What good is a bruised reed?
MONROE – If you’ve spent time around church planters or revitalizers, you've probably heard the phrase, "It's easier to give birth than raise the dead." It's brief. It's funny. And for the humans among us, it's true.
But thankfully, we serve a God that can do both. In John 3, Jesus famously tells Nicodemus that he "must be born again." A few chapters later in John 11, Jesus walked up to a tomb in Bethany and cried, "Lazarus, come out." So, this begs the question, which is more difficult for God, a birth, or a resurrection?
Matthew, known among the gospels for his use of the Old Testament prophets, includes his largest Old Testament quotation in Matthew 12:18-21 drawing from the book of Isaiah and painting a beautiful picture of the Messiah's work. When describing the ministry of who we now know to be Jesus Christ, the prophet wrote "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench."
What good is a bruised reed? In both Isaiah's Hebrew and Matthew's Greek, the word "bruised" is perhaps a little more severe than our English translations as these words can also mean "crushed" or even "shattered." Isaiah is describing a fragile plant that has been damaged in such a way that, although the outside may be minimally affected, the inside is irreparably destroyed.
Through our human lens, this reed is worthless. It can no longer produce grain or seeds and is only going to be taking nutrients from the soil that could be used by another plant.
But Isaiah describes the Messiah as one who refuses to break the bruised reed. Why? Because Jesus is not only capable of bringing about a new birth, but He can take seemingly worthless items well past their prime and make them fruitful again.
In the throes of ministering to an established congregation, it can be easy to look at certain baggage and wonder if it's not worth stepping away and starting something new. And if God has called you to a new work, go!
But when God calls you to a place with an established culture, He calls you to a work of perseverance. Eugene Peterson coined the phrase "a long obedience in the same direction" to describe how disciples are made.
But how will members of that church learn long obedience if pastors are unwilling to model it? It can be easy to assume that the lack of health is based on one monolithic cause or another, but once you get into the situation, you'll find complexities that show that there is likely much more work than you anticipated on the surface.
Too often, it can be easy to look at churches and individuals who have walked through significant struggles and only see the bruises. And the bruises are there. But we must remember that Jesus, as surely as He is the catalyst of the new birth, can breathe new life into these established churches and help them to thrive again.
If He can mend bruised reeds, He can bring dying churches back to fruitfulness. And if Jesus hasn't given up on broken reeds, neither should we.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nate Click has served as the Senior Pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Monroe, MI, since 2021. He also serves as a member of the Southeastern Baptist Association Leadership Team.