Think of your favorite fantasy. Some of us will think things like:
- J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter
- C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
- J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (Side note why do all the best author’s use their initials?)
What is it about these stories that makes them timeless and fascinating? They hold wonder, they leave you guessing, and they talk about things we don’t see in our world. Dragon’s, Magic, Castles, Knights, Quests, talking lion’s, character’s that defy all odds. Have you ever taken time to consider that the Bible has these things? It is a very strange book. If someone who had never heard of Christianity picked this book up and read it from cover to cover in the way we read novels they would be in awe.
- God communicates to Moses with a flaming, talking bush in Exodus 3
- God speaks to a man named Balaam in Numbers 22 through a talking Donkey
- Or in Daniel 5 a hand appears out of thin air and writes a message on the wall
- Not to mention all the weird “churchy” things that are difficult to understand like prophets, angels, or how someone can die and come back to life.
I Grew up in church, with a bible whose pages were glued together. We did not talk about certain subjects; prophets, angels, holy spirit, spiritual gifts or anything else the pastor thought might make new comers feel uncomfortable. Out of really pure boredom and looking for something to read the book of Ezekiel fell into my lap when in high school and I was fascinated by the imagery in this passage. But I did not understand any of it. When told it was about prophecy my mind began to wonder and think of what that could be. Images of voodoo, fortune-telling, and tarot cards flooded my mind. Yet that was something “good Christians” didn’t participate in. Why was this in the bible?
Prophecy is something that has been a part of God’s ministry for his people since the very beginning. We see prophets throughout the new and old Testament. Examples like Jonah and Jeremiah come to mind. Jesus is even considered a prophet by some. He stated in John 12:49:
“For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.”
A prophet is someone who hears from God and communicates what God wants his people to know. The key focus is to encourage and motivate. This equips the church with eyes to see and ears to hear. Key components are that it must carry grace and correct and direct as the speaker feel God is leading. Prophecy has many variations, purposes, outlets, but is not a scary word. It was intended to be encouraging. God loves his people so much that he provided a way to communicate correction, hope, love, grace, and direction when we need it the most. When it seems, we cannot hear on our own (for whatever reason) he sends people who can speak His voice to us. (The following is a break-down of Ezekiel 37:1-14, feel free to read it for yourself)
There are two types of people in this world. People who love history and seek out information on how we ended up where we are, then there are people like me who are forward thinkers and often forget that history ever happened, we just want to see what the future holds. History is not my thing, however when reading a text this deep and ambiguous I understand the importance of knowing the context that surrounds it. Where are the people who are reading this, what does this passage mean to them?
This vision dates to the period of Israel’s history known as the Babylonian Exile. Ezekiel was among the first wave of the deported, whom God later called in Babylon to the office of prophet. (The office of prophet is just a job title, someone who’s job is to prophecy). The key symbols of Judean faith–Jerusalem, its temple, its people, and the Davidic monarchy–had been destroyed, and according to theological rationality of the ancient world, many exiled Judeans assumed that their deity had been defeated by a stronger deity from Babylon. They were hopeless.
This vision is an echo of the people’s lament. (think the scene in Disney’s The Lion King of the elephant graveyard.) The question is, “Can these bones live?” The key to the unfolding story, of course, is that to live, they need not only flesh and skin, but also breath. God needed Ezekiel to come and SPEAK breath and life into the dry bones. Could God have done this without Ezekiel? Absolutely, but he didn’t because he had a message to share with us. The power that Ezekiel has, has nothing to do with how he lived his life (in fact I would venture to say he was probably of the mindset that all was defeated), or the fact that he was a prophet, but simply his voice. A power we all have.
Ezekiel simply had to go and to say what God wanted him to say. The power of your words is the strongest power that we have as humans. You don’t have to be called to the office of a prophet to use your voice, to prophecy. In fact the bible says ALL can prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:31:
“For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”
Rachel Held Evans phrases it this way, and I really like her rendition:
“not all are prophets but all have an obligation to participate in the prophetic forthcoming.”
Our participation has a variety of expressions. By agreeing with prophetic vision, such as the vision that your church shares, or hearing and accepting prophecy that you have been given or overheard and sharing it with others, and reading the bible are all ways (among many) that we can participate in the prophetic.
We all face seasons in our life where everything in front of us looks dead and baron much like it did to the Israelites then. In this day and age in The States we don’t face exile the way the Israelites did, but we are no stranger to the power of struggle, loss, and mourning. Maybe your dead valley looks more like:
- Your marriage that is falling apart and you don’t know if you can stay.
- Mourning the death of a loved one.
- Owing more money than you make and you aren’t sure if you can put food on the table.
- A diagnosis that seems too big to handle. You feel hopeless, lost, and alone. Like the temple, you have (your body) has been destroyed.
We know all too well the feeling of hopelessness Ezekiel had as he faced their new reality. We don’t have to reach too far or think too hard about how it feels to look into the distance and see nothing but dead, dry bones of crushed dreams. There is no hint of life in this valley. And maybe it feels as if your valley is just as dead, just as abandoned.
This valley is left to rot, just like any dream the Israelites had for freedom and redemption. But God wasn’t done. He had a plan, he had Ezekiel. Mind you Ezekiel is one of these people who have lost everything. He has no family, no temple or place to rest his head. He maybe a prophet but he is not sheltered from the pain of the world he lives in. Yet he went anyway and spoke life into what seemed like a very dead situation.
As you face your valley of dry bones, whatever it maybe, and we all have one, you have a choice. You can accept it as your new reality and live defeated like the Israelites, or you can choose to stand and speak into it like Ezekiel did. He made the choice, even though he was alone, even though everyone else in the world told him to give up that it was over. And when he walked away he saw the bones come alive, fully alive. They weren’t empty bodies moving around like zombies or cadavers, but bodies full of life, full of God. Your dead thing doesn’t have to stay dead. But God is calling you to participate in its resurrection. By using your voice.
My mom has this thing where if someone says something negative she retorts back with “Don’t speak that” We like to make fun of her for saying it, because let’s be real we live in a very negative world so she says it often. But there is a lot of truth to her statement. We see this in Proverbs 18:21 that says our tongue has the power of life and death.
My mom gets this idea from a video she watched, and I’m not sure what kind of science there is behind this, but I have noticed the difference in her life since she has adopted this mindset so there must be some form of truth to it. In this video, there are three sets of plants and a group of scientists. To one plant they tell it things like you’re terrible, you’re stupid, you won’t bloom etc. To another they tell it how wonderful and beautiful it is. The third acts as a control where they speak nothing to it. Each plant is watered and placed in proper sunlight at the same time and for the same length each day. Over time the plants develop very differently. The plant that is encourage bears a lot of fruit, the plant that is discouraged withers and dies. The control plant develops some fruit but not as much as the first.
Again, I’m not sure exactly how much science is behind this but I can’t help but think how this principal carries over in our lives. It certainly reigns true in this valley of dry bones. Think about how children develop when they grow up in homes where they are encouraged, verses homes where they are constantly told they aren’t good enough. No matter who you are when someone speaks something over you for long enough you start to believe it. In fact God has been demonstrating this to us since the very beginning. Genesis 1 God SAID and it was. He created the whole Earth and all that is in it with his VOICE. He wanted us to know the power that we hold. We are created in his image after all.
What God is reminding us here through Ezekiel is the power and importance of learning to speak BOLDLY. If we applied this to our life what would our situations look like? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God is a genie and if you say I have a million dollars over and over it will happen. The key here is that Ezekiel is speaking God’s words and allowing God, The Holy Spirit, to pour into his dead situation. The book you’re holding in your hands is full of God’s word.
What if the next time we faced a hard situation like financial struggle, the loss of a job, or illness instead of complaining we took Ezekiel’s approach and spoke God’s words over it. I’m preaching to myself more than anyone else here. I will be the first to admit I complain, a lot especially if I don’t feel well. At 2 months pregnant I was placed on bedrest for severe pelvic dysfunction. This has been a very difficult season for my family to walk through. I not only lost my physical capabilities, but also my job. So my physical situation became a financial situation as well. Instinct was to fully embrace this season by complaining and throwing a pity party. But God began to remind me, in His still small way, of the power of my words. So I made the choice to at least try this for a few day. I noticed on days that I decide to make a conscious choice about the words I use I felt better. Things still hurt, I’m still pregnant. But when I remind myself that my body is doing an amazing thing by creating a tiny human the pain seems less terrible and I can do more on those days. I say things to my aching hips like “You are wonderfully made and you’re doing your job well making this baby.” We find similar scriptures in Psalms 139.
If I can do this, and notice a difference you can too. Like I said it’s my first instinct to complain especially when things get hard, but we have a choice over the words that come out of our mouth. Be the encourager that your situation needs. We all know those people who are immensely positive in every situation. You know the one who when the world is falling apart comes in and says, “It’s going to be fine, God is bigger.” We roll our eyes because we want someone to join us in our pity party, but their words are encouraging. Secretly we crave more of that, we want them around because they make the dead thing seem less dead. Instead of waiting around for someone to come in and encourage your situation, why don’t you step up and do it yourself?
Be the Ezekiel in your story. He struggled, he was lost and I guarantee you he wanted to complain, maybe he did. But that is not the part of the story that God wanted us to read. He wanted us to read the power of God’s words when we are facing something hopeless. If God can use Ezekiel to speak life into a dead kingdom and a valley of dry bones. What could he use YOU to say to your dead situation, or to the dead things people around you face?