Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Strong, Crushed, Renewed?

What is the condition of your spirit?

Proverbs 18:14 says "A man's spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit, who can bear?" This offering from the wisest of teachers lets us know a few things about that part of us that we can't see but governs the whole of our life--our spirit.

First, it tells us that our spirit can "endure sickness." Infirmities, diseases, and illnesses are hard for us to take, especially when they linger and when their symptoms are severe. Even so, we know that people find ways to endure such hardships. We tell stories of people who dealt with such things in ways that inspire in their perseverance. Some of you have gone through such hardships and been an example to me and to others.

But second, this proverb tells us that while the spirit is resilient in the face of this and other adversities, it can still be "crushed." The word here comes from a root that speaks of being broken, stricken (by a blow), or wounded. It is the condition of something that, when whole, is powerful enough to endure hard things like cancer or physical injuries. But it can be wounded, and such wounds can be debilitating.

That's the third truth--the crushed, broken spirit is something we cannot live with. As the writer says, "who can bear it?" The answer is, no one can. In fact, Proverbs 17:22 says "a crushed spirit dries up the bones"-- a metaphor for the loss of vitality, hope, and ultimately, life.

What kinds of wounds crush the spirit? This book gives us some clues. Though not an exhaustive list, I think we can see how these things can or have wounded spirits, including ours.

Perverse, evil words are one such destructive tool. Proverbs 15:4 says, "...perverseness in [the tongue] breaks the spirit." We have all had people say things to us that were hurtful, and meant to be so. When such words come from those we have loved and trusted, they can be devastating. Believing them can forever shape a child's heart, and they can cause adults to shun situations and people under their influence. Of course, perverse words can also be lies, such as those Satan used at the beginning: "has God really said? You will not surely die!" These kinds of perverse words may not hurt immediately, but become deadly once accepted.

Later in the same chapter, the writer of Proverbs says, "A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed (15:13)." This is not just a disappointment, but an abiding sense of grief at a fundamental level. It comes when what we have built our life and sense of meaning and purpose on is taken from us. It can consume us when those idols we have trusted fail us. We experience it when the things we are counting on to make us happy fail to do so. It is the opposite of the joyful heart that is like good medicine (17:22)

In 16:18 we get another clue to a way to damage our spirit -- it is through "haughtiness" of spirit (an inflated view of ourselves). This, we are told, leads to a "fall"-- again, not just a simple stumble, but a crushing, fatal collapse. When we allow our spirits to be "puffed up" with pride and arrogance, we create the situations that will lead to our being not just humbled, but potentially crushed.

How is your spirit today? If it isn't enduring the hard things of life as well as it should, perhaps you should ask whether or not one of the following is true?

1. Are you allowing evil words and lies to shape your beliefs and attitudes about yourself?
2. Are you discovering that you have trusted in the wrong things to give your life meaning and purpose, and now finding that they are failing to deliver what you have relied on them to give?
3. Have you put all your confidence in your own ability to make it in life as the captain of your soul?

Brothers and sisters, take heart. There is a cure for the broken spirit and these three causes of it.

Rather than let the words and lies of others, including Satan, hold sway, run to the Word and hear the promises of Jesus, who speaks grace to you, his child, and tells you of his everlasting love. He speaks peace, and forgiveness, and whatever else  you need to hear. Listen!

Put away your idols, and seek Jesus and him alone. Let that pursuit lead you to experience how he will add all other things you need into your life (Matthew 6:33). Idols are deadly, tricky things. Often they are, as has been said, by others, "good things, turned into ultimate things" -- which then makes them a bad thing.

Humble yourself before the Lord. Confess your tendency toward self-sufficiency. You can't fix everything, nor should you try. You are not God and don't have access to his plans and ways. You cannot even cause your hair to grow faster (or at all) or even stay in place! God has them all numbered. Let God be God, and let him bring balm to heal your spirit.

Pray, with David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." God will hear and answer that prayer -- every time.