Over the last couple of days i’ve been reminded of some well known verses in the book of Ezekiel (chapter 37) where God takes the prophet to a valley filled with the bones of an army.  It’s a valley that represents utter hopelessness and total defeat – you only see a graveyard of an army if that army was defeated.

And yet, into this hopeless place of defeat, God speaks to Ezekiel and tells him to prophesy to these dead, defeated, dry bones and tell them to live.  And of course, as Ezekiel obeys the promptings of God and makes prophetic declarations of life even in this valley of defeat and failure, life springs up and what was once silenced by the enemy is restored to full strength and glory.

I wonder how many of us carry the shame of our previous defeats?  Moments where we failed to be all that we’re created to be.  Moments where opportunities – so promising – were missed and seemingly forever lost.  I wonder if for some of us, God is calling us to revisit these valleys in our hearts where we have grieved over dry bones, and is prompting us to declare life into the places where we’ve fallen before.

What strikes me about the passage in Ezekiel is that we’re told there were very many bones – a vast army defeated – and that they were very dry – this defeat had happened quite a while ago.  I believe some of us are being called to revisit the places we would see as our biggest defeats, our most epic failures, and into those many bones that may have been in the valleys of our hearts for quite some time, we are to start prophesying flesh and breath and life.

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave is very much alive in us and still loves to bring dead bones back to life.  In a Kingdom where the grave itself holds no permanence and weakness is the perfect platform for power, defeats and failures are merely opportunities for God to show His nature as restorer of what is broken all over again.  Let Him in, excavate those dry bones and let Kingdom power break out to make the valleys shake with the sounds of life once again.

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It’s been a few months now that i’ve been living in the ‘But God…’ space.  You may not call it what i do, but i can bet that you’ve lived in that space too at some point or another.  It’s the space where all your circumstances seem to be completely opposite to what God has promised you.  It’s the point of tension between what your world looks like and what God has said it should look like.  It’s not an easy space to live in.

And when i’m in that space, i find the words ‘But God…’ trip off my tongue so frequently.  ‘But God, why are you letting this happen?!’… ‘But God, don’t you remember what you’ve said?’… and on and on my questions go.  Initially my ‘But God…’ questions were not questions of faith but rather questions of complaint.  Questions which at the heart of them contained doubt as to whether God cared about what He’d said and what was going on in my life.  But then i read some words in Genesis 32 which changed the ‘But God…’ question for me.

In Genesis 32 we see Jacob who has been called by God to go back to the land of his fathers hearing some seriously frightening news that his brother Esau (who Jacob previously cheated out of his father’s blessing) is on his way to meet him with 400 men by his side.  Not news that Jacob wanted to hear at all!  So when he hears the news, this is what Jacob prays –

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Here’s Jacob obeying the call of God and trusting His promise to him and suddenly he hears terrifying news.  News that stole every last bit of courage for his home-coming out of him.  News that filled him with fear as he realised that he may never make it to his homeland given that Esau was on his way to meet him and presumably was not particularly impressed by the wrongs Jacob had committed against him.  As Jacob stood bang in the middle of the point of tension between what He’d heard God say to him and what his circumstances seemed to be screaming at him (i.e. TURN AROUND AND RUN AND SAVE YOURSELF!), he began to pray a ‘But God…’ prayer, but not one that was steeped in doubt bur rather in faith –

But you said, ‘I will surely do you good…’’ (verse 12) (italics mine)

Jacob stood in the ‘But God…’ space and chose to make it a place of courage, a place of faith.  He reminded himself (and God!) of the goodness promised him and then refused to obey what his circumstances were telling him to do.  He refused to turn around.  He refused to give up.  He made his home in the ‘But God…’ space.  But God had promised to surely do him good, so onwards he would go.

I wonder what promises God has spoken over you that your circumstances are trying to get you to turn away from?  I wonder whether you are listening to the discouraging voice shouting in your ear ‘Turn around! You’ve got it wrong! Go back to where it was safe!’ or whether you’re allowing the still small voice to wash over you with ever increasing certainty, ‘But You said you will surely do me good.’

God has promised that His goodness and mercy will follow you all of the days of your life.  Into the wind, into the waves, into the heart of the storm they will follow you. Don’t give up.  Don’t turn around.  Onwards into his promises let us go, choosing to make our home in the ‘But God…’ space until all the other things fade away and what He has promised unfolds in all its brightness before our eyes.

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