“I have listened and heard, they have spoken what is not right; no man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his course, like a horse charging into the battle.” Jeremiah 8:6
What breaks your heart?
I’m not talking about a badly-ending relationship, or even the loss of a loved one to illness or tragedy although these certainly cause us to grieve. Nor do I mean family betrayals like Fredo in “Godfather II” – we saw how that ended for both Fredo and eventually for Michael!
The broken heart I’m referring to here is different. It’s that mourning of the soul, that gut-wrenching sorrow we feel at our very core when we’re connected to what breaks God’s heart.
The Bible offers many descriptions of how Holy heart is broken. Broken by those who are lost and refuse to come home. Broken because of those who are persecuted and have no one to share their distress. Broken from the cries of the poor who have no means of support. And broken by our disobedience.
Broken by Rebellion
600 years before the birth of Christ, the Jewish people had once again become increasingly rebellious and obstinate. For generations, they had grown lax in following God’s commandments, eventually seduced by the attraction of Baal and other idols and squandering the promise and hope of the Torah.
Eventually, God removes His protection and Babylon conquers Judah, deposing their king Jehoiakim and sending much of the population into exile. By 587 BC, Judah was no longer a nation and the memories of greatness achieved by David and Solomon faded. It broke the hearts of a nation.
The prophet Jeremiah, seeing the wretched conditions of his fellow Jews, had just such a broken, aching heart. He saw the misery of his brothers and sisters, the children of Abraham, the Covenant People. And he knew what God had called him to do, the hard message he had to deliver to these same people: repent from their sins and return to God. Their rejection of his message the eventual exile of Judah ultimately led to his death by the very hands of those he tried to save.
What breaks your heart?
Many of us today simply don’t equate broken hearts with sin. The very word itself, “sin,” seems antiquated, unenlightened, uneducated to the modern ear. And when God asks us as he asked Jeremiah “Why have these people turned away? Why are they always turning away?” (Jeremiah 8:5) we simply … turn away.
What breaks your heart?
The answer to that question isn’t always obvious. So, perhaps we might start with a different question. What breaks God’s heart?
There are many things we might find in scripture to answer this. In my own journey, a few come to mind. This is especially true for those who claim to know God’s heart yet still falter.
- When we don’t turn from our shortcomings. Just like the people in Jeremiah’s day, God’s people today – you and me and those around us – have turned away from God, often refusing to hear Him. Jeremiah’s people, like us, should have known better. They knew, we know, when the path we’re on is wrong. Yet we continue down that path, oblivious to where it leads.
We may confess, we may have a moment of contrite remorse, but when the pain passes, we ignore Jesus’ admonition in John 8:11 to “Go and sin no more.”
- When we don’t live God’s Word. Like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, many professing Christians today talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. We have our Bibles, we may go to Bible studies, we may debate and argue Scripture – but do we live it? Do we spend time the poor? Do we take in orphans? Do we look after widows? If we the only Bible those around us ever see, what does that Bible look like? And yes, I’m writing these words to me.
- When we don’t realize how short the time is. Jeremiah commented “Harvest has passed, summer has ended, but we have not been saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20). A farmer who misses harvest time will starve. He knows how short the time is.
There’s a similar urgency in our lives. According to a recent study there are 2.1 billion people in the world who don’t know Christ. Based on annualized death rates, 16-20 million die every year without hearing the Gospel. This is our harvest, yours and mine. And the harvest season is upon us, this season of Advent, this season of preparation.
- When we self-destruct. In my late 20’s, one of my closest high school friends spiraled out of control, eventually taking his own life. Many of us at the time asked ourselves what we might have done to change our friend’s course, to ease his burden. There was likely nothing we could have done, but the key pain was that we did nothing at all.
God holds this mirror up to us constantly, reminding us that we are surrounded by self-destruction. Where are we in taking the hands of others to help them through their struggles? The addicts, the prisoners, the lost. How often does our heart break for those we see right in front of us?
- When we refuse to let God heal us. Jeremiah cries out in 8:22 “Is there no balm in Gilead?” In Jeremiah’s time Gilead was a place of hope, famous for balm from a local tree resin that cured illness. Jeremiah was equating God’s voice and commandments to a healing cure for our broken lives, a salve for spiritual illness. Yet, the people refused.
How many people have you known who refuse treatment for their own sicknesses? Perhaps a friend whose marriage is in tatters but won’t seek counseling. Or a work colleague who is unable to perform but too prideful to has for help. Or an acquaintance who is spiritually lost but will not follow God?
Prepare by Acting
Advent is about many things including waiting, expectation, hope. And it’s also about recognizing how God has given us this season of preparation to discover where our hearts are not with His, where we’ve hardened ourselves to what breaks God’s heart. When we see people from every walk of life ignoring the warning signs, ignoring how time is running short, refusing to turn back from the wrong paths of their decisions, refusing help … our hearts should also break.
This Advent Season, take a look around. See your neighbors, your loved ones, your adversaries, yourself. Where can you bring hope and preparation and expectation to the broken hearts of others? Where can you bring healing to your own broken heart?