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Faith in the Thistles

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, and it will be a memorial to the Lord, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off." (Isaiah 55:10-13, NASB)

True confession: I’ve been camped out in Isaiah for…oh, I dunno, something like four years? What a remarkably rich book, full of some of the Scripture’s most-loved promises. However, being a prophecy, many of those promises have yet to be fulfilled (at least in full). Human that I am, it’s sometimes hard to hang onto faith when those promises seem dimmer than the proverbial light at the tunnel’s end.

Here is one of those amazing promises: God’s Word WILL NOT return to Him empty. It WILL succeed in the matter for which He sent it. Each of us has dedicated our life to proclaim God’s Word because we believe this promise is true. We proclaim, God prospers, and we join in a joyful celebration because redemption results from His Word going forth. In an ideal world.

But—there’s always a but, right?—I find the passage’s bookends challenging. Verse 10 talks about the circuitous process of harvest—precipitation waters the earth, which causes plants to grow, which produces seed (to perpetuate the process), and grain (to feed us). The rub is: if I plant a seed today and it rains tonight, tomorrow I won’t be eating bread from that seed. Growth requires a process and a length of time. When we look at this spiritually, I think we’ll agree: a person rarely comes to salvation the very first time they hear the Gospel. Sometimes after the seed is planted, nothing happens for awhile—not even that first little green shoot. I find that challenging, even discouraging at times. My faith lags a bit in waiting.

The other bookend (verse 13) talks about thorn bushes and nettles. I really dislike both of those things—probably because both have a rather tenacious insistence on growing in our yard. And because they hurt. These are not inane weeds, they are seriously out to get anyone who gets too close. The promise says that good plants will grow up in place of these nasty ones. But first (pre-promise), the nasty ones are present and, often, prominent. Some situations are even worse than the sterile waiting of verse 10; they are downright hostile to the Gospel. What then? I have to say that for me personally, my faith is likely to come to the bottom line with a negative balance when I’m in the midst of thorn bushes and nettles.

Then I have to go back and re-read verses 11-12 and ask myself, "Does God lie?" "He does not," I assure myself. (This kind of self-talk is good for the soul!) Therefore, His Word WILL NOT return empty. It WILL accomplish His purpose. We WILL get to the joyful celebration. Even if, for today, faith is merely "the evidence of things not yet seen" and I’m hanging out in the nettle patch.

Warmly in Christ,

Bev Hawkins

For Reflection:

"Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary." (Galatians 6:9, NASB)

"Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God'?" (Isaiah 40:27, NASB)

  1. Take stock: what part of the growth process are you in? Seed planting? Watching for sprouts? Trying to keep the nettles and thorn-bushes in check? Enjoying harvest? How is your faith being nourished or challenged in the process?

  2. Sometimes even we who claim to have faith whine like a practical agnostic (see Isaiah 40:27 above). If you are completely honest with yourself and God, is there some venting that you’d like to do before Him? What part of your way seems hidden to God?

  3. Read today’s passage out loud, emphasizing the WILLs of the promise. How can you sink this promise deep into your soul (memorize it, write it on a card, share it with someone…)?

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