I realize that for most bloggers, the first blog post of the year is suppose to be the traditional look ahead to 2015, setting goals, resolutions, etc. In addition, it should have been posted on January 1st!! However, I still haven’t even sent out my Christmas Letter!!
While I am currently working on our family’s end of the year letter, (which may not come out until next year), I have really felt led to begin the year with God’s testimony of how He works through His children. What you are about to read is the testimony of one of His children that was shared at the Queen’s Feast held on January 8th at our church. It is a testimony of one of His children hurting and in pain and how He takes her through the valley and reveals His love and hope to her. It should take just under 15 minutes to read the whole thing. There are no pictures or fancy fonts, just the beautiful words on the screen giving testimony to a God who never leaves us or forsakes us. A God who brings dead things back to life and uses them to bring greater testimony to His power.
“The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them. There were a great many of them on the surface of the valley, and they were very dry. 3Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I replied, “Lord God, only You know.” Ezekiel 37:1-3
As the Lord took Ezekiel and placed him in the middle of a valley of dry bones, I would like to take you on a journey and set you down in the middle of my own life tonight. Last year I stood here and encouraged all of us to let it be the year of Christ in our lives. I encouraged us to immerse ourselves in the word of God and allow it to deeply penetrate so much that Christ would be all that was in us. I challenged us to ask ourselves the question, “What is one area I saw Christ in my life today?” Yet by the end of March, I did not feel like my life had any of Christ in it. The surface of my life was nothing but dry bones and the only thing echoing out of those bones was:
“It isn’t worth it.”
“I’m tired of hearing the same thing,
expecting different results only to be disappointed again.”
I felt like leaving everything. God, my husband, my family, everything. It’s not that I had anywhere to go or that I wanted to leave, there was just nothing left in me to give and my bones had been licked dry.
4He said to me, “Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” Ezekiel 37:4
But, it was in that valley that some friends were led by God to pray for my family and me. They refused to allow Satan to take out another believer even despite resistance from me. It is at that point my bones began to slowly move.
5This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. 6I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” Ezekiel 37:5-6
Through the prayers of friends, the words of a couple who knew all to well where we were at and were we had been, and the work of the Holy Spirit, God told me that I would live again and that I could come to life. He also showed me that the main barrier to living again was that I did not trust Him. I really wanted to know what the outcome was going to be and I wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this time around it would be different. Could God really promise me that? The reality was that if I could not trust Him in the beginning then I would never be able to trust Him in the future because I wanted to be in control. Os Guinness in a book titled Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering states it this way ever so clearly:
“If we don’t know why we trust God in the beginning, then we will always need to know exactly what God is doing in order to trust him. Failing to grasp that, we may not be able to continue trusting him, for anything we do not understand may count decisively against what we are able to trust.
If on the other hand, we do know why we trust God, we will be able to trust him in situations where we do not understand what he is doing.” (38)
So I asked God half-heartedly to help me to trust again; to help me to breathe again even in the midst of numbness and hopelessness.
7So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” 10So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army.” Ezekiel 37:7-10
The process of releasing control to God is not easy. It is slow, noisy, and the rattling sound will drive you crazy as the bones begin to come together because of course they couldn’t just be laying next to each other. Noooo. They have to be so scattered that it takes forever for them to find their way back. They are scattered everywhere. However, after the pain of the bones finding their way to one another, the tendons appear, flesh grows on them and skin covers the once dry bones. Over the last nine months I have slowly begun to trust God a little bit more and in so doing have begun to trust in my deepest relationships. But even as I cautiously took a breath here and there, I would hold it and wait to see what was going to happen around me. Were things going to change?
11Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’” Ezekiel 37:11
As I held my breath and looked around, I realized that I was not the only one holding my breath. Everyone is dried up. We have lost our hope and we are alone. So God what is the answer? Here I was trying to see it. Waiting to see the change I wanted to see, but it was not coming. Sure, my slain body is walking around now and God has even begun to allow me to pray and pray breath into some of the dry bones around me, but there was still something missing. I was not fully breathing. I was still waiting to see the dry bones most dearest to me walk and talk the way I felt I needed them to. So I held my breath again, and guess what, they didn’t. And when they didn’t respond the way I thought they would, the same flood of emotions that overwhelmed my spirit earlier in the year came flooding back into my mind.
“It isn’t worth it.”
“I’m tired of hearing the same thing, expecting different results only to be disappointed again.”
Words I had begun to believe I would never here the sound rattling out of my bones were echoing again; coming out with more rage and anger than my physical body could contain.
My greatest fear coming into tonight was that I really felt like I needed to be able to tell you that if you pray for your husband or future spouse, your job, your children, grandchildren, or any other worldly thing that may appear dead to you then great things are going to happen and God is going to do exactly what you pray. But how could I tell you that when I wasn’t seeing it in my own life.
God had already given me part of the answer in this passage as we read how Ezekiel carried out the command God had given him. As Ezekiel began to prophesy and the bones began to move, he stopped. God had to tell Ezekiel to continue with the prophesy He had given to him. It was only then that the bones became alive. So we can’t stop praying after our bones and the bones around us begin to rattle. It will hurt, but we have to pray on.
That part, as hard as it is to move through, was easy compared to the breath part. You see, while it is hard for the bones to be put back together, it is even harder to watch the bones get life and then do some of the same things they did when they were dead!! It was this reality that began to play out in my own life. My trust in God went only as far as if the bones were going to talk, walk, and dress the way I wanted them too. When that didn’t happen hopelessness began slowly creeping back into my bones, because I knew I could not leave, but I still felt like I had no place to go. I definitely couldn’t tell anyone that if they continued to pray over the dry bones in their life that everything would eventually get better because it hadn’t. I felt helpless because I knew I couldn’t tell you to leave your family. I can’t tell you leave your job. I can’t tell you it’s just a stage your child is going through as disaster strikes over and over again in their life. I can’t tell you that your brothers and sisters are not going to fight with you again. I can’t tell you that your children or spouse or friend will be okay if they go overseas on a mission trip. I can’t tell you that the pain of losing a loved one will ever go away.
It was tearing at my soul and that is where I found myself crying desperately for an answer to be able to give to you as well to have one for myself. Through the all to well-known numbness and hopelessness that came to rest upon my bones once again, I cried out to God. And even though the first two days of this year’s journal pages are probably unreadable for the human eyes, God is so good and so big that He, in His absolute love for me, gently met me Friday night in my bedroom to bring me face to face with the one and only answer He was going to give to me as well as allow me to give to you.
I didn’t really want to read my bible so as I looked around the multitude of books that are in every nook and cranny of my house, especially my bedroom. I asked God to tell me what He wanted me to read. I picked up a book given to me by a dear friend a couple of months ago and opened it to where I had left off. Are you ready for this?…
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Hope? Really? I continued on.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried from the cross (Matthew 7:46). [The author states:] Jesus understands how we feel. Even He, the Son of God, asked “Why?” of His Father during a dark hour of His own life.” (Swindall, 39)
There I was in a dark hour of my own life, and while it was nowhere near the place Jesus was, I was comforted by God to know that Jesus knows every bit of pain and hurt and disappointment I was experiencing. I kept reading.
“…biblical hope is wrapped up and discovered in the person of Jesus. It is not merely a feeling but a tangible substance we can obtain only through the Lord. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:5 (Swindall, 41)
Did you hear that? Hope does not disappoint us. Bones may disappoint us by not walking and talking or dressing the way we want them to, but Hope never does!! Hebrews 6:17-20 states:
“Because God wanted to show His unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, He guaranteed it with an oath, 18so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. 19We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. 20Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
Wow! How comforting those words were as I read them. God cannot lie. We can strive for hope and that hope that is set before us is Jesus Christ, the anchor of our lives. We are safe and secure in Him. The author went on to say…
“Our hope is in Him, through Him, because of Him. If your hope has been wrapped up in a relationship, in your career, in your future, in finding a spouse, in finding success, or in anything the world offers, then your hope anchor has been dropped into the wrong ocean.” (Swindall, 41)
When we discover our dry bones walking and breathing and not doing the things we want, then our hope anchor has been dropped into the wrong ocean. Our anchor must remain in Christ Jesus as we pray on through the noise, rattling, and breath that comes into the bones around us as well as our own.
So the second part of the answer of how to deal with bones when they begin to walk, talk and dress opposite of what we want to see is to grab hold of the anchor of hope in Christ Jesus alone. Not in the hope that some day these bones will behave or do what we want them to do. No. Instead, we have to choose to take hold of the anchor of hope in Christ Jesus to bring glory and honor to God the Father in however He chooses to allow the bones to move and breathe. When this happens we realize that now we are truly breathing without holding our breath.
12Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord God says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. 13You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” This is the declaration of the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:12-14
So here we are…a bunch of dry bones. And yet, the graves are going to open. God is going to bring His people up from them!!! We will know that He is Yahweh!! He will put His Spirit in us and we will live!! God has spoken and He will do it!!
We must continue to pray life into our own bones and those around us.
We must seize the anchor of hope in Christ Jesus alone to do what He says He is going to do.
And when the bones come to life and stand to their feet as a vast army, we, our family, our church, our community, and the world will know Yahweh, the Great I Am and the power of the blood of Christ Jesus His Son who has already entered the inner sanctuary on our behalf as our hope and anchor.
As we move into our prayer time, I want to ask that we take a moment to individually go before God and ask Him to help you to learn how to live again. Ask Him to help you to learn how to trust Him even with the small bones of your life. Let Him breathe into you.
While, God can and sometimes does meet your needs by Himself, He often uses other people to help breathe for you when you can’t seem to find your breath or when you get the wind knocked out of you by one of those bones not behaving the way you wanted it to. We need those other dry bones scattered around us to help us stand to our feet as that vast army.
So I want you to take just a few minutes with the person next to you and ask them to pray for you by name. If you don’t know their name, then find it out and then pray for them. You don’t have to know details about their life right now, but you do already know the truth as Ezekiel pointed…the church are those dried bones lying alone and without hope. Pray for breath to be in their bones, for hope to return to them, and for their aloneness to be taken from them through the power of standing with the vast army created from the graves God is opening tonight. For God has spoken and He will do it!!
My last post probably didn’t seem to be an encouragement for most people. In fact, it is always interesting to see which posts people actually “like.” It always seems to be those that appeal to the more “easier” side of a Christians walk than the “harder” side. Dealing with our hard hearts is not fun. Being reminded of our sinfulness is typically not what Christian’s focus on during this season of joy, laughter, friends, and fellowship as they place baby Jesus in the manger. However, the journey God has me on does not leave me in a spirit of depression over my hard heart, but one that leads to so much more. Alex Aronis in his book Developing Intimacy with God gives this insight when we are dealing with our sin:
“…God reveals to us our sinful tendencies so that he can reform our lives. He does this by brining us under conviction, leading us to repentance, forgiving us, giving us a sense of freedom and joy along with sadness, and giving us the courage and strength to change.
Do not make the mistake of attacking yourself for your weaknesses or failings. That is not helpful. Seek conviction without condemnation. Godly sorrow is good, but not feelings of worthlessness, or obsessive thoughts about sin. God loves us in spite of our sin.” (Alex B. Aronis in Developing Intimacy with God, 34)
As I mentioned at the end of Avalance Part 1, there is something only forgiven sinners can experience. When one seeks to truly deal with one’s hard heart and the sin within, it is then that the forgiven sinner is able to experience..
The problem is that as believers, we tend to buy into the fact that since Jesus died for all our sins and we have already accepted His forgiveness at the point of our salvation we no longer need to ask Him to forgive us. Remember what Ronnie Floyd said in his book How to Pray?
“Repentance does not end at salvation. Repentance begins at salvation.”
What this means as a believer is that we don’t take for granted the eternal salvation we have with the Lord. We should not be satisfied with just fire insurance. We should not keep on sinning so that grace can abound (Romans 6:1). Rather we should seek to draw closer and deeper into the presence of God. This can only happen when we are willing to have our hearts broken and softened by Him. Through this process we find the chains and bondage of sin broken and releasing us to experience the freedom that God gives to us so graciously.
It is such an overwhelming experience that we come to the place of never wanting to leave for fear of having the chains that held us clamp back down on our hearts. Satan uses this tactic to immediately place us back in bondage to the sin that entangled us to begin with. When in reality we are free and God encourages us to not submit again to the chains but to walk with an attitude of love for what has been given to us and to share that with others. It has taken over a year to come to the point of being able to read the following verses and truly comprehend and receive them as the gift God intended for me to receive.
“Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery…
You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from the One who called you. A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty…
For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.” Galatians 5:1, 7-10, 13-15
Do you see it?
Christ liberated us to be free.
We are called to be free.
We are to have confidence in the Lord and not accept any other view.
We are to use the freedom to serve others through love.
Alex B. Aronis has an excellent definition for what freedom means as we meditate on Christ’s work in liberating us to be free.
“Freedom means that you are liberated from dependence on and obligations to false gods that drive you toward an ever-increasing appetite for greed, praise, and power.”
(Alex B. Aronis in Developing Intimacy with God, 32)
It takes awhile for the snow to settle after an avalanche and there is no guarantee it won’t build up again, but if we continue to seek daily repentance from God, we can prevent the snow from building up as it melts under the light of God’s grace and mercy. We no longer have to be chained to the false gods, but can have true freedom to move about and walk in His Spirit to do His work through love.
As the 2014 year is wrapping up, I find myself exclaiming the same statement so many of us do every year at this time, “Where has the year gone?” While I am in agreement with you that it has flown by and it seems to go faster each year I get older, God brought to my mind this past week how the year started for me in my spiritual journey. If you want to reminisce with me you can go here: The Year of Christ. As I reread what God had laid on my heart an overwhelming spirit of conviction, sorrow, joy, and an immeasurable amount of gratitude overcame me. I did not know at all what the year was going to unfold for me last January, but what did unfold was nothing that I could have ever imagined or expected. If you had seen the inside of my life in the earlier months of this year, you would have thought my life was anything but Christ. However, through His mercies, His unfailing love, and friends who were unwilling to allow Satan to take captive another of Christ’s children, the year of Christ in my life can be described as this:
“Too often utter devastation must occur in a woman’s life before she turns to the Lord. Only after a locust plague had ravaged God’s people and judgment was looming did they turn and repent. Being humble enough to have God search your heart daily for sin will help you avoid seeking God’s forgiveness only as a last resort. But, while you fall short, He does not. The Lord’s faithful love, patience, and grace are painted throughout Joel and point to the salvation available in Christ. Paul quotes Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:13. Only in Jesus Christ can salvation and forgiveness be found.” (Joel Written on My Heart from the Women’s HCSB, 1160)
I have never personally seen nor experienced an avalanche. In fact, the only time I have really been around snow is the one time I went snow skiing over 20 years ago!! However, I have seen an avalanche on TV and if it is anything like it looks then an avalanche is how I must describe the Year of Christ in my life for 2014.
Why do I say this? As snow builds up on the mountaintops it eventually gets so heavy that the weight of it can no longer be held up by what is underneath it. This is what was happening to me. My sin had been building up and I was managing it myself. Just recently I was reading through the book How to Pray by Ronnie Floyd. The following described what had been happening in my life earlier in the year.
“Repentance does not end at salvation; repentance begins at salvation.
When you ignore the conviction of the Holy Spirit toward the sin in your life, you will develop a hard heart…
Most of the Christians I have met across America seem to be more interested in learning how to manage their sin effectively than they are in learning how to overcome their sin victoriously. Most Christians just want to make sure they do not get caught in their sin. They want to make sure that they can enjoy their sin and not have to pay too heavy a price for it. Therefore, their goal is to manage their sin, not to overcome it…Your goal as a growing Christian should be to overcome your sin, not just manage it more effectively.” (Ronnie Floyd in How to Pray, 193-194)
But one can only manage their sin so long before the avalanche begins. And once it begins it does not stop quickly. The last three months I have found in my possession five books and to my surprise and my delight I have been able to quickly move through them some how in the midst of all the busyness of finishing up the school semester. It was through God’s Word and the inspiration of these five books that God has revealed my hard heart and His desire to show me how much He loves me. As the avalanche began, I could no longer ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit to deal with the hardness of my heart. God’s timing drew me back to a book I had completed over 1 ½ years ago. This was the reminder:
“However, the more sensitive one is to God’s Word in his life, the more easily small violations of His Word can plague his life with a sense of guilt, and the more temptation there is for him to ignore or pay no attention to tiny attitudes or minor violations of his conscience, which has been honed to a sharp edge by the Word of God and the presence of His Holy Spirit…As one grows in Christ, though he sins less and less, he is more and more sensitive to sin. He sees the sinfulness of sin more and more—even very small sins of attitude, work, or deed—and his love for his Lord grows because he realizes how much more greatly he has been forgiven than he thought he’d been forgiven.” (Rich Thomson in Love the Answer, 58-59)
So here I am in the middle of the avalanche, dealing with hidden sin in my heart. In addition, a huge burden for those around me to also be released from the weight of their sin is stirring inside. Join me today in seeking God to reveal the sin in our hard hearts; repenting and asking forgiveness from Him as well as from the one(s) we have sinned against if possible. I look forward to sharing how the Year of Christ is ending for me (or maybe we should say, just beginning!!)
We don’t have to stay in the position of being burdened by our sin or trying to manage it.
Once it begins to topple there is something only forgiven sinners can experience.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.”
My Sins, My Saviour
John S. B. Monsell, 1811-1875
My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
They take such hold on me,
I am not able to look up,
Save only, Christ, to Thee;
In Thee is all forgiveness,
In Thee abundant grace,
My shadow and my sunshine
The brightness of Thy face.
My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
How sad on Thee they fall;
Seen through Thy gentle patience,
I tenfold feel them all;
I know they are forgiven,
But still, their pain to me
Is all the grief and anguish
They laid, my Lord, on Thee.
My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
Their guilt I never knew
Till with Thee, in the desert,
I near Thy Passion drew;
Till, with Thee, in the garden,
I heard Thy pleading prayer,
And saw the sweat-drops bloody
That told Thy sorrow there.
Therefore my songs, my Saviour,
E’en in this time of woe,
Shall tell of all Thy goodness
To suffering man below;
Thy goodness and Thy favour,
Whose presence from above,
Rejoice those hearts, my Saviour,
That live in Thee and love.