Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name…Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you, before their eyes…
This is what the sovereign LORD says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of laying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the Garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Once again I will yield to Israel’s plea and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as the flocks for offering in Jerusalem during her appointed festivals. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
Ezekiel 36:22-23, 33-37
I have always found the verses from Ezekiel 36 to be intriguing, especially verses 24-30 where God promises to put His Spirit within His people, bringing a heart of flesh to replace their heart of stone. Although, in reading it, I never thought a whole lot about why God would perform these things — as far as I was concerned it just sounded really neat, especially if God would do it to some people who really needed it!
I believed that help, especially the spiritual kind was something that needed to begin on the outside, and eventually seep in. I didn’t care so much about the truth or compliance with God’s will as I did my own interests. I believed more in change that would make me feel better about what I could see (in my circumstances and behavior) than anything else. God’s ends used to seem completely mysterious to me, while the means to accomplish them were more devastating than delightful. God seemed to be too bent on ignoring my problems and needs than conforming to the image of a caring God that I worshiped.
Though I was often very aware of my needs, and empty places in my heart and life, dependence on God was largely an option I felt excluded from enjoying. Unless I was a perfect Christian, and unless my life could faultlessly prove that God was good — always making everything just right, I wasn’t sure He could handle the mess He would get with me. I worried that He didn’t really have a good plan for me, He just had a passable plan. He was insisting I live with less because He obviously could not give me more.
I had a hard time thinking of myself as fitting in the general mold of believers. I had handicaps, secrets and faults. I never really relied on God to transcend any of these weaknesses because their presence seemed to prove His own weakness. How could I trust a God who had not been good or mighty enough to prevent my one chance at life from being messed up? Either He was faithful, or He wasn’t.
Instead, I would focus on being completely dependent on myself. I would fix what frightened me, and do something to eliminate all the confusion I hated having to live with. Surely God did not mean for me to be free from those… So, I would be my own hero — I didn’t need God; especially a God who did not really want me.
I have always wanted more to life, though I’ve always been frustrated by the obstacles to getting there. How could I get rid of enough of what I didn’t like to have the perfect life I wanted? From what I heard, God could help me with this, but for some reason He didn’t seem so keen on helping me along. There was so much to do, but where was He when the work needed to be done? God definitely seemed like a slacker, who could never really be true to what His Word espoused of His character. So, I felt very alone, but still confident in what I could achieve if I only put my mind to it.
It’s funny, now when I look back at myself, I really see no evidence that I was getting what I wanted. In fact, though I was working solely for myself, the more I pressed on, the harder it got to believe that I was really doing a good job at keeping myself satisfied and feeling on top. I can thank God now, that I ran out on myself; I got to a point where I could no longer feverishly work for a transformation that just wasn’t happening. I gave up; I came to Jesus exhausted and depressed — having nothing and still hoping for everything.
That to me was the scariest thing — letting God be in control. As far as I knew, that was nothing short of suicide, and I was too determined to live to be acting suicidal. (Well, that’s what I thought. Thank goodness God can change our minds and make us willing to ask for what is actually the best thing for us!)
Then God did something I never would have expected: He started giving me things that I really wanted, and never could have made happen on my own. For the first time in my life I really felt indebted to Him. I had what I did not deserve, had not even asked for, and God must want some kind of return from me. What was I going to do with such an imbalance?
Being someone who largely depended only on what I could manufacture on my own, thinking about having more than I could personally account for made me feel crazy and confused. I rationalized that I should be thankful and believe that was enough, but, I had nothing significant to offer in that respect. I was too busy being upset that God hadn’t let me have the chance to earn His blessings so I could truly feel good about myself. Now I just felt empty. God was good now, as far as I was concerned, but what was I?
Worst of all, despite my guilt, I couldn’t even fake gratitude! And that bothered me. I knew that God knew all the garbage that I was thinking about Him, and He wouldn’t be fooled by a few words of flowery thanksgiving. And that was all that I was good at — sentiment with no substance. How could I fool God by pretending that I believed He was anything of what He claimed to be? I was at a divine impasse: What did God want from me?
Gently He began to make it clear to me what He wanted: Humbling me by letting me see how far I was from what He wanted, and inclining my heart to desire real change. I began to know that God was with me, and that He wanted something for me, as well as from me. He gave me prayer after prayer to pray, and the heart to offer them, as He assured me that He would show me more of Himself soon.
Sooner than I expected, God “moved in”, and began His work of turning my life upside down in a hurry. I woke up one morning not feeling well at all. I had an appointment already schedule for that morning, but it was a struggle to get out of bed and get ready. Usually I am a morning person, abounding with energy, but with no prior indication of illness, I woke up knowing I wasn’t well.
I left the house telling myself as soon as I got home I was going to get back to bed and “sleep for a week”. Well, that turned into something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. When I returned home, I went straight to bed. I felt like I didn’t care about anything other than resting, and being still for a long time. Through the interception of my physical health, I felt secure in the fact that God was acting to restore my spiritual health.
Here I am, all of me, finally…
Those words from David Crowder’s song “Wholly Yours” describe better than I can, the position of my heart at that point. God had done something in my heart to bring me to Him in full submission, even with the aid of physical weakness. I didn’t care what God did with me, so long as He did something; so long as I knew He was there walking me through it, and drawing me closer to Him in the process.
On that road God has given me the singular pleasure of knowing Him. I know that many of us say that in many seasons of our lives, yet there comes a point for each of us when the phrase takes on new meaning. It is not just knowing Him, but needing to know Him; not just understanding more about Him, but having faith in His ability to meet our needs on the most basic level. He becomes life to us, even as the Word becomes the words we can’t articulate and the desires we can’t create.
Please hear my encouragement: There is nowhere that God cannot meet you. He has met me everywhere I’ve been, even in remote places that I couldn’t have imagined I would ever see. God is a Savior who made Himself a friend of sinners, and this continues to be true of Him today. As long as we sin He will be there to save…If you’re willing.