When things around us seem unsettled

Dan Behrens, Co Pastor, EFC

The following passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 62) has been a significant source of inspiration and courage for me these last few months. To begin, the whole passage is strikingly resilient in contrast to so much garbage we consume these days. It is hardly enough to say this passage comes alive off the page; the very words are life-giving and joy-producing. Everything else is outmatched.

To set things up, Isaiah is a prophet of God ministering to the people of Israel at a time when Israel is not at her best. She has slipped into spiritual apostasy and exhausted her witness among the nations of the world. This can not last forever. Isaiah himself is near the end of his prophetic ministry and is, at least this point, declaring the promise of God to redeem His people. Here Isaiah is speaking ahead of himself into a time when Israel would be divided, defeated, and exiled—the inevitable consequence of pushing God off the map. It is this particular passage where we see Isaiah taking up an incredibly risky position: a tenacious advocate on behalf of his own people for the promises of God as well as an ambassador on the side of God that He might act the part. Isaiah contends for God to move mightily while concurrently announcing the glorious might of God to rescue a floundering nation. Such prophetic declarations are the love story of the scriptures. Read for yourself… 

ISAIAH 62:1-12 CSB

1.I will not keep silent because of Zion; I will not keep still because of Jerusalem, until her righteousness shines like a bright light and her salvation, like a flaming torch.  2.Nations will see your righteousness, and all kings, your glory. You will be given a new name that the LORD’s mouth will announce.  3.You will be a glorious crown in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the palm of God’s hand.  4.You will no longer be called ‘Deserted’, and your land will not be called ‘Desolate’; instead, you will be called ‘My Delight Is in Her’, and your land ‘Married’; for the LORD delights in you, and your land will be married.  5.For as a young man marries a young woman, so your sons will marry you; and as a groom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you.  6.Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen on your walls; they will never be silent, day or night. There is no rest for you, who remind the LORD.  7.Do not give Him rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem the praise of the earth.  8.The LORD has sworn with his right hand and his strong arm: I will no longer give your grain to your enemies for food, and foreigners will not drink the new wine for which you have labored.  9.For those who gather grain will eat it and praise the LORD, and those who harvest grapes will drink the wine in my holy courts.  10.Now, go out, go out through the city gates; prepare a way for the people! Build it up, build up the highway; clear away the stones! Raise a banner for the people.  11.Look, the LORD has proclaimed to the ends of the earth, “Say to Daughter Zion: Look, your salvation is coming, his wages are with him, and his reward accompanies him.”  12.And they will be called a ‘Holy People’, ‘the LORD’s Redeemed’; and you will be called ‘Cared For, A City Not Deserted’.

As I said, this text has been a tremendous source of inspiration and courage for me, a vital comfort and encouragement when I myself have not been at my best. With so much in our lives and in the surrounding culture seemingly unsettled, I am wakened by the words of the prophet. Relationships are often divided and difficult to engage. Fruitful direction in life can seem uncertain and scary. Even our own identity among family, friends, work and calling frequently feels exiled. So where am I? Who am I? What do I believe? What do I know to be true about God in my own life? What do I know to be true about myself as a child of God?

These last two questions I brought before our church this last week—What do I know to be true about God? and what do I know to be true about myself as a child of God? I presented these considerations as a reasonable overflow of the strength and hope I found in Isaiah. The text doesn’t address these considerations specifically, but the Spirit of God does. I’m now listening.

When things around us seem unsettled, what do we believe to be true about us as a church? When things around us seem unsettled, what do we believe to be true about us as members of the body of Christ? (*the following is certainly not an exclusive nor exhaustive list, and they’re in no particular order.)

  1. First, the conviction that God’s presence is real and alive and with me is huge. And as a church, we consistently acknowledge the Spirit of God in us and in our midst. We celebrate the Spirit’s comfort and affirmation. We intentionally make room for the Spirit’s leading in our life.
  2. Second, no less huge is the conviction that God’s enduring provision is also real and available to me through His presence. As a church, we believe in the promise of God’s provision for the restoration of broken promises, for the redemption of forgotten dreams, for the rescue of lost relationships (loved ones).
  3. We now run up against some difficulty—God’s healing. There are all sorts of beliefs and positions and convictions regarding the miraculous healing of God, a great deal of which are born out of past experience (good or bad). For me, it’s important to be open and in some sense unsettled, to err on the side of welcoming that which is outside our personal experience. That said, our church believes for and welcomes miraculous healing. We faithfully pray for and celebrate healing in all forms, for all things, in all seasons.
  4. Of course, all this must align with God’s Word. The scriptures, like the passage above, are the only enduring foundation we can stand on. The material world is falling apart. The testimony of God and His people does not fall apart. We are a church who believes in the power of God’s word—the enduring testimony of the scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit for all generations.
  5. It’s the enduring testimony of the scriptures that reveal the enduring miracle of God’s grace. We stand on the foundation of God’s word, yet we stand in the provision of God’s daily grace. Consequently, we as the church believe in the miracle of God’s present grace—His enduring mercy new every morning.
  6. The grace in which we stand is our most effective witness in the world. What I know to be true of myself is that I am completely lost outside of the grace of God. My testimony as witness of God’s grace is that I am justified before God through Jesus Christ. I can say to the world “I have experienced the goodness of God, and I freely offer what I have experienced to anyone who is willing.”  Beyond me, I believe this should be the witness of the church at large, the body of Christ who believes in and contends for the witness of Christ in every relationship, every interaction, every season of life.

Now (and perhaps more importantly), what I also believe to be true is that there are those who are dear to you who are up against things not one of us could imagine. They may not need your advice as much as they need your compassion. Give them your compassion. The places where you have found strength and comfort, inspiration and courage, take them to these places and offer them what you have found there. Offer them the way of hope that ignites the church of God.

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