The Broken and the Contrite
Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Psalm 34:18 The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.
Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.
The Lord is compassionate and understanding beyond our imagination. Psalm 138:6 says, “Though the LORD is on high, yet He regards the lowly.” We can only look in awe at His tender heart toward those that have been beaten down by life and circumstances.
Yet these scriptures make a small distinction between the broken and the contrite. It’s more than possible to be broken and not be contrite. The author has known many a person who has been broken by many different kinds of circumstances—from one’s own bad decisions to devastating events. Some have been broken and contrite (repentant, regretful, remorseful, genuinely sorry), while others have looked the same from a distance, but have just been broken.
According to the scriptures above, the Lord revives the spirit of the humble and the heart of the contrite. He is near to the broken-hearted, but saves those who have a contrite heart. Even the great psalm of repentance—51—calls for a broken heart combined with a contrite spirit to be acceptable to God. While brokenness is noticed by the Lord, it becomes a sacrifice when it’s combined with contrition.
In referring to Himself as the cornerstone in Matthew 21:44, Jesus quotes the prophetic scripture Psalm 118: “…whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” We are to fall onto the Lord in humility and repentance, or He will eventually fall upon us in judgment. This principle is similar to the idea of humbling ourselves before the Lord must force the issue. There are numerous scriptures that speak of the benefits of humbling ourselves. Proverbs 29:1 tells us what happens to those who refuse to: “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
Being broken is not the same as being humble. It certainly isn’t the same as being contrite. To gain His redemptive touch on our lives, brokenness must be combined with humility and a contrite heart. Brokenness can often be a precursor to humility and contrition, but only a soft and teachable heart combines with brokenness to produce conditions for receiving His grace.
Prayer: Lord, when I’ve been broken, please help me to be humble and contrite. I never want to be the example of what happens in Proverbs 19:1. Use me in leading the broken and stubborn to humility and contrition.
Note: Thanks to my wife, Diane DuPre, who first pointed out this scriptural distinction to me.