I’ve been working on a painting of an oak tree this week. One of the verses I’ve taken to heart comes from Isaiah 61. It says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”. That is part of verse three. This is a famous passage about the Spirit of the Lord coming upon us to preach good news to the poor. It is the same passage I have been looking at as I’ve worked on the Half the Sky paintings , “Proclaim freedom for the captives, release from darkness the prisoners”. Jesus stood in the temple and read the very words of this passage, and then declared Himself the One who was to come. He said, “Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), as He rolled up the scroll.
God in the flesh unfurled the scroll, declared it done, and walked out to begin His ministry of the new covenant. And yet we know that when He returned to the Heavens from which He had come, there remained work to be done. Here, in this place of continuing darkness; where prisoners are a present reality. These “ancient ruins” in which we live, joined in God’s work of restoring the “places long devastated”, trying hard to believe in the end result upon which we have built our faith. The finished-yet-in-process work of God’s redemption of the world. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.
Friends, do you have days when it is hard to see the bounty of His promise? When your reality is anything but close to what God has said?
It is hard to believe in fruit when everything around you is rotten. Hard to imagine flourishing when you are dying on the vine. But I am learning that life is born only out of death. The choke hold is actually a life line. These places where we die, the miracle is that we yet live. Devastation that could have (should have) killed us, but God. His grace is the strand that cannot be broken when you come to the straw that broke the camel’s back. When everything falls, somehow we are held. Inexplicably, until that last day, when the scroll-yet-sealed is finally broken. The breaking that will heal the entire world. For real, forever. And there will be fruit. “In that day – Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it…In days to come, Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:2,3,6).
So, how can we allow His promise to take root in us…right now, where we stand? When we are bombarded by daily reports of bombing, not blossoming, in Israel. When the haunting images of abandoned children standing upon smoldering heaps of ruins won’t let us rest. When we are navigating the landmines of our own uncertain life circumstances. How do we hold fast to something more than scraping by?
I’ve been listening to Casting Crowns new song lately. I really love it. It has become something like a prayer to lift me from the daily wreckage to the bigger picture of my life. Here is the first verse and chorus:
Here in this dry and weary land, where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by water, we will never run dry
So, Living Water flowing through
God, we thirst for more of you
Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire:
Just to know you and to make you known We lift your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we’re made for so much more than ordinary life
It’s time for us to more than survive
We were made to thrive
Thrive: to grow and develop vigorously; to be prosperous, to advance, flourish.
Some truths I’ve been thinking on about thriving:
- Dead things must go for new life to grow (see John 15)
- The Lord Himself watches and guards the vineyard (Isaiah 27)
- When the Israelites were oppressed, their numbers only kept increasing. (see Exodus 1)
- Your life, and every circumstance surrounding it, has been firmly planted by the Sovereign Lord (See Acts 17:24-28).
It helps me to think of myself, and others, as a mighty oak. An immovable, flourishing tree nourished by the stream of Living Water, the river that runs out of Heavenly places, flowing out to this dry and weary life, bringing renewed hope everywhere it touches. I pray for that kind of refreshing from the Lord every day, a deep drink from the Fountain of Life. I want to be a wildflower in the wilderness; with no natural explanation for my growth in these hard conditions.
Persevere, friends. Thrive. We can do more than just hang on. We were made to be strong branches of refuge, extending places of shelter, safety, and shade to others. Keep preaching the good news, and letting it take root in your own heart.
“The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:11, 12).
A day is coming when we will sing about a vineyard from a land flowing with milk and honey. Today, bloom where you are planted. Your life bears witness to His glorious, thriving promise.