Isaiah 55:6-13 ~ Power in Words; Power in the Word
I love words, especially when someone says just the right word. When the right word is spoken at the right time, there is power in it. Words have great power to bless or to curse, to bind someone up, or to set someone free. I hate you. I love you. No. Yes.
Recently I was talking with a good friend, reflecting on my ministry here. I told him about a daydream I‘ve had for a long time. I imagined myself going out of the walls of these buildings and walking down the street and knocking on doors, introducing myself as the pastor of that big church by the Piggly Wiggly, asking neighbors if there was anything I could pray for for them.
I told my friend: It would be a real shame if I never got around to doing that someday, to be here for years but never introduce myself to my neighbors and never get to know them. He looked at me and said, “What’s keeping you?” And then, “When exactly will you be doing this?” And in that moment something unlocked in me.
So last Monday, I went out the door of my office and went down Broad Street and started knocking on doors. I’m indebted to our good staff because they went with me. Gay even baked some cookies for us to give. Down Broad Street and Kenan Street and up Nash Street a little ways. In less than a couple of hours we introduced ourselves to over fifty homes and businesses.
We were amazed. Amazed at the sheer variety of people and life situations we encountered. Amazed that people did indeed want us to pray for them, and received our prayers gladly. Amazed at what God did with us and our neighbors during a couple of hours on a Monday morning. And even more amazing, we found that we’d like to do it again, down some more streets, into some more neighborhoods.
And all because of the power of a timely word said by a friend of mine. Now if his word had that much power, HOW MUCH MORE POWER would a word from God have?
The fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is a powerful word from God to a people who were stuck in their own daydreams until God said to them something like “What’s keeping you?” Until God said something like, “Now is the time.”
GOD GAVE TO THEM A WORD OF CONFRONTATION AND INVITATION:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
Call upon him while he is near
Let the wicked forsake their way,
And the unrighteous their thoughts
Let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them
And to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
The Jews were stuck in Babylon, daydreaming for 48 years their old dream about coming home to Jerusalem someday. And then word from the Lord came, “You are about to go. But first, get yourself ready, body and soul. Call upon the Lord while he is near.” It was a call for repentance, a call to change the direction of their lives. It was a call to stop daydreaming and start putting feet to their dream of coming home, and to do it now lest they miss their chance. Lest they miss out.
Have you ever missed out on something because you were too late? Missed the great sale at the grocery on filet mignon because you got there a day late? Missed your chance to get that cheap hard drive on eBay because you logged on an hour too late?
It is possible to be too late with God, too. To the Israelites in Babylon, the prophet said, “Don’t be too late about making a new start with God.” Is there anyone here who’s been thinking about making a new start with God? It is possible to wait too late. It is possible to keep assuming that you’ve always got a little more time to make things right with God, and then to find out that time has run out. If you’ve been daydreaming about returning to God, then the word of the Lord to you is: What’s keeping you? … An ancient church leader, Theodoret of Cyr, put it this way, “show God your face, and not your back.” In other words, turn back toward God and come home.
Seek the Lord while he may be found.
Call upon him while he is near.
It is a powerful word of confrontation and invitation.
THEN THE PROPHET HAS A WORD OF MYSTERY:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts
The very reason that we can seek the Lord while he may be found, the very reason that there is hope that we can repent and hope that we can change our life direction, is because of the mysterious character of God.
If God were like us, then there would simply be no hope for us to come back to God. You and I, we nurse grudges, we remember slights, we don’t love unconditionally. We operate on a lower plane than God. But God’s love for us is so great, that if we would only turn back to God, God would welcome us with open arms, forget our blunders and sins, and bring us home again. For God’s ways are higher than our ways. And God’s thoughts higher than our thoughts.
That word, of how mysteriously different God is, gives us hope.
THE THIRD WORD OF THE PROPHET TO HIS PEOPLE IS THAT
GOD’S WORD HAS POWER TO BRING US BACK:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there until they have watered the earth,
Making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.
But it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
And succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Here is another huge difference between God and us. You and I say one thing, but often do another. God says one thing, and does it. God’s word and deed are one. God speaks, and things happen.
God promised the people of Israel that God would bring them home from exile. He was not just blowing smoke. It would happen. As surely as the rain waters the earth and makes things grow, so surely God’s word gets things done.
So then whatever God says to you, you can trust. When God says God will bring you home if you will only change your life direction, you can trust that. You can believe that if you make a change, then you will see God do something in your life. God will bring you out of whatever exile you’re stuck in right now. God will bring you to the home you’ve been longing for all your life. That is the power of God’s word.
THE FOURTH WORD OF THE PROPHET IS A VISION OF THE FUTURE
It’s a future made possible by the invitation and confrontation of God, made possible by the integrity of God, and made possible by the power of God’s word:
For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song.
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands…
The prophet held this vision before his people. If they would face what’s keeping them from going home, if they would believe God has the integrity and the power to make it happen, then it will indeed happen, and God will bring them home.
The prophet calls forth such fantastic imagery, he could have worked for Disney Studios: singing mountains and clapping trees, all nature celebrating the homecoming journey of the exiles returning home.
He holds up for them a future beyond their imagining, a future with forgiveness from God, a future with a fresh relationship with God of joy and peace. The prophet holds out for them a glorious future, if they would trust and obey the God whose word and deed are one, the God whose word never returns to God empty, but always accomplishes what God intends to do.
I leave you today with these questions:
- What is God confronting you with? What change of direction, what turn in life, is God inviting you to make?
- What new destination, what new journey, is before you? Is it a return to “home?” Is it a journey to a new place that will become home for you?
- Where do you need God’s nourishing rain in your life? If God’s word were to fall on you like a summer shower, what would it do to you? What would grow in you? What would change in you?
- Finally, what’s keeping you?
- Douglas E. Murray