My time in prayer this summer has been filled with silence.
At times, when I enter into my time with this conversation communion, I am simply overwhelmed. The praises I want to offer are not enough. The requests, I think, seem petty, when enveloped in the sovereignty of God. I cannot understand how anything I want is worthy to ask.
And those thoughts are reinforced by a passage such as this, from Ezekiel 3, as featured in The Message:
Then he told me, “Son of man, go to the family of Israel and speak my Message. Look, I’m not sending you to a people who speak a hard-to-learn language with words you can hardly pronounce. If I had sent you to such people, their ears would have perked up and they would have listened immediately.
“But it won’t work that way with the family of Israel. They won’t listen to you because they won’t listen to me. They are, as I said, a hard case, hardened in their sin. But I’ll make you as hard in your way as they are in theirs. I’ll make your face as hard as rock, harder than granite. Don’t let them intimidate you. Don’t be afraid of them, even though they’re a bunch of rebels.”
We ponder the role of choice in our lives, and the role of free will, but I am unsure if Ezekiel was really given a choice. In Ezekiel 1:3, the Word says that “the hand of the Lord was upon him,” and taking him to people who, ultimately, will not listen to him at all.
God’s hand is powerful. It is controlling. It makes Ezekiel reexamine success, defined not as prosperity in a comfortable city, but, rather, to speak to people who will not listen, and not believe him, and who will despise him.
The hand of God also rested upon Isaiah, in Isaiah 8, and came with a warning. Isaiah was not to be like the people to whom he was called to preach.
That phrase is familiar. In Jeremiah 15, he laments, and weeps, because of his isolation, and his loneliness, because of the hand of God.
“Lord, you know what’s happening to me.
Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors!
Please give me time; don’t let me die young.
It’s for your sake that I am suffering.
When I discovered your words, I devoured them.
They are my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
I never joined the people in their merry feasts.
I sat alone because your hand was on me.
I was filled with indignation at their sins.
Why then does my suffering continue?
Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
like a spring that has gone dry.”
Jeremiah’s isolation, his extreme discomfort and frustration and loneliness were because of God.
Both of these men ate the Word of God, and found it to be sweet, good, satisfying, and of complete sustenance. Even so, both lamented of circumstances, in spite of the Word in their lives.
They were lonely, broken, uncertain. But they were also unyielding, in spite of fierce circumstances, threatening circumstances.
There is this dual identity to the hand of God. It provides strength and endurance, but also leads one into situations that are oppressive and just plain hard.
It is similar to what is found in Ecclesiastes 7:14, about God’s sovereignty and provision.
When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.
The hand of God seems to give us a sense that though circumstances are, at times, very bad, they are merely proof that this life is not the final destination of anyone. Perhaps God is teaching us, through a gamut of circumstances and emotions, that this life ultimately fails in offering perfect peace. It seems that was what both Ezekiel and Jeremiah learned.
It was God’s hand made Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days, one day for every year of the rebellion and sin of Israel.
And so I ask, can you lay on your side for a year and a month?
Would you want to?
Jeremiah was beaten by a religious leader.
Could you minister in an area that would subject you to physical pain?
Would you want to?
For fifty years, Jeremiah found himself in awful circumstances, imprisoned in the middle of Jerusalem, in a well, in a basement, without reprieve. Ezekiel, though given the opportunity to see the divine, was still a part of a group of exiles, of those removed from their homes, and along the way, Ezekiel even watched his wife die only to be given very little time to grieve.
A comfortable ministry should never be defined as means and homes and good schools. A comfortable ministry, as defined by these two men, and countless others in the Word, is messy, heartbreaking, and deadly, yet done with a deep knowledge that God’s Word is too sweet, too rewarding, too soulful, even when those dark moments are constant.
Of all the theologians and scholars the world has produced, all of the words and doctrines and books ever written, to me, one song, one simple radio song, has found its way to my ears and has summed the entire idea of God’s call in my life. It plays often, and produces tears in my eyes at every hearing. Maybe it will show you the same … that the hand of God is a teaching hand, a guiding hand, a hurtful hand, that is showing you, and me, a hunger this world cannot satisfy.