CAN THESE BONES LIVE? Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-10
Aim: To encourage a dependency on God's Spirit for dynamic missional growth and power.
How are you feeling about your life and even your congregation right now? Each of us will have a different response to that question according to the context and the situation. We go through different experiences in life that teach us about our relationship with God. I realised a few years ago that is it not so much the questions that I ask of God that matter, but the questions God askes of us that really matter. When Ezekiel was shown a vision, recorded in Ezekiel 37: 1-10, he was asked a question: “Can these bones live?” It was John Wesley who wrote about this: “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist… But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”How could Ezekiel have replied and how did he reply? What would be our reply? The first three are some options I saw, then the one Ezekiel chose!
1. “I CAN DO IT!”
When called to offer ministry I responded with glee-filled naivety: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” where I incorrectly applied Philippians 4: 13! It was my mentor and wife, Leigh, who said that does not mean we have to DO all things so that we receive that strength. I am grateful for the correction!
Why did I think this?
- “It is God’s world and God’s mission”: This way of thinking has been developed through many years of seeking God in Scripture. When I put my mind to the Biblical perspective of seeing the world, I saw God at work in all things, because it is God’s world, God’s mission.
- “As we think so we are”: I spent time with passages like Philippians 4: 8-9: “From now on, brother and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you have learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.” So I thought about positivity and possibilities and we saw things come into being because of this. While seeing visions possibilities we filled the diary with those things that would turn vision into action. We can run programmes and fill the diary with activity with the belief that life will flow into it. The problem comes in if we think that all the right techniques, programmes and discipline will lead to a fulfilling life. Filling life with great activity can lead to meaninglessness.
- “If it is going to be it is up to me”: I saw myself as a participant in God’s mission. The Scriptures tell me that we all have been entrusted with this world, and are stewards of this world and God’s people. The fact that I am held accountable for the world in which God has placed me, caused me to cultivate an over-developed sense of responsibility. If there was a person in need I thought I could do something to help. This worked well for those who could see my intention, and I was given opportunities to serve where a difference could be made. The Spiritual gift of helps come through strongly here. The trouble is that this was perceived by some as ‘interfering’ and often it was just that.
- “Doing things with excellence honours God and inspires people”: When I looked at Scripture I saw stories of people doing their best with God had given them, no matter how insignificant they were, as with Gideon and young David in the OT. My inner desire to honour God in the things in which I was involved, led me to wish to the best for God and His people. I looked for the best ways to assist the journey and the best opportunities to improve life and develop others. Taking myself and a team through excellence training and other such events was just part of this journey.
The challenge is seeing God’s part and my part working together. I found that others did not see things from this perspective and I struggled.
2. “IT IS ALL TOO MUCH FOR ME”
I can only imagine Ezekiel looking at the bones that were ‘very dry”, and seeing what a huge task this was. How can we not feel overwhelmed with all the bad news we hear, the violence and corruption? But more to heart was the call to make disciples of ALL nations and people. How do we do that? Sometimes I have looked at the situation with tremendous anxiety, seeing the great amount of work that is required, and was overwhelmed.
- Discerning Vision together is hard work: Discovering the vision and purpose together is very rewarding. Through the years I had enjoyed discerning the vision with the leaders and successfully defining this together. However, in another setting we spent time seeking the vision for the Church, but failed to get consensus and unity, due to so many conflicting interests and agendas. I am, however, still committed to a vision for a congregation, but this was exhausting. This was a difficult process and with trying to gather and train competent changing staff and lay leadership.
- Team building is hard: I have always sought to build teams, and looked for more and more ways to lead and empower the team and the leadership. This can be amazingly rewarding for those who are open to growth, but very hard for those who don’t. I found it took time and effort, but was an investment. Even through building a team is hard I am still committed to doing this again and again.
- Demands, criticism and Pressure: There have been times when I was not sure that the ministry team I was serving in could cope with all the demands, expectations and pressure, pressure, pressure. I certainly had so many people telling me to be better in this area or that; to be a nicer person according to their criteria; and make better decision and lead better. It seemed that they knew how to do my job better than me. Sometimes, this led to desperation and a deep sense of futility. This coupled with a fear of failure depleted me of energy.
3. “I'M BORED AND SCEPTICAL BY WHAT I SEE”
Some ministers feel bored with things as they are, feel hopeless within it, and express scepticism about the future. We find ourselves caught into a trap from which we cannot get out. There are wonderfully called and gifted ministers who have tried this and that and it has not seemed to make a difference. Each day is another routine and another lot of things to be done. These are trying times. I was encouraged by a dear colleague to guard my heart. When I started to see that the situation I was in was causing me to become negative, critical and sceptical.
- Boredom: Being who I am I get energised by something new and the new things God can do. I do enjoy routine that sustains life in the main, but to keep life exciting I always looked for something to keep me from settling. The pilgrim mentality is in my soul at a ministry level and new things energise me with the challenge. I found, however, that my soul was wanting to move things along and find new people to step into the vision, thing bored with the structure around me.
- Frustration: When one has asked for help, made suggestions, but there is no one taking responsibility for the decision and yet do not allow decisions to be made. I found myself frustrated with those whose style of leadership did not accommodate mine. A clash of leadership styles
- Scepticism: I have seen too many of my colleagues moving in this direction and I was in danger of my heart going the same way. I realised that decisions made by people that adversely affected me directly, I had the freedom to choose to be sceptical or not. It is easy to get into blame, making the problem as if it someone else’s problem. A trusted colleague warned to guard my heart and I prayer to keep my heart pure. However, scepticism is always a choice.
4. “SOVEREIGN LORD, YOU ALONE KNOW AND CAN BRING LIFE HERE”
This response is one of grateful reliance on God in a deep way that does not abdicate our responsibility, though it sees that God is at work in all that we do and working with Him brings life. This enables wonderful anticipation of what God can do through us, and an eagerness to draw from His strength for all situations. This life is fulfilling and abundant.
The Spirit is the Lord and giver of life, as the Apostles Creed declares. He can do it! He is the God of the Resurrection. His greatest work was done in the graveyard of Jerusalem. The Spirit gives the breath of life, and we can claim the promise that God WILL put His Spirit of life back in us!
Over this last season I have begun to practice each day the adventure of seeking God’s leading in each step f each day and each event. It is becoming more and more a following of God’s leading and taking up the opportunities as they come. This is more freedom and more blessing. Thank you Jesus!
How does this page assist us when we see things as ‘very dry bones’? Many churches are like that valley of dry bones.
I will reflect on this more in the next few days:
- The new heart of Ezekiel Ch 36
- The leading by God’s Spirit
- Seeing things are as they are
- Seeing things as God sees them
- Listening to God
- Obeying what God tells
- Let God’s life and power flow.
- Be blessed by what God does