Cracked and barren land. Nothing to keep the dry company except a horizon of light and a little rugged boat. Like the land, the paint was chipping, exposing weathered veins and raw wounds. Frayed strands of rope that once served a purpose elongated its presence around the bow and swung skeletal in the desert air.
What if the sky could fall in droplets and swell the land with drink? What if the boat could creak back to life and float towards the sun? What if all that seemed lost was suddenly found and God renewed that hallowed ground?
Walking a labyrinth of photographs and quotes on courage, my feet shuffled past an image. I might have missed the fullness of it had I not slightly nudged it out of place. It caught my eye and then my mind. Standing there, hovering above this tattered boat and broken land, I felt the Holy Spirit.
It felt like a nudge and then a warming of the skin. It felt like I had held my breath, forgetting that exhaling was an option. It felt like God was catching my attention. So I stood there awhile. A long while. I blocked the flow of the labyrinth, frozen in time with my mind locked on the message of this image.
Life gives us days of fullness, where the waters are perfect and smooth and we sail as if we own the expanse of it. On other days, life ripples with waves and wind as we cry out for something to stop it. And then we have the desert days, where we sit at a loss in our spiritual drought.
Our faith can sometimes seem like its easy with no wind or rain or drought to unsettle it. Our faith can also feel shaken and challenged, or dry and vacuous. Can we still believe in the goodness of God even when we fear the boat may sink? Can we still believe in the fullness of God’s love for us even when our souls feel dry and cracked and exposed?
Once a priest, Ezekiel spoke and prophesied about the violence and destruction that was to come to Jerusalem. He saw the sin of injustice around him and he prophesied the sorrow that would come upon so many people. Ezekiel, along with those who survived the horrors of the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, was forcibly exiled, deported to Babylon. It wasn’t smooth sailing here anymore, these were rough waters.
Ezekiel fell silent. After the fall of Jerusalem, scholars note it was 13 years until Ezekiel spoke out again. Thirteen years of dry, cracked, desert. Not a day, not a week, not a year. Thirteen years of living in a foreign land, unsure of your future and your purpose. Thirteen years of not belonging. Thirteen years of not knowing what to say. Thirteen years of struggle and hardship, of not giving up. Thirteen years.
Faith is not a one-step, one-day event. Faith is a process of growth over the course of your life that begins with one step, one day. Our faith is not linear. There is not a straight line from where we begin our relationship with God to where we have become fully sanctified or glorified. There is not a one-size fits all Jesus t-shirt that protects us from all trouble like a force-field. That’s not faith and that’s not how faith works.
Faith itself, is work. It’s believing without seeing. It’s trusting in God more than we trust in our understanding of things. It’s acceptance and contentment and patience. Faith is sitting in a crippled boat on fractured land and knowing God will send the rain.
This photograph spoke to me on several levels. First, like Ezekiel, we can often see and speak out about all of the bleakness and desolation of the world. It’s easy to see what is wrong and where injustice is. Courage is facing the injustice head on and recognizing there will be strong winds resisting you. Courage is arising anyway.
Second, by only focusing on what we lack or what we fear lacking, we, like the boat, can get stuck. It’s easy to give up: on God, on our circumstances, on others, and on ourselves. It’s easy in the middle of our desert moments to feel abandoned, without purpose, outside of our giftedness, and irrelevant. Courage is trusting in God’s wisdom, in the gifts you’ve been given for the purpose to which you are called. Courage is not giving up or quitting. Courage is to keep moving, one foot in front of the other. Even if it hurts, even if you want to quit, even if you feel like nothing you do or say matters, even if the waves of anxiety and the evils of this world feel like they are beating you. Courage is arising anyway.
Third, some seasons of life will be quiet. We can devalue our thoughts and voice in the quiet, rendering ourselves silent in the face of exile, dormant and desolate. We can feel like we have nothing left to give, nothing left to say. Or we can use this time to observe our surroundings, listen more intently to the voice of God, and to really see the people around us. Courage is in not seeing your journey as over but seeing it as merely rejuvenating beneath the surface. Courage is the faith in knowing that just because your boat isn’t moving at the moment, doesn’t mean that God isn’t moving you.
Ezekiel spent 13 years without major prophecies. Some seasons are preparing you for the next one to come. Remember the old saying, “just when the caterpillar thought it was over, it became a butterfly.” Courage is arising anyway.
Ezekiel is probably the most well known for his work with dry bones. After all he had been through, all he had seen and felt, God was far from done with him or the people of Israel. Thirteen years wasn’t a sentence, but a time of preparation. God was preparing Ezekiel to call others to arise anyway.
And then the Lord spoke:
The Valley of Dry BonesEzekiel 37:1-14, NIV
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I 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 the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Ezekiel began to speak. He spoke to the people of the diaspora. He spoke to the exiled and the deported. He spoke to the broken hearted and the war torn. He spoke to the dry bones and the dry spirits. He spoke hope.
Where once his words pointed out all that was wrong, all that was worthy of cynicism, now they spoke of what could be. God used a season of quiet to transform a battered boat into a beacon of promise, a battered man into a loudspeaker of promise.
Ezekiel believed that God would make dry bones live. He so believed that God would return Israel to glory that he shared it with everyone he could. There in a dry and barren land, words of hope were springing up. Some thought him crazy, for a number of reasons, but most of all because he had the courage to see those around him get up, Israel get up, a new season rise up. He saw what could be living bones while everyone else kept focusing on what was dead.
Ezekiel didn’t wait until he had positive results to prophesy to hope. He did it when everything still seemed hopeless. We cannot wait to preach hope until we are guaranteed of the results. Courage is risking looking foolish to share God’s message of promise and new life.
Courage is not giving up on ourselves, our callings, our dreams, or our futures. Courage is believing our boats will glide on water again. Courage is believing we were built for so much more. Courage is facing the storm and the desert because you know there will be a day for sailing ahead. Courage is climbing the mountain for a few moments at the top. Courage is getting up in the morning and facing whatever difficulties are in your life because He who is in you is stronger than that which is in the world.
What in your life needs to live again?
What dream has God planted on your heart that needs new life?
Where are you stuck? Listen for God’s voice.
Where is fear and anxiety keeping you from living into the fullness of who God created you to be?
I find this boat and cracked land a metaphor for a lot of things. I find Ezekiel’s story and God’s triumph a lesson that never gets old. I’ve seen old bones not just live but run the race. I’ve seen people and survivors arise from great human tragedy. I’ve seen what man destroyed be resurrected through the power of God. I’ve seen what God can do. You may feel stuck with no hope of moving anytime soon, but trust in what is unseen, what is yet to come. God will send the rain.
Dry boats and dry bones tell the same story.
Trust in the God who makes dry bones live. Trust in the God who sleeps in the storm. Trust in the God who built your boat.
Live. Choose life and live! God isn’t done with you yet. The courage to arise is within you. It’s always been there. You were made by the God who makes dry bones live.