Tuesday Musings: Brokenness vs Usefulness
We called him “Wild Bill.” Closer to sixty than forty, Dr. Bill Iverson was not your typical seminary professor. A gifted evangelist and an original thinker, Bill was always challenging either what you thought or what you did as a Christian. Bill impacted my life in many ways but the story I tell over and over is one that is really not about him. It’s about his father.
Bill’s father was Dan Iverson, a presbyterian pastor/theologian who is probably best known for the popular chorus, Spirit of the Living God (fall fresh on me).
One night my wife and I had dinner with Bill and his wife, Anne. After dinner, Anne, who now lives in heaven, and my wife, Stephnie, joined Bill and me in the living room. Bill picked up the Scripture and read a chapter from the Old Testament. Then he closed the Bible and said, “Every evening since 1863, the man of the Iverson household has read the Scripture after dinner.”
My memory may be inaccurate. The year might have been 1845 or 1865, but the impression was that the Iverson’s had a great depth to their heritage as a family in the larger family of God. I asked Bill to tell me about his father and that’s when he told me the story about, Spirit of the Living God.
As you know, the chorus is very simple. It appears in almost any standard hymnal and chorus book printed today.
Spirit of the living God,
fall fresh on me. (2x)
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
fall fresh on me.
But the son of the author told me the original wording was different. The middle line was not “melt, mold, fill, use” but “break, melt, mold, fill.”
“You see,” Dr. Iverson said, “If you are broken, you don’t have to ask to be used. God delights to use broken people. That’s the only way to be filled and it’s the only way to become useable.”
I have often reflected on how that subtle word change took root in the singing of the people of God.
Perhaps it was as innocent and simple as a faulty memory. That’s easy to understand. Someone hears a chorus at camp or while visiting another church, likes it, takes it back to their youth group or their home church but doesn’t quite remember the exact words. Within no time it catches on and becomes a standard with its new wording. Those kinds of things happen.
My own suspicion, however, is that the word change was deliberate. I have no proof. I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. But I know that the human heart hates the idea of brokenness. Yet God, who is altogether different—we call Him “Holy”—loves brokenness. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
On the other hand, almost everyone wants to be “significant” in some way. I’m a pastor and I struggle with that drive all the time. I want to preach sermons that will enthrall and enliven and motivate people to live for God with a reckless abandonment to His will. I want my church to be a beacon of light in the community and I want students to delight in the classes I teach at the seminary. I covet the title “useful to God.” Unfortunately, I don’t always covet the process that yields usefulness—brokenness.
I think Bill’s father got it right. Whether God uses us is up to Him. He does not desire our usefulness. After all, He is more than capable of making the stones cry out. God desires our brokenness. It is a crushed and broken heart that He will not despise (Psalm 51:17). And it is the broken spirit that He delights to use.
“Oh God, break my spirit with the things that break Yours,
that I might bring delight to Your heart and joy to others.”
© 1996, 2018 by Marty Schoenleber, Jr.
See also: One of My Mentors Planting a Church at the Age of 83.
7 thoughts on “Spirit of the Living God, Break Me in Pieces”
Great reflections Marty! I think there are a number of great stories out there like yours that could be shared. As I travel around I always meet someone new that Bill has met, and as you know when Bill gets to know someone he has a lasting impact on their life and ministry.
Take care, my friend
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Marty, thanks for this. I love having our choir sing this a capella as a call to worship. So as I prepared to bring it back out for the new year, I looked for a devotion to use in choir rehearsal. What a wonderful story. And I’m so glad you pointed out the difference in the lyrics, because the old way is how I learned it and it was that way up to the 1991 Baptist Hymnal. But as I look at the song sheet from the 2009 hymnal, I find they indeed made the change. So I’m pretty sure it was intentional. Our choir will be singing the original words!
God bless you.
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That’s fantastic. For years wherever I have preached and heard the song sung, I would tell the story of its original wording to worship leaders in the hope that your response would be the exact effect. You have blessed me. I hope that God breaks, melts, molds and fills the men and women in your church with himself and uses them to change their world.
Great story. Btw in the congregation where I attend in the Philippines sings: break me, melt me, mold me, fill me 🙂
Wonderful. May God bless all its worship and draw the congregation to greater joy in him.
Thank you for sharing this story. I remembered it last night praying for a friend who has a brokenhearted and crushed spirit. I’ve always preferred the “break me, melt me, mold me, fill me” line because that’s where I find myself being conformed into the image of my Savior; it’s a painful process, and I’m not always a “happy camper,” but the benefits are life-changing.
It is a wonderfully dangerous prayer / chorus to pray. Have a great day sister.