May 20, 2016 • Life for Leaders
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Two decades ago, the song “From a Distance” streaked to the top of the charts. Bette Midler’s moving version of this song not only sold in the millions, but also won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1991. The lyrics celebrated a peaceful world as seen from far away: “From a distance we all have enough, and no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed.” The chorus introduced God into this idyllic existence: “God is watching us. God is watching us. God is watching us from a distance.”
I liked the sound of this song, but its lyrics never worked for me. Why was it encouraging to know that God was watching us from far away? Wouldn’t it be better if God were close at hand? In fact, wouldn’t it be even better still if God actually entered our world to help bring an end to violence, war, hunger, and suffering?
When we are overwhelmed by grief or despair, we are comforted by the fact that God is not watching us from a distance, but is present with us to join us in our pain and to comfort us.
According to Psalm 34:18, God is not watching us from a distance, at least not when we are hurting. Rather, the psalm affirms: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” But, we might wonder, isn’t God always close at hand? Isn’t God always with us? So why is it necessary to say that God is close to the brokenhearted?
One reason is that when our hearts are broken, when we are weighed down with discouragement and sadness, it can seem as if God is far, far away. I remember times in my life when I wondered if my prayers were simply bouncing off the ceiling, going nowhere beyond my room, heard by nobody else but me. I had no feeling of God’s presence. And, in those times, my life didn’t provide much obvious evidence of his grace. More than ever, I needed the reassurance of Scripture, the promise of God’s presence and care. I needed to know that God was with me even when I didn’t feel him and even when I doubted him.
But God isn’t close to the brokenhearted only in the sense of being nearby. He is also emotionally close to those who hurt. God’s own heart is moved by our suffering. The God whom we know in Jesus is a God who feels our pain even as he also brings comfort. God is close to the brokenhearted in the sense that God’s own heart is open to ours and is broken along with ours. Thus, when we are overwhelmed by grief or despair, we are comforted by the fact that God is not watching us from a distance, but is present with us to join us in our pain and to comfort us.
The fact that God is not just watching from a distance also reminds us that we are to draw near to those who are hurting. In this world, we are the body of Christ. Through our hands, God will feed the hungry and heal the sick. With our arms, God will embrace the suffering. Thus, the fact that God is close to the brokenhearted encourages us to be with those who hurt, opening our hearts to share God’s presence and love with them.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you respond to the truth that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted?
Have there been times in your life when you were hurting and God seemed far away?
Have there been times when God was obviously with you in your suffering?
What helps you to be aware of God’s presence and care?
Gracious God, thank you for being near when our hearts are broken. Thank you for not leaving us alone. Thank you for sharing in our pain and suffering, even as you offer supernatural comfort. Thank you for using your people to communicate your love in times of sorrow and fear.
Today, Lord, I pray for those who are brokenhearted, that they might sense your presence and care. Make yourself known to them. Help them to reach out to you and find that you are there.
Even as you are close to the brokenhearted, may I be also. Help me to be a channel of your peace, mercy, and healing. May I not close my heart out of convenience or fear. Rather, may I share in the suffering of others, so that I might also be a source of comfort.
All praise be to you, O God, because you are close to us when our hearts are broken. You never leave us or forsake us. Amen.
Note: An earlier version of this devotion appeared at The High Calling. It is used with permission under a Creative Commons license.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.