In a vision that God gave to Ezekiel, the Lord made it known that a valley of dead dry bones represented the whole house of Israel (Ezekiel 37:1-14). They were spiritually dry with seemingly no hope. But how did ancient Israel get to the point of being so dry and dead that only a miraculous act of the Lord could revive them?
After God brought Israel out of hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, he led them to the Promised Land with Moses as leader. Moses died and his young protégé Joshua took over and led Israel in her military campaigns to take the land that God had promised them. God held to his promises and went before them so that the pagan nations were judged and Israel gained the land. However, although Israel had geographically taken the land, they did not completely dislodge all the pagan peoples living there as God had told them to do. In other words, Israel partially obeyed and was content to be in the land without dealing with all the remaining people.
Whenever we read in the Old Testament of Israel’s relationship to the land, it often also serves as a metaphor for the church and her faith. Israel saw the land simply as a possession, as something to have, rather than as something to be used and developed for the glory of God. If and when God’s people in any age look upon their faith as only a possession to have instead of a dynamic relationship between themselves and the Lord, then the beginnings of spiritual rigor mortis begin to settle in. So, we get this haunting narrative in the book of Judges after the people took the land and Joshua died: “Another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them” (Judges 2:10-12). The land became something not to lose instead of something God wanted to use to grow them into his faithful people.
The day the Israelites took the land was both the day they rejoiced in victory, and the day that they died because they were content with the land as a possession and did not exercise their faith to see God work among them. The Old Testament is a long drawn out story of a disobedient and obstinate people who continually forsake their God and live like the nations for whom they did not exercise their faith to completely overcome. God, being longsuffering and patient, went century after century sending his prophets to call them back to a living faith; but with each passing year they would die a little bit more. Eventually, the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem, took over the land, and deported most of the people away from the Promised Land into exile; the people were like a valley of dead and dry bones.
On the day we begin to treat faith as merely a possession to have, and go through long established routines with no faith-development and no life, is the day those routines lead to ruts which leads to never changing which leads to death which leads to dry bones.
The church of Jesus must look upon faith as a wonderful opportunity to spiritually engage the world, exploring all the dimensions of knowing God through putting itself in situations where God can show up and take the land. If our goal is to just keep some semblance of looking like a real Christian, then there are probably some dry bones in the closet. If we become more afraid of making mistakes than we are of missing God-given opportunities, then the time is right for revival. God does not send us to safe places to do easy things; he breathes in us to send us to places where revival is needed.
The need for new life and resurrection presupposes that there is death. Praying for revival, renewal, and reawakening means that something is dead and needs life. But here is the thing about God: nothing is impossible for him, and when disaster happens, he is ready to be gracious and restore, even when things are as bad as a valley of dry dead bones with no life at all because he specializes in resurrection.
God not only gives life; he restores life. And this is an important truth to know and remember in the inevitable dry times of our lives and our churches. God is not just a helper; he reanimates us from spiritual rigor mortis to lively resurrection through breathing on us. And he does this for a reason. Jesus came to his disciples after his resurrection and said, ‘“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:20-21). In other words, God resuscitates us for a purpose, so that we might be sent into the world to love God in it through loving our neighbors. Faith is not only a possession to have, but a gift to be used to glorify God in loving one another and loving the world as Jesus did. God could have resurrected the dry bones without Ezekiel’s being a part of it; but God used Ezekiel and had him participate in the revival by speaking to the bones.
God has you living where you are living so that you will bring life to your neighborhood. Who will pray for your neighbors if not you? Who will be concerned for our communities and campuses if not us? God has you working where you are working so that you can speak to the places of dead dry bones and see them become animated and living. Who will make a difference at your workplace if not you? God placed you in your family and in your school so that you can bring life to it. God places us in the church so that we will bring spiritual life and vigor to it.
Ezekiel’s vision allows us to see that: revival can only come by an act of God; and, God wants to use us to see the miracle of new spiritual hope and life take place. Take some time to consider whether your church or ministry organization really needs another program or campaign initiative; perhaps what is needed is a heaven-sent, Spirit-breathed, glorious revival to new life in Jesus Christ. I am praying with you for it to be so.