Andrew Hébert

Bold or Broken?

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Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”— Matthew 5:4

On October 19, 1856, Charles Spurgeon was preaching to an overflow crowd of several thousand people at the Surrey Garden Music Hall in London when he experienced perhaps the greatest tragedy of his life. As thousands crowded into the building with thousands more waiting outside, someone shouted that there was a fire and the balconies were collapsing. One of the balconies did indeed collapse, and the crowd started stampeding to get out of the building. In the chaos, several people were trampled, and before it was all over, seven people were killed and twenty-eight injured. The effect of this calamity on Spurgeon’s heart and life was profound. He suffered from depression and carried around a sadness that never left him until he died.

Spurgeon understood mourning. Yet God used this tragedy in Spurgeon’s life and ministry to push him toward Christ. In fact, Spurgeon would later say, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”[1] The waves that bring mourning are hard to bear, but we can learn to kiss the waves if we will see that they push us toward Christ. The second beatitude calls us to a posture we should embrace once we understand the meaning of the first beatitude. When we come to realize our spiritual unworth before God, it should lead us to deep mourning and brokenness over our sin.

Jesus teaches us that those who “mourn” are blessed (Matt. 5:4). This is not Jesus asking his followers to constantly mope about with long faces. Mourning is not moping. No, Christianity is a joyful faith. This mourning comes on the heels of recognizing our spiritual poverty. When we come face-to-face with the reality of our own sin, the result should be a deep mourning over our sin.

The word translated “mourn” in most major Bible translations means to be “grieved,” “sad,” or “broken” over our sin. William Barclay suggests the meaning of verse 4 as follows: “Blessed is the man who is desperately sorry for his own sin and his own unworthiness.”[2] Indeed, Kent Hughes reminds us: “No one is truly a Christian who has not mourned over his or her sins.”[3]

Broken over Our Sin

When I pastored in New Mexico, we lived in a pretty desolate part of the Permian Basin region of southeast New Mexico and West Texas. We had a sweet couple in our church who would invite us over to their home from time to time in the evenings. Their backyard was an oasis in the desert. Mrs. Stone filled her backyard with all kinds of plants and flowers. I still don’t know how she kept them alive in the desert. One of her unique gifts was the ability to craft beautiful pieces of pottery that she would place among the plants in the backyard garden. Her particular way of forming her pottery pieces was to take a piece of pottery, break it into many pieces, and then reshape the pieces into something beautiful.

Like the beautiful mosaic floors in many European cathedrals and bathhouses, Mrs. Stone’s pottery made something beautiful out of that which was broken. God loves working among the broken things of life. Broken lives are ripe for God’s healing hand. “The Lord is near the brokenhearted,” Psalm 34:18 teaches us. I wonder if the reason so many churches are missing a sense of God’s presence is because of the presence of great pride rather than great grief over our sin. How many of us describe our churches as broken over sin? Maybe the reason we don’t sense the nearness of the Lord is because we lack brokenness over our sin.

So often, pastors are ready to (humble)brag about their church’s stats like they are reading the back of a baseball card. We celebrate numbers—how many are in attendance, how large our budget is, or how many people watched our services online. We revel in the big, the bold, and the beautiful. But brokenness? I hardly think most of our churches could be accused of being too grieved over our sin. Maybe that’s because our churches are led by pastors who aren’t broken enough over their own sin. We have many bold pastors—bold in the truth, bold in their preaching, bold about their gifts and abilities. But how many of us could be described as broken? Remember that Paul came to the Corinthian church not in power, but in weakness (1 Cor. 2:3).

Let me confess something. One of the indications I’ve seen in my own life when I’m distant from the Lord is that I have a hard time specifically identifying my sin, other than in pretty generic ways. One indication that we are growing closer to the Lord is that we are more, not less, aware of our sin. How can you tell if you are broken over your sin? First, we should be able to identify specific sins against the Lord.

Second, once it has been identified, rather than minimizing or glossing over that sin, we must name it, confess it, and grieve over it. Only when our sin has been recognized and grieved can we say that we are genuinely broken over it. Our churches will never be broken before the Lord until we have broken pastors who see personal sin as grievous as it really is. Many of our church members would be shocked if they knew their pastor also struggles with sin. That shouldn’t be shocking. Pastors are people too. Pastors aren’t perfect and don’t have it all together. God forbid that we pretend otherwise. We need the posture of the publican who said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” rather than the Pharisee who self-righteously and self-deceptively said, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people” (Luke 18:10–13). There is comfort available for mourners, but there is no comfort without first mourning.

As pastors, we are pretty good about leading the church in vision, in strategy, in exciting new endeavors, but more important than any of those things is that we lead in brokenness over our sin. We should be the first to recognize our sin, the first to confess, and the first to repent. We cannot properly grieve over anyone else’s sin until we have first grieved over our own.


[1] This is commonly attributed to Spurgeon, however it hasn’t been found in any of his published sermons;

[2] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 95.

[3] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), 29.


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Andrew Hébert

Dr. Andrew Hébert is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas.

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