THE WITHERING WORK OF GOD'S SPIRIT
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Isaiah 40:1 - 10 (Focus 6-8) A Meditation
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD ; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
6 A voice says, "Cry
"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."
9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!"
In the middle of some of the most wonderful prophesies in scripture, prophetic songs concerning the comfort of forgiveness, prophetic lyrics regarding the revelation of the glory of the Lord through the coming of a Messiah, prophetic sonnets bringing good tidings of the arrival of God and the rescuing of his people, in the middle of all that harmony a voice commanded: "Cry out!" And God's stunned prophet responded "What shall I cry?" Why jar songs of joy with tears of warning? Why change the tune and wreck the flow of the service? What could possibly be added and be edifying between all these wonderful lyrics?
Bax, Bellavance, Bellin, Black, Blekkenhorst, Burgsteden, Charles, Chony, Drost, Dykstra, Engelage, Finke, Gehrels, Haak, Heerema, Henny, Hoogsteen, Howers-Rajanieme, Huitsing, Jocomb, Jaspers, Juurakko, Kok, Kranenburg, Kruizenga, Legros, Liljestrom, Luchies, Mack, Makkinga, McMillian, Medendorp, Meems, Meyer, Molendijk, Moskalyk, Muller, Nelson, Nolan, Ouwehand, Paulusma, Prenger, Puumala, Robbins, Schenk, Schonberger, Setala, Shortreed, Smith, Stronks, TenHave, Ten Napel, Tuuttila, Vandenberg, VandenBos, VanderWees, Van Duyn, VanLenthe, Versteeg, Visser, Viitala, Wagenaar, Weaver, Welmers, Westra, Wrightsell, Wyma, Ypma - Grass all of them! - and you too if your name was not mentioned. No Exceptions! Grass! Just like grass! Remind them of what is universally true!
And not just grass, be specific! They are withering grass! Oh they might look good in their green St. Patrick's Day outfit, but they are withering. Tell them that! Green turning to brown, straight becoming crocked, beauty - fading, strength - disappearing, wealth - fleeting, possessions - rusting, life - decaying, intelligent - only for a season. Tell them that their glory might look really good today, but like a flower, it is passing, it will fall, it will disappear. Prophecy the obvious! Spell out the depressing news to them.
They have selective sight. If they open their eyes, they will see it. They are aging. All around them, there is sickness, there is death. Beauty is turning to ugliness, joy to sorrow, fullness to emptiness, relationships to loneliness.
They have selective hearing. If they open their ears, they will hear it. Groaning, tired groaning, everyday again, a burden to be lifted, a task larger then they are to be done. And weeping - weeping for wounds and for loss, for injustice and for pain, for regret and remorse, for hunger and thirst.
They have selective dreaming. In the day they dream of bright futures, their plans, relationships that bring joy. But their nightmares reveal their fears, their dismal futures, the unrealized plans, their broken hearts.
"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall.
Tell them this, and when their anger is burning at the negativity of your message staining these beautiful lyrics and its truth upsetting their peaceful day of rest, tell them that I am the cause of all this. It is not just the winds of time, no, I, the Spirit called Holy, the Breath of the Lord, the "Ruach YWH," it is I that does this withering work among you! I am the one who gives, I am the one who takes away... I bring you to nought.
My North American ears are tingling. Irritation races through my theological mind. This passage does not fit my preconceived notions of God - God who is the source of all good, God who is love, God who is gracious and just and his Spirit who bears his Holy character. This text it seems comes so close to blasphemy. We wither and fall because the breath of the Lord blows on us!
We live in a society that tells us we should be full all the time. We have the right to be happy regardless of the choices we make. It tells us that aging is the enemy and sickness is evil. It tells us that brokenness is something that only the sick and the weak experience and insecurity is for the psychologically malformed, and God is for those who can't take care of themselves (Governor Ventura of Minnesota). Church is misspelled crutch. It tells us that freedom is our highest choice, obedience is not one of our priorities. And we have given our God a "make over" to fit our values, to fit our culture, to fit our time.
And to us, this prophecy that God with his Holy breath withers us shocks us. That God cuts us down to size, and bluntly reminds us of our weakness and mortality even in the middle of a beautiful song irritates us. That God does this to us feels uncomfortable in every way.
We have to admit it. We have changed our image of God to fit our selective experience. If we are empty, well we should be full. If we are sad, we should be happy. If we are weak, we should be strong. If we are broken, we should be whole. If life just isn't what its cracked up to be, then the problem is us. We do everything we can to filter out the pain, the emptiness, the brokenness, the withering of our bodies, our minds, our spirits.
But then God comes alone and hits us right between the eyes with this truth: we are withering grass, we are the flower that falls, here today, dust tomorrow.
Why does God insist on doing this to us?
Why does he take away from us those many things we call good, including health, happiness, security? Why does he insist we be faced with our brokenness, why does he humble us in our humanity?
The answer is simple: what is temporal, passing, needs that which is eternal, never ending. And the word of the Lord endures forever. That may sound abstract, let me make it practical.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Fresh air rushes into a vacuum. But what must first be there is a vacuum, an emptiness. Where soil is saturated, fresh life giving water from the skies will make no difference, it just runs away in wasted streams. This too is a universal principle and it applies to us.
If we are full, satisfied, healthy, happy, rich, contented, entertained, when God pours out his grace, it runs off of our backs like water of the back of a duck. But when God first withers us, shows us the reality of who we are, the reality of our condition, our brokenness, our sin, our mortality, then we like a Vacuum are ready for the eternal and life giving Breath of God.
You have found this truth...
When we discovered by being hit between the eyes that this life is not under our control, we start crying out to the one who has it in his control.
When children's behavior is beyond our influence, instead of trying to control them, we cry out to God, and start hearing his word about his own prodical children.
When our marriages start breaking down, we start praying, we start looking for God's help to love one another, and we discover how strained God's intimate love relationship with his people has been. And we discover that even in our worst heart wrenching brokenness, God is still at work.
When work dries up, and our independence becomes our greatest enemy, that is when we recognize the eternal hand of God providing for our lives.
When the heavens fail to give rain, we can only acknowledge that there is one who gives that rain, or he prevents it from coming.
When colon cancer threatens our life, we start putting into practice what the eternal word of God tells us to do, we have no other options.
When a heart condition cripples us even when we a young, we realize that what we are is temporary, but there is something far more important that is eternal.
When we discover how shaky our nerves can be, we become thankful, that God, our rock is eternal and we are only temporary.
When asthma chokes out our life, we hunger for a life that cannot be choked out.
When our own emotions become our most feared enemy, our thirst for peace like a river, even for a minute becomes the longing of our heart.
When those around us are torn by injustice and disabled by their wounds inflicted by others, our hearts cry out for the just judge to make his judgements and bring healing.
When the only water we have may fill, but it also causes disease, as in the flooded plains of Africa, we see how desperately we need water that can give us life.
When our body withers, and our hip dislocates, and the memory of the pain makes our body shake and tears well up, that is when we become intensely hungry for heaven, for what is eternal, and we realize deeply the value of the prayers of God's people.
When loved ones pass away, we remember that we too will go that way and even though we tend to focus our lives on so many things that are temporary, the truth is - life is about something eternal, the Word of God doing its work in our being, changing us into the likeness of Christ by the power of rebirth. Creating in heaven for us an inheritance that will never perish spoil or fade.
God faces us again and again with the reality and brokenness and mortality of our existence, so that the tidings that come through his eternal word, will truly for us be good, (Matthew 5)
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.