The Fellowship of the Broken Heart

Joining with suffering saints like Elisabeth Elliot:

A decade ago I wrote a piece called “The Fellowship of the Burning Heart”. It referred to several things. One was a group of like-minded believers assembled in 1947 by the famous Bible teacher Dr. Henrietta Mears. Known as the “Fellowship of the Burning Heart,” it was for those willing to die for ‘the Cause of Christ.’ It included Bill Bright, of Campus Crusade for Christ; Richard Halverson, Senate Chaplain; J. Edwin Orr, historian of revival; and evangelist Billy Graham.

It also refers to a phrase A.W. Tozer had used. In one of his writings, he had said this:

I am looking for the fellowship of the burning heart. I claim the Methodist and the Baptist as mine and I claim everybody that loves Jesus Christ as mine; but I am looking for the fellowship of the burning heart. Men and women of all generations and everywhere that love the savior until ‘adoration’ has become the new word and they do not have to be entertained or amused. This Christ was everything. He was their all in all… I am looking for men and women who are lost in worship, those who love God until he is the sweetheart of the soul. billmuehlenberg.com/2011/08/28/the-fellowship-of-the-burning-heart/

Here I want to speak of a similar sort of fellowship – let’s call it ‘The Fellowship of the Broken Heart’. It refers to those rather rare believers who have known suffering in very real and very deep ways. Yet it has not made them bitter but better: it has drawn them closer to Christ and to his amazing love.

The inspiration for this article came from – wait for it! – one of the new books I bought today. I refer to Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn (B&H, 2020). It is the first of a two-part biography of the great missionary, writer and speaker (1926-2015). Those who know nothing about her can see this piece for more details: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/06/16/notable-christians-elisabeth-elliot/

That Elisabeth knew all about suffering – and all about a loving Saviour who walked with her in all that suffering – is quite clear. In one article I mention some of her key books on this, and offer a number of inspiring quotes from them: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/06/30/elizabeth-elliot-on-suffering/

But what really triggered this piece involved what I just read in the moving foreword to Vaughn’s new book. It is written by Joni Eareckson Tada (1949-). She of course also knows all about suffering. She has been a quadriplegic since she was 17 – well over 50 years ago! But her incredible testimony for Christ has blessed millions of people the world over. See more on her here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/11/06/joni-eareckson-tada-on-health-healing-and-heaven/

In her brief foreword she mentions how she and Elliot were both speaking at a conference together and after her talk, Elisabeth asked to meet with her. She says:

I was lying in a hotel bed late at night, paralyzed with crumpled sheets half-covering my useless limbs. It felt strange to welcome my heroine of the faith into the room. As she approached my bed, her Bible pressed to her chest, Elisabeth Elliot’s commanding demeanor softened with a smile. I was twenty-six years old and seasoned by a decade of quadriplegia, but still, I was awestruck….

 

So now, to have a private audience with my role model was an incredible treasure. In that hotel room, we talked of many things, but landed on the shared satisfaction that neither of us felt all that extraordinary. We were simply followers of Christ who had plumbed the depths of His joy by tasting His afflictions. Those afflictions had cut deep gashes in our hearts through which grace and joy had poured in, stretching and filling our souls with an abundance of our Lord.

Wow. These two women had hit it off immediately. They knew each other so well, because of this common bond: they had both suffered immensely, and they both cherished the Lord’s grace and love and joy, despite all the afflictions. So that meant they could instantly share in this club: The Fellowship of the Broken Heart. How could they not?

Image of Becoming Elisabeth Elliot
Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Array Amazon logo

Recently I posted the following on the social media:

A few days ago I left the oncology hospital ward.
Just now I saw again the scene where it is learned that 3 of 4 brothers died in the war, in the film Saving Private Ryan.
Tomorrow my wife goes in to get news on her own medical condition.
Tears flow.
Prayers appreciated.

I also posted Psalm 56:8:”You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Many folks responded to these posts. Many knew, many could understand. Many were also familiar with tears. But not all are in such a place.

Sadly not everyone can join this club – or wants to join. Not everyone gets it. Many would be baffled by it, and have no understanding or experience of it or desire to be a part of it. Let me offer three examples of those who would likely not benefit from it or be interested in it because it would be so very alien to them

Some years ago I met a pastor I knew and I said I was available to preach at his church if he was interested. I mentioned that I had just finished a sermon on ‘Lessons on Suffering from the Book of Job’. His response was to laugh and wonder why any Christian would be interested in that. That took me by surprise. Has he never suffered? Is his congregation free of those who suffer? Hmm, he might not be cut out for the Fellowship of the Broken Heart.

Then there are those believers – often part of the health and wealth teaching – who actually believe that in the Bible there is no suffering spoken of aside from persecution. Thus if you do suffer it is due to sin in your life, or a lack of faith. We are meant to always be prosperous, always be healthy, and always be happy. These folks also would not likely be very interested in something like the Fellowship of the Broken Heart.

Related to this are those who think it is a “negative confession” to even speak of things like suffering, hardship, trials, and carrying our cross. ‘We are overcomers’ they will chirp. ‘We are always in victory, and never to be thinking negative thoughts’ they believe. They actually think that you are a sub-par Christian if you do experience – and talk about – afflictions, hardship and suffering. They too would not be interested in the Fellowship of the Broken Heart.

The truth is, those who have drunken deep from the cup of sorrows, grief, heartache and suffering find an immediate oneness with others who have experienced the same thing. It is not that they are ‘better’ than other Christians, but they have a level or degree of insight and experience and depth to them which others are not privy to – at least not yet.

I have known a bit of suffering over the years, but nothing compared to all the suffering Elisabeth and Joni have gone through. Yet I feel as one with them, and relate to them far more than so many other believers who just want a happy-clappy, problem-free and superficial walk with Jesus. I am not judging them, but I know who I would rather hang around with. I know who would bless me heaps to simply be with, or read about, or be inspired by.

Sorry, but give me one suffering saint who has been drawn into deep, deep fellowship with the Crucified Lord than a hundred who know nothing of such things. I want to be a part of the Fellowship of the Broken Heart. Call me an old melancholic if you will, but I know where I best fit in.

I love Elisabeth and I love Joni. That is why I have so many of their books. I just can’t get enough of their life and witness for the Lord. They can teach me so much, and can lead me to such deep levels of intimacy with our Lord who is known as the Suffering Servant.

Let me conclude with just one quote from each of these super saints:

“God uses suffering to purge sin from our lives, strengthen our commitment to him, force us to depend on grace, bind us together with other believers, produce discernment, foster sensitivity, discipline our minds, spend our time wisely, stretch our hope, cause us to know Christ better, make us long for truth, lead us to repentance of sin, teach us to give thanks in time of sorrow, increase faith, and strengthen character.” Joni Eareckson Tada

“To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss. The great symbol of Christianity means sacrifice and no one who calls himself a Christian can evade this stark fact.” Elisabeth Elliot

Oh, and a proper review of this biography may wait till the second half of it appears.

(Australians can find this book here: www.koorong.com/product/becoming-elisabeth-elliot-ellen-vaughn_9781535910934?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.koorong.com%2Fsearch%2Fresults%3Fw%3DBecoming%2BElisabeth%2BElliot )

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13 Replies to “The Fellowship of the Broken Heart”

  1. Some ‘fortunate’ folks seem to go through life always landing on their feet. However in truth this is not to be envied, for it is suffering that truly draws us close to God . . And where else would we, His children, really want to be?

    Bill, we pray the Lord’s healing hand upon you and Averil. May you and your ministry encourage, challenge and bless the body of Christ for many years to come . . !

  2. I can’t speak for the experience of others but in my own experience, God has taken me through degrees of suffering. At each stage I thought that nothing could ever be worse than the situation I was in at the time, but each situation has been followed by a deeper suffering, with three major circumstances shaping my own experience.
    For the sake of brevity I’ve skipped the first circumstance (which was also the period of longest suffering) and start here with the second. The grief and suffering that parents go through when they have ‘lost’ a child who has not actually died (transitioning because of gender confusion) is an unresolved grief (ambiguous grief) with no closure. This is not something you get used to. The suffering of families experiencing this with a loved one is not recognised as grief, and society punishes you if you admit that you are suffering grief and loss over this. Other bereaved folk have visitors dropping in, bringing around a meal, offering to assist in whatever way they can, but these parents are just told to ‘Get over it.” I have been losing my son now for 6 years – it’s like a tear in the heart that keeps on tearing, a little further each day with no end in sight, because my son is still alive in the commonly understood sense, but dead in another.
    I thought nothing could cause me deeper grief than that experience, but I was wrong. With my inability over 6 years to accept and affirm the changes in my son, he and one of his siblings have recently cut off all contact with me. Letters, texts, phone calls all now go unanswered. While I still have one child who contacts me on special days – Mothers Day, birthdays, Christmas – all of these family celebrations are now days I dread as they approach, and grieve when they are here, waiting for the calls that never come. Tears are always seconds away, every day, no matter where I am.
    I have plumbed the lowest depths I thought possible in recent months. Where I would be without God, I shudder to contemplate. While the years and months have been difficult, I have also known some of the sweetest moments, where God has answered many of the smaller prayers – some not much more than passing thoughts. Yet He chooses to grasp those unuttered thoughts and open his Hands to me.
    Many things have kept me going. God has blessed me with one friend nearby who is living exactly the same experience – an adult child transitioning and also rejection by all of his adult children. We meet fortnightly for mutual encouragement, but rarely discuss our circumstances – instead Christ and his goodness and faithfulness are our theme. I am also fed by reading – scripture of course, but also wider reading that encourages me to keep on keeping on – especially testimonies similar to those of Elisabeth and Joni. This keeps my own circumstances in the proper perspective.
    I see God in His natural revelation in my garden. Taking some time to contemplate the intricacy of nature reminds me of the care He has for me and my family, reminding me that He is well aware of my circumstances and able to shape them into something just as beautiful. Looking upwards to the clouds reminds me of His power and might and His control of everything beyond me and my family, and that there is no need to fear.
    For those who believe that suffering Christians have sinned to bring on their suffering – they don’t need to be told that. Suffering Christians tend to look to themselves first anyway for the cause of their suffering and spend much time searching their hearts for sin that needs rooting out – and if any sin is uncovered, that is a good thing. It is also a possibility that one might find a clear conscience – also a good thing.
    Nor do suffering Christians need to be told they don’t have enough faith – they tell themselves that too when their prayers for the relief of their suffering are not always answered. In my own case, my most frequent prayer is, ‘Lord, increase my faith.’ And that is always a good prayer.

  3. Dear Bill,
    Just a couple of months ago, I finished “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot.” She and Catherine Marshall were two heroines of mine. Later on, I was blessed and inspired by Joni’s life story. At one point in my life I even said I’d rather be mediocre than suffer like they did. That was before I experienced divorce and serious health problems in my child. Now I suffer being estranged from that daughter. I don’t know what I would have done without the fellowship of sufferers.
    God is close and strong.
    —Judith

  4. The Word tells us that after His temptation in the wilderness that angels came and ministered to him. Sometimes in rare moments, it’s as if angels minister to us in times of much loneliness and vulnerability. As our Beloved said there are few who enter the Narrow way. He said ‘ strive’ to enter that narrow way which from the Greek means to agonise. Not legalistic striving of course, but I wonder if it is the deep work of the Cross in our sanctification. After 32 years of chronic physical pain from a car accident, and 61 years of not knowing what a family or a home really is, suicide attempt, homelessness, deep alienation in church culture that feels too shallow to endure….. I’m now overwhelmed by His Grace. Thank you brother Bill for walking the narrow way of the Cross, for the Cross is for dying on, not for wearing or even bearing, but a dying life that we are called into.
    The LORD has a book of remembrance….Malachi 3v16-17 tells us. Those who fear the LORD speak amongst themselves about His name, His character because He alone gas become their greatest treasure above all things and all people. Suffering has like Jacob wrestling at my own River Jabbok caused me to cling with tears to Jesus the Holy One. For I have learned that affliction breaks my old flesh nature, and Grace enables me to embrace weakness as a precious gift and to know in my core that paradox is easy to accept, for only by weakness and brokenness and partaking nf of the fellowship of His sufferings can we come to know Him. I do not say this lightly, I cannot. God says that those who fear Him are His Jewels in the Malachi passage. Jewels are prepared in the depths of the earth in the fiercest heat. And so are His true disciples, prepared, broken, even shattered in the depths of darkness and the fires of affliction. But those jewels know with all their being that ‘ One like the Son of God appears in the fire with them, and they emerge in His way and timing, not burnt with bitterness and the ugly traits of the flesh that try to creep into the soul.
    So much of Western Christianity is of man. When I survey the wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died…. One day we shall meet in the New Earth clothes with immortality, until that day. Marantha, even so come Lord Jesus.

  5. Hi Bill! Thanks for the great article. I too belong to this fellowship. Many, many things have happened to me over my life, from childhood to today. I didn’t know anything about this fellowship until God assigned me to lead a Bible study at a local rescue mission, in the men’s crisis center. It didn’t take long before God was helping me to see and understand their pain through my rear view mirror of my own yesterdays. Because of that the men knew that I was there to help them and not just fill in a time slot. I became friends with several of them. Now I try to minister to people on the internet media sites with what I call The Church of the Broken Hearted and Crushed in Spirit. I realized this was at least a part of my calling when reading Psalm 34 one day where it says “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (V.18)
    That’s when I put it all together. It truly is a fellowship. It can be hard to minister to someone if you don’t “really” understand how they feel. But when you do…they know that they can trust you and will usually put greater trust in God. Thanks again Bill and God Bless. Keep Going! We’re almost there!

  6. Thank you Bill for this special article, in particular referring to Elisabeth Elliot.
    It brought me in remembrance to 43 years ago when I heard a Missionary quote Jim Elliot’s words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This quote led me to accepting Jesus as my Saviour, and have always had a special spot in my heart for Elisabeth and of course Jim and his sacrifice.

    One other quote from Jim Elliot that has had an effect on my life is:
    “He maketh His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God, deliver me from the dread asbestos of other things. Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I might be a flame. Make me thy fuels flame of fire!”

    Bless you Bill and thank you for your continued selfless contribution to enlighten your followers with truth.

  7. I do long for the day I can have true Christian fellowship. I have always felt the outsider very uncomfortable, in the church and in life, because of my differences especially my undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder. People didn’t want to learn about me or who I was I didn’t fit what they thought I should be so I was weird abnormal and excluded. I am empathetic and love working with kids and even in the church because I am a male that is seen as wrong. To be able to express emotion to care for children and get along well with them are NOT seen as male attributes and any males with them are seen as either gay or a molester or both. I know my suffering pales in comparison with others and if I was ask what I have suffered and gave my answer I would be given a nasty look or laughed at but I have suffered no friends from 5th grade on no GF’s being made to feel bad for God given abilities depressed. As much as I would hope the world wide web would not be in the millennial kingdom and beyond it has given me a voice, though offer ignored, and the ability to reach people all over. I may not in heaven be able to say much for what I have done on behalf of the kingdom or all the things I been doing with the gifts he has given but can speak of what he has done for me.

    Still I often feel with all the great saints to hang out with and talk to why would Jesus waste time on me?

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