I encourage you to repent and return to God with all your heart.”
Some days along the road of life, I think I have come a long way; other days, more than I’d like to admit (including Ash Wednesday), I feel like I am in the very beginning preschool days of following Jesus.
I like how Nancy DeMoss describes brokenness: “Brokenness is a continuous, ongoing lifestyle. It is a lifestyle of agreeing with God about the true condition of my heart and life as He alone can see it. It is a lifestyle of unconditional, absolute surrender of my will to God. Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will so that the life, the Spirit, the fragrance of Jesus may be released through me.”
Well said. And yet, sanctification is a lifelong process. Sometimes I think that I somehow am managing to walk with a victorious limp. But other times, well, not so much. During this particular Lenten season this flawed man sure has realized the he never will be whole this side of heaven. No wonder the Apostle Paul said in Romans 8 that we sometimes groan in our prayers with groans that are too deep for even our words to express.
Several years back my wife, Jennifer, and I joined a Vineyard church group from Columbus, OH, and we traveled to Zambia in Africa. One day in a village way out in the bush we worshiped with about 30 people who had contracted leprosy along the way in their life, and they lived together in a government compound.
Even though leprosy is easily treatable with medication and nearly eradicated from the earth, these folks somehow didn’t get the medicine in time before the cruel disease had done its damage. Talk about a disease that can rob you of every shred of human dignity. Try to imagine how it would feel if your nose had rotted off or several of your fingers. I doubt I’d care much about my next designer pair of jeans.
The day I met those saints my empathy meter kicked into high gear. I felt terrible for them. But within minutes of meeting them, it was plainly obvious they were filled with joy and they did not want me or anyone else in our group to feel sorry for them. It was amazing.
They were thrilled to meet some brothers and sisters from the U.S.A. and were ready to worship with us. And worship we did, singing and raising our hands heavenward in praise to God. What I remember about the service was seeing several raised hands in praise to Jesus, some missing fingers eaten by the disease.
I thought, “Just as I am awaiting that day when I will be fully whole, so are these good folks in Zambia awaiting that day.” Seeing their digitless hands raised heavenward was an awesome sight to behold.
Barry Krammes, an art professor from Biola University in Los Angeles, recently commented on a verse from the famous hymn “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing My Great Redeemer’s Praise” by the great hymn writer Charles Wesley.
Krammes pointed to the verse that says: “Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb, your loosened tongues employ; ye blind, behold your savior come; and leap, ye lame, for joy.” Krammes thinks Wesley is using the language in an oxymoronic way. (An oxymoron is when 2 contradictory words or phrases are used to create effect. i.e. “That’s a fine mess you made.” “The room filled with deafening silence.”)
Thus, the deaf hear him; the mute praise him; the blind behold; those who can’t walk, leap for joy. Those with disabilities still are praising him. And who has disabilities? ALL of us do! So even when we feel discouraged and without hope, even when we feel like the chief of sinners, even when we feel overwhelmed with the chaos besieging humanity, we praise God.
We show up. We say, “Lord, you are the potter. I am the clay. I don’t feel like much today. I feel more like dust than clay. But I’m here, God, repenting and asking you fill me with your Spirit again. Fill me with love and joy and the peace of Christ. I am here, God, because I really have no other place to go. You alone have the words of eternal life.”
Author Rob Smith says, “The triune God who is our creator and redeemer, our savior and sanctifier, deserves every bit of praise we can muster, and then a whole lot more! Praise is his due, it is what he deserves: for he is infinitely worthy and therefore it is entirely fitting that we praise him at all times.”
Indeed, there are more than 250 commands in scripture encouraging us to “Praise God!”
Are you feeling down? Praise him.
Are you tired? Praise him.
Are you overwhelmed with work? Praise him.
Are you exhausted from being the total care giver for someone? Praise him.
Do you feel inadequate in your Christian walk? Praise him.
Are you afraid? Praise him.
Have you lost some of your fingers to the cruel disease of leprosy like our friends in that rural Zambian village? Raise your hands high to the Lord and praise him!
If Lent is about repenting and returning to God with all our heart, then let us say aloud the words from Hebrews 13:15: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
One day, friends, we will see our Lord face to face. But until then, we “lepers” continue offering our brokenness to Him, giving praise to the One who sank low “to save a wretch like me!”