I will take you from the nations, I will gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your own fertile land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one, and I will give you my spirit so that you may walk according to my regulations and carefully observe my case laws. Then you will live in the land that I gave to your ancestors, you will be my people, and I will be your God. (CEB)
Every time I read these Old Testament verses from the prophet Ezekiel I am reminded of my time as chaplain on two cardiac intensive care units. I had several occasions to follow patients through the process of a heart transplant. I sat with them as they wondered if they would ever get a new one, as their own heart could no longer sustain the rest of their life. Would they die before receiving one? What would happen to their families?
Then, finally the day came for many (unfortunately, not all) there is a heart for them. After the incredible transplant surgery, joy abounds, knowing there is a new lease on life, a fresh experience. Through weeks or months of waiting and flirting with the Grim Reaper of death, hope is realized. Their old useless heart now replaced with a vibrant one, full of life!
However, the process is not yet over. Typically, about two or three days into possessing this new heart, a new realization comes along with it: Someone else had to die so that I could live….
He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24, NLT)
Life comes from death. Resurrection can only happen when there is a crucifixion. Gaining a new spiritual heart has been achieved at the greatest of costs. “I will” is uttered nine times by God in five verses of Ezekiel’s prophecy. In gracious acts of determination to restore fallen people, God makes promises and has the authority and power to back them up. Our new heart is waiting to be animated by God’s Spirit so that our observance of God’s law is infused with divine might. Our consent to surgery is all that is needed.
Consider just a few of the great “I will” statements of Holy Scripture:
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” (Psalm 32:8, NIV)
“If someone trusts me, I will save them. I will protect my followers who call to me for help. When my followers call to me, I will answer them. I will be with them when they are in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them. I will give my followers a long life and show them my power to save.” (Psalm 91:14-16, ERV)
“I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NRSV)
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3, NIV)
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NKJV)
May Christ make his home in your heart as you trust in him.
May your spiritual roots grow down deep into God’s love and keep you strong.
May you have the power to grasp, along with all God’s people, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep is the love of God.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
May you be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
May your new heart pump with the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the encouragement of the Spirit. Amen.
Welcome, friends! May you discover fresh hope and encouragement today. Click the video below as we meet virtually and in spirit with one another.
I pray that your experience of God will become full, sustained, and fresh through this dry season of Lent and of the world’s predicament. Click “Come Alive” (Dry Bones) sung by Lauren Daigle and speak to the dry bones in your valley. Grace to you now and always. Amen.
I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He [God] asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” –Ezekiel 37:2-3
Folks around the world are quickly developing a new common language, becoming familiar with and using terms like social distancing, quarantine, shelter at home, and abundance of caution. Our collective situation may easily create anxiety, and, so, parch our souls and leave our spirits dry.
There is, however, a God who can breathe new life into us and move us to renewed ways of thought and emotion. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel’s vision is a promise and a hope of resurrection, of revival. No matter what our situation or who we are, we are all a displaced people – cast out of Eden and in need of restoration. We, along with the ancient Israelites for whom he addressed, are in exile and long to return to our true home with God. Along with St. Augustine we declare:
There are dry bones lying around – parched places in need of being reinvigorated. Maybe you are experiencing the dry bones of hopelessness and despondency. Maybe you are in a dark night of the soul where all of life seems like one shadowy oblivious hole. Maybe you are wondering if God is really listening or is there at all because of the dry bones around you. One thing for sure: Everything is upside-down right now; it is different. At the first of the year, we didn’t see these current circumstances happening to us. And, yet, these difficult times have much to teach us.
Let me share with you a “dry bones” experience from my own life. Fifteen years-ago me and my family were in a car accident. I was traveling on a highway in rural Iowa, and a small car on a gravel road blew through the stop sign without even slowing down. There was nothing I could do. I plowed into the rear quarter panel of the oncoming car, and it literally spun like a top off the highway and came to a stop. Both the driver and his passenger were not injured.
Two of my three daughters were in the very back seat of our minivan (which I had just bought only a month before) with my wife and dog as front seat passengers. The minivan was totaled. My girls were not harmed. However, my wife tore her shoulder’s rotator cuff protecting the dog and had an agonizing surgery to repair it. My lower back was injured, yet, not in a way which surgery could repair it. To this day I live with a kind of constant low-level aggravation of my spine. Most days it’s not bad, maybe one or two on the pain scale. On a bad day, I can barely walk across the room and need a cane to get around.
I have played the scene of the accident in my mind hundreds of times. I have thought time and again about what I could have done to prevent it. Honestly, there was no way to avoid it. I thought about the fact that if we just would have left a minute earlier or a minute later from my parents’ house from where we were visiting, all would be fine. Yet, I know that kind of thinking is a fool’s errand. I have pondered every possible scenario in my head and have gotten nowhere.
It also took me awhile to forgive the young man who was driving the other car. He changed my life, and not in a good way. Although his insurance took care of everything and he was sorrowful about the incident, I was understandably angry for a long time. I did, over time, come to the point of forgiving him.
Through the years I have learned to live with the limitations imposed on me. I have now accepted the low-level aggravation of my back as part of my life. On occasion, I sometimes can’t help but think of how my life would be today if I hadn’t been in that stupid accident.
About five years ago I was doing my usual routine morning prayers. And God brought the accident to my mind. I said to God, “Lord, we’ve been through this accident hundreds of times together. I don’t want to think about it anymore. Why are you bringing this up now?”
I’m not sure I really wanted an answer, but God brought it up because he knew I was finally ready to get his perspective on the accident. Out of the hundreds of times I went over that accident in my mind, the one perspective I never took was that of the young man – the other driver. God invited me to take a distinct viewpoint from the other driver. So, I did. I know that intersection like the back of my hand, so it wasn’t a hard exercise.
I imagined putting myself in the driver’s seat of his car. I’m driving down the gravel road not paying attention to the fact that a stop sign is coming up. I blow through the sign onto the highway and right in front of a minivan who slams on the brakes just enough to crush the rear quarter panel. I spin out like a top and come to rest only a few feet from a huge Iowa grain elevator….
For the first time in my life I finally understood from a very different perspective. God had a divine appointment for me that day. You see, if I had not come along just when I did, that young man and his girlfriend would have blown through the stop sign and struck the grain elevator. The impact would have killed them both instantly.
Suddenly, my attitude changed 180 degrees. Previously, I had always thought about myself and my family. I always considered my hardship and my change of life. Now, I saw that God sent his servant to save two lives that day. Had I not struck the young man’s car, causing him to spin and come to a rest unharmed, two people would have died.
From that time forward, every time my back acts up and effects how my life is lived, I’m reminded that it is a very small price to pay for the lives of two human beings. God had me speak to the dry bones; and, the result was a revival of new thoughts and emotions. This was such a dramatic change of thought and heart for me that it felt like a resurrection.
The biblical meaning of “repentance” is literally to have a change of mind – to see a different perspective. The Bible invites us to view our lives with new lenses. Our hurts and our pains, our sorrows and our sufferings, our changes and our limitations, are all part of something much bigger that God is doing in the world. We are not always privy to his plans and purposes. And, yet, God’s Word challenges us to take a perspective of the world, of humanity, and of ourselves that is counter to how we often think and feel.
It is a very small thing, right now in the admonitions to stay at home, to remain where we are. Taking a mere one-sided view from my own perspective will bring frustration. To see it from another angle as a temporary inconvenience, even with some permanent effects, which will save lives is a divine viewpoint. To put it another way: We are speaking to dry bones.
We might think and feel that we will be able to pursue God better without danger or hardship – that somehow difficulty is not to be part of the Christian life. The dry bones exist, however, as an opportunity for God to give life. That’s why Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s reaction to his exile in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia was to bless it, because it was there that, he said:
“I discovered that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.”
God not only gives life; he restores life. And this is an important truth to know and remember in the inevitable dry times of our lives. God is not only a helper; he reanimates us from spiritual rigor mortis to lively resurrection through breathing on us. And he does this for a reason. Jesus came to his disciples after his resurrection and said, ‘“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:20-21). In other words, God resuscitates us for a purpose, so that we might be a blessing to the world. Faith is not only a possession to keep, but a gift to give. We glorify God in loving one another and loving the world as Jesus did. God could have resurrected the bones without Ezekiel’s being a part of it. Instead, the LORD used Ezekiel and had him participate in the revival by speaking to the bones.
Such a challenge to speak to the dry bones may seem overwhelming to us. What do you do when your life is upended, even shattered – when such a profound change comes to you that it is impossible for your life to be as it was? The questions and commands of God seemed totally absurd to Ezekiel, speaking to dead dry bones. Maybe we ought to operate more in the realm of the absurd than in the realm of the safe routine. Maybe we ought to expect our faith to be exercised and look for God to breathe new life into the dead and decaying. To believe that something, someone, or even myself can change is to have internalized this amazing story of dry bones living again.
Our self-imposed graves cannot hold us because God is among us. What we need more than anything in this world and in the church is a genuine heaven-sent, Spirit-breathed, glorious reanimation in which God sends his grace and raises the dead.
“One day, some of Israel’s leaders came to me and asked for a message from the LORD. While they were there, the LORD said: Ezekiel, son of man, these men have started worshiping idols, though they know it will cause them to sin even more. So I refuse to give them a message!”
Just because someone asks or inquires what the Bible says, does not necessarily mean that person intends on living according to it. It just might be that the opposite is true. We can, of course, see and sniff out hypocrisy in others, but might be blind to it in our own lives. Whenever we go to church and sit under the preaching of God’s Word but have no intention of really doing anything but getting spiritual brownie points through attendance, we must locate ourselves along with the hypocritical men who came to Ezekiel.
Listening to God’s Word, reading it on a daily basis, and even talking about it really means nothing unless we take a humble posture of intending to do what it says. So, what are the idols in our lives? What things hinder us from doing what the Bible says to do? What will we do about it? God is looking for repentance and faith in Jesus, and not us keeping up appearances to righteousness.
Holy God, you desire a penitent heart, sincere faith, and an obedient life. May it be so in my life to the glory of Jesus through the energy of the Holy Spirit. Amen.