Broken Hallelujahs

"It's not a cry you can hear at night; it's not somebody who's seen the light; it's a cold, and it's a broken hallelujah." (Leonard Cohen)

Hallelujah is a song, a hymn, an exclamation of praise to God. The bigger, the better, right? The more dignified, the better. The stronger, the better. Right?

Yet as I read the Bible, I find it to be the total opposite. The weaker, the better. The harder, the better. The costlier, the better. The more broken, the better. The truth is there's just something about a broken hallelujah, about praise that costs you something.

As much as we don't like talking about brokenness and suffering, we would not be the people we are without it. We would never grow spiritually. And we certainly would not seek God the way we do apart from it. Instead, we would rely on our own strength and abilities instead of His.

David said, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17). Imagine if his "hallelujah" had been spotless and perfect. What if he had never struggled with Saul, Bathsheba, and Absalom? With himself? With God? What kind of hallelujahs would we be reading apart from David's heart-wrenching anguish, humble confessions, and prayerful grief? Would Psalms still be Psalms? 

What if Jeremiah's hallelujah had been concrete and full of certainty? What if he had never opened his mouth? What if he never lamented? Never prophesied? Never wept?

And Hannah? What about her broken hallelujah? It produced a son she so deeply longed for, a son whom God called a prophet, priest, and judge.

Or what about Job? What kind of hallelujah would he have had apart from all of his pain, suffering, and loss? Sounds half crazy, but truthfully, what would the Book of Job read like had he never known such hardship? 

I know we all wanna skip over the bad stuff and go straight to the end where God gives Job double for his trouble, but we'd be overlooking a majorly important time in his life. 

The truth is this whole escapade started when the Father allowed Satan to sift Job. Anything – except taking his life. What kind of spiritual drama was played out through Job? Perhaps Job's terrible tragedy was, in fact, a battle over his personal hallelujah, broken or otherwise. And in that, the Lord knew we would one day need someone to think about in our own suffering, someone who had lived it. Perhaps Job's broken hallelujahs are but an echo of truth for us in twenty-first-century life.

Just suppose Paul never had that fleshly thorn. What kind of apostle would he have been without it? What kind of testimony would he have told apart from it? Would we still have, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in your weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9), to hold onto in our times of difficulty had Paul not learned to boast with a most broken hallelujah?

And Habakkuk? His indignant complaints, his prayers, his fears, and his uncertainties all pushed him toward one resignation: a broken hallelujah full of trust. 

Think of Peter. He was so sure he would never deny Jesus, yet he did exactly that. And when he did, his shiny, sparkly, and glorious hallelujah suddenly changed into something deeply broken, something that God could take and powerfully use as only He can. Say something like building the Church and feeding the sheep.

Just read the Bible, and you'll see that many who walked in the faith before us were full of broken hallelujahs. It was necessary. Because it is in brokenness that we become fluid enough for God to mold and shape us into who He created us to be. It's in brokenness and suffering that character, perseverance, and hope are produced (Romans 5). And it is in brokenness that we come to the end of ourselves and learn to wade out deeper with dependence on Jesus. If you want to know that, you'll have to be broken. It's the only way.

Apart from trials and brokenness, we would never know real joy and victory. Apart from the painful and broken hallelujahs, we would never know true worship and praise. We would never know what it means to partake in the sufferings of Christ, and therefore, never know what it will mean to be overjoyed when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13).

It's when the wind has been knocked out of our sails, and we're hanging on by a thin thread that our hallelujah suddenly changes and transforms into something more real and full of substance. And that's because it has our pain, sweat, and tears burned into it. It's then God can really teach us.

If hallelujah is truly praise to God, and it is, then a broken hallelujah is sacrificial praise to Him. And that moves Him like nothing else can, for He sees what lies behind those anguished, troubled, and fractured words. He hears the heart cries embedded deep within them.

Honestly, anyone can offer a hallelujah when the load is light and the laughter comes easy, but pucker up and belt one out when the storm is raging, and it's as dark as midnight. That, my friend, will cost you something. But, it will also develop something deep within you. It will also draw you to God as never before, even if you go kicking and screaming along the way.

Sometimes the only thing you have to give God is a broken praise, but it matters. In the economy of God, everything matters, including all of the broken hallelujahs. 

Michelle Holderman 
Copyright © 2010

"And even if it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but, 'Hallelujah!'" (Leonard Cohen)

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  1. I will never forget the first time I heard Leonard Cohen sing 'Hallelujah!' I was sitting in a car awaiting the rest of the family to finish the food shopping that I was physically unable to complete. It was late at night, and it had been a long and hard day; I was praying that my pain be hidden from their eyes when they returned, so they would not feel the despair that surely would come.

    The radio begin the broken chords of Hallelujah! I felt the minor lifts and the major chords swell within me, and recognized that the Holy Spirit was touching and healing me with the most secular of songs reaching to the core of my being. I sang Hallelujah, and another and another, until I felt the familiar strength surge through me, restoring my soul to a place of peace with a overwhelming joy of recognizing an answer from my Lord.

    I may have made mistakes in this life. My body may not be the perfect creation He made me to be. "And even if it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but, 'Hallelujah!'

    It was at that moment that I recognized that a true follower of Christ is ALWAYS broken before they come to Him, and once found in His embrace, is unable to say anything worthy of that hug, but Hallelujah!

    Thank you for writing the words that remind us to lift up our Hallelujah's even when they seem broken.

  2. Kathy,

    What a beautiful comment! Thank you for sharing this. We each have a life story to tell and I am always honored when someone shares a part of that with me.

    I, too, have come to realize that we must be broken in order to be true servants of Christ.

    I have always been deeply moved by this song! And I also have my own 'Broken Hallelujahs' to speak of. But what they have produced in me, and in my relationship with Jesus, far outweighs the pain that preceeded them. Like you said, no words are worthy of His embrace, but Hallelujah!

    Glad you stopped by!

  3. As a fellow broken hallelujah-er I am reminded - we have this treasure in jars of clay. Perfection is coming, but in the mean time, brokeness takes me to the Perfect One... and I get a taste. Love what you both said.

  4. Hey Colleen!

    So true what you said! And I love how you said it! I'm always glad when you stop by! Thanks for sharing. Love and blessings to you!

  5. It's so amazing that our paths crosed because of a mutual friend. And here on your page I find the same examples of faith that I hold on to. The stories in the bible that show us God does allow some pain which enables us to grow spiritually. It is so hard leaving with chronic illness and the fuzziness that it causes us when we are trying to see things clearly. But I know if if we persevere, in the end we will have our perfect health....

  6. beautifully written michelle, I look forward to reading your blogs... or even just your posts on FB..... this spoke to my heart greatly.... God Bless you!!! Pamela Bollinger

  7. I tried to post earlier...not sure if it's lurking out there somewhere or not...but

    this is a beautiful post. your writing always speaks to me. i know some of my most precious time with God is when I am broken.

    i think of you often and pray for you daily. much love to you.

  8. Ginny, your words ring so true. Some of my most precious time with God is when I'm broken too. It's a very precious place to be; painful but oh so precious.

    Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers. It always means something to me. Praying you're having some better days. Much love right back to you, my friend.