The human spirit can endure a sick body,
but who can bear a crushed spirit?
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
(Proverbs 18:14 and 17:22, New Living Translation)
Many of you reading this know that I have an ongoing struggle with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I received those diagnoses years ago from a trusted and helpful Biblical counselor, confirming I’ve been struggling with them most of my life. I am grateful for a small circle of close and loving friends who support me, and help me press forward through the good and bad days.
The reason I share that with you is because a proverb like this strikes a very sensitive nerve, for I have lived and thought about its truth often over the past few years. You see, Solomon first describes the power and endurance of the human spirit. History is filled with inspiring stories of mankind’s natural courage and indomitable spirit that bears up under great evils, pain, need, poverty, and sickness. A person’s spirit can sustain him or her through countless trials. For this we can be thankful to God.
But what happens when it is not the body, but the spirit, that is crushed? I think it was Charles Spurgeon, who suffered from travails of the spirit (like depression and anxiety) who said something along the lines of—“A man’s body may be killed only once, but his spirit can endure a thousand deaths.”
Maybe you are reading this right now, and are experiencing in some degree a kind of crushing of the spirit. You wish someone knew, for unlike a physical malady which may be seen and quickly medically treated, no one sees this suffering, you feel isolated and alone. And at the same time, you don’t want anyone to know, because it is painful to talk about, and hard to explain, for the crushing seems unreasonable, it makes no sense, it is merely this pervasive sadness and grief that will not flee as your spirit endures a thousand deaths.
So what do we do when crushed in spirit, when griefs gain the victory and become intolerable?
I confess I have hesitated to address this verse, because the issues it raises are complicated, complex, and far beyond what one little post can do to alleviate them. But speaking from experience, I can at least tell you this: part of the solution is to never waver from turning to Christ. As I meditated on this passage, I read this from Charles Bridges (1794-1869),
This crushed spirit can be the Christian’s first seal of mercy….We ask now not, who can bear, but who can heal? Well did Luther say, and there is no better judge on such matters, “It is as easy to make a world as to ease a troubled conscience.” Both are creation-work, requiring the almightiness of God. To him…we must return for healing. His remedy is the sight of himself wounded for us. And that sight, so healing, so reviving—how it quickens the soul and animates faith, ending in a song of everlasting praise!
In these days of neglect of Christian teaching, when remedies other than the Gospel are applied to the crushed spirit, it is worth putting on record the way of healing in the British church back as far as the time of the Conquest, which, it will be seen, was not the baptism of tears, private confession, penance, or man’s deeds, but the simple view of the great sacrifice as the one object of faith.
In the form of a prayer for the Visitation of the Sick in the time of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1080, the sick person was asked,
“Dost thou believe to come to glory, not by thine own merits, but by the virtue and merit of the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ? Dost thou believe that our Lord Jesus Christ did die for our salvation, and that none can be saved by his own merits, or by any other means than by the merits of his passion?”
The sick person answered,
“All this I believe.”
Then the sick person was given the following instruction and comfort, as by a true physician of souls:
“Give thou therefore as long as thy soul remaineth in this place, thy whole confidence in Christ’s death only. Have confidence in no other thing. Commit thyself wholly to this death, with this alone comfort thyself.
If he say, ‘Thou deservest hell,’
say, ‘I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ betwixt me and this judgment, and no otherwise do I contend with thee.’
And if he say to thee, ‘Thou art a sinner,’
say, ‘Lord, I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and my sins.’
If he say to thee, ‘Thou hast deserved damnation,’
say, ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and my bad merits; and I offer his merits instead of my merits.’
If he say, he is angry with thee,
say, ‘Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thine anger.’ ”
This is indeed the sovereign treatment for a case aggravated by the application of any other remedy of man’s devising.
Do you see? Bridges is encouraging the crushed in spirit that all our healing begins with the good news of Jesus. This is the source of a power. This is the balm to our soul.
Yes, we—the crushed in spirit—must open up to our pastor, who may shepherd us;
yes, we must open up to healthy, trusted, safe family members, who love us;
yes, we should share our burden with close friends who are walking life’s journey with us;
and yes, we must seek the help of trained, wise, and Godly Biblical counselors who are used by God to restore us to mental and spirit health.
But do not ignore the beginning place for the healing of crushed spirits. It is to Christ our King we must turn. “To him…we must return for healing. His remedy is the sight of himself wounded for us. And that sight, so healing, so reviving—how it quickens the soul and animates faith, ending in a song of everlasting praise!”
I come before you today on behalf of this dear reader who is struggling with some level of broken or crushed spirit. O dear Father, may they feel the strengthening presence of the Spirit of Christ, may they know that you will never leave them or forsake them, that even though they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with them, your rod and your staff will comfort them, the time will come when the clouds will break and the darkness flee and the day will dawn with them finding themselves in sunlit pastures besides still waters where you have restored their spirits. May they know the truth that even now, even today, you are pursuing them with goodness and mercy. Save the crushed in spirit today.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name.
Pursuing the wise and good life with you,
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: Grace Day
Aug. 20: ch. 6
Aug. 21: ch. 7
Aug. 22: ch. 8
Aug. 23: ch. 9
Aug. 24: ch. 10
Aug. 25: ch. 11
Aug. 26: Grace Day
Aug. 27: ch. 12
Aug. 28: ch. 13
Aug. 29: ch. 14
Aug. 30: ch. 15
Aug. 31: ch. 16
Sept. 1: ch. 17
Sept. 2: Grace Day
Sept. 3: ch. 18
Sept. 4: ch. 19
Sept. 5: ch. 20
Sept. 6: ch. 21
Sept. 7: ch. 22
Sept. 8: ch. 23
Sept. 9: Grace Day
Sept. 10: ch. 24
Sept. 11: ch. 25
Sept. 12: ch. 26
Sept. 13: ch. 27
Sept. 14: ch. 28
Sept. 15: ch. 29
Sept. 16: Grace Day
Sept. 17: ch. 30
Sept. 18: ch. 31