I’m sitting in a sanctuary of around 1500 people this Sunday morning. But I feel completely alone.
We had just been through a whirlwind of death and then disappointment the previous year. Now we were in-between where we had been and where we were going. And we had no idea where that was.
This was the first time I remembered worshiping in a church where I was not on staff. I had been a church pastor for almost 30 years and now suddenly I was on the other side of the pulpit. The church I was attending now had a wise, insightful pastor and a spirit-led worship team. They were so functional, there wasn’t one gift I had that they needed.
That was okay, because I had nothing left to give.
I was done.
That year we’d been through two deaths in the family and a series of frustrating ministry experiences. I stepped away from pastoring my church, resigning with the intent of helping our extended family cope with those deaths. It was a noble enough goal, only I soon discovered I wasn’t up for it.
You can’t help others when you’ve got nothing left to help with.
We moved here to this new place also hoping to find a place of ministry, a new church home I could pastor. But the prospects I set my hopes on dried up within just a few months of our arrival. I could write all the details here of what happened to bring me to this place, but none of them really matter. What matters is finding yourself completely displaced and useless. That hollow, punch-drunk feeling where you’ve been so beaten up you’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other every morning.
I was numb and completely spent. I didn’t have the strength spiritually to risk hoping again, if that makes any sense.
I’m not detailing this to wallow in self-pity. I’m just wondering if maybe someone reading this now can remember ever feeling this way. Or maybe you feel that way right now…
So I sat in my seat on the second row, left-hand side of a wonderful megachurch. They had no idea I was a broken pastor sitting in their congregation. I was waiting for God to speak to me, to heal me. Whatever, but just do something with me.
While I was there, the worship team sang words I held onto for dear life. Words that said God is a way-maker, a miracle worker. That even when I couldn’t see him, he was still working for my good. The pastor’s messages were like therapy sessions, speaking directly to my struggles. The words they used were nothing new to me, but it was as if God was now speaking them all directly to me.
If there was anyone in the Bible I related to then, it was Mephibosheth. You can find him in 2 Samuel chapter 9, but don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him. He was one of King Saul’s grandkids, the son of Jonathan (King David’s friend) and directly in line for the throne of Israel. But when his grandfather’s kingdom fell, as the royal family fled he was gathered up by his nurse.
In the chaos, the young boy was dropped. Both his legs were crushed, and he entered his exile crippled for life.
Sitting in that massive sanctuary, Mephibosheth was a perfect picture of how I saw myself. I had wanted to do great things for God. I was willing to take huge risks and push myself to achieve and produce continually. All my life people had told me my gifts destined me to do something significant for God. Just as the voices around him probably made Mephibosheth feel he was on the fast track to the top, so did I.
But then, someone dropped me. At least, that’s what it felt like. Friends I trusted abandoned me. My gifts seemed suddenly powerless to face the challenges in front of me. Things that used to be easy for me were now hard. Nothing worked anymore. As I sat listening to the great preaching and worship each Sunday, I watched others excel at what I used to do. In my prayers to God, I was now noticing a tinge of resentment.
I struggled with the thought it was actually God who had dropped me.
When you’re lame, you don’t see yourself as a threat. But even in a broken condition, a potential king is seen as a challenge by others. It was the same with Mephibosheth. As someone of royal lineage, even a lame heir might be a threat to a rival king. So the boy’s nurse took him far away to hide.
I love the name of the place they hid him away: LO DEBAR.
That name meant “land of nothing.” That’s exactly where I felt God was hiding me away after I’d been dropped. Lo Debar was my seat in the second row, left side.
One Sunday in my chair, I asked God why he was trying to break me so thoroughly. Had I done something to make him banish me from ministry? If so, please just tell me what it is so I can repent of it. Don’t leave me in the dark. Suffering is hard enough without knowing why you suffer. The “why” at least gives the suffering purpose.
My answer came one Sunday when we were observing Communion. God reminded me of the significance of Jesus breaking the bread. Breaking means tearing, ripping it apart. That was exactly what God was doing to me.
When Jesus fed the 5000, He blessed that bread also and broke it. The breaking was part of his miraculous process. I suppose he could have just made several thousand loaves of bread appear out of thin air. Instead, he took what was there and multiplied it by breaking it.
*Note to self: If you want to be used by God, if you want to nourish others, prepare to be broken.
In Westerns, I always heard about “breaking a horse” but never really understood what was happening. It always seemed like some burly cowboy wrestling a poor horse into submission. But that’s not how it works. Breaking is simply training the horse to be under the control of the rider.
The breaking process can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days or more. An unbroken horse must be trained to accept a saddle and bridle. He must be taught not to resist the weight of the rider on his back. The horse is taught one habit at a time, each subsequent habit building on the last one. The horse learns to incrementally give up his own control until he is finally completely under the rider’s control.
Though I’ve been told I eat like a horse, I never expected God to treat me like one. But it seems that’s exactly what he had been doing.
Just like the horse’s strength, my gifts in preaching, music, or writing were all good things but not what I was supposed to rely upon. God wanted them all working to bring him glory, but he wanted to me to depend only on him. God was tired of watching me “make things happen” without him. Instead, he wanted to make changes in his own time and his own way.
Like a good trainer, he resisted my bucking and running off in my own direction. Like a good host, he broke me into pieces so there would be more of me to go around. And like Mephibosheth, God had crippled me so I couldn’t put my weight on what I depended on before. Now I was forced to lean on him.
When what you relied on won’t hold you up anymore, inevitably you have to put your weight on something or someone else. But few of us do that on our own. Instead, God has to break our legs so we won’t run off in our own unguided strength and plunge over the mountain cliff.
A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” It is in our very breaking that the blessing is found. No breaking, no miracles. Until you’re broken, you will run off in your own direction. You’ll work in your own power, not the Spirit’s. So every result you get will be only what your own strength can accomplish, and not a work empowered by God’s Spirit.
What a blessing it truly is to be broken by the Master!
So what happened to Mephibosheth? Wouldn’t you know it, the next king did track him down to his hideout in Lo Debar. But not to kill him, but to bless him!
“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
So King David, who not coincidentally had Jesus as a descendant, decided he wanted to bless the offspring of his old friend Jonathan. Mephibosheth was brought back to the palace for which he was originally destined. All his rights and privileges were restored to him, and now he even ate at the King’s table.
There’s something truly beautiful known only by the broken among us who sit at the King’s table. You see, sitting there we are all royal family members. Both the strong and the weak are seated at the same height. No one’s looking under the table.
When you’re seated at the King’s table, no one can tell how crippled you are!
I thank God for that season of brokenness and for the wounds I still carry from it. It was painful, and I’d be lying if I said I’d fully recovered from it. Honestly, I’ll never quite be able to walk the same again.
But the good thing about not being able to walk without help is Jesus will make sure you never walk alone.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.