Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.
- Isaiah 61:7
When our church is in a time of spiritual desperation, how do we get to the point of rejoicing? It looks so far away. Thinking of all that we’ve lost over the years, we see decades of decline and think, “How can we turn this around? Is this too big for us?” The promises in this passage from Isaiah seemed so far away from the reality the Hebrew people were facing at the time. They’d lost everything, their cities were destroyed, the allies they had relied upon were, as one person-in-the-know put it, "A broken reed" that couldn't hurt anyone except the one that leaned on them. They felt they’d been abandoned by God, but in truth, they'd abandoned him.
Yes, Isaiah prophesied a return to a blessing that must have seemed incredibly unlikely given their circumstances. A vassal state of Israel, and a vassal-state in training in Judah. The once-powerful and well-ruled kingdoms of Israel had done a fairly substantial 180-degree turn in their fortunes. There wasn't much cause to rejoice in their desperation. But Isaiah promised that God would change that.
Rejoicing can be something we long to do because it’s a relief. The word for rejoicing in Hebrew means “shout!” either in desperation, desire or joy. Here it is a shout of joy that would ultimately be drawn from a people in desperate straits. Joy and desperation are as linked as peaks and valleys in a mountain range. Many times in life, we get our hopes up over a joyous promise, only to have it dashed, bringing about desperation. That happened in Israel in Isaiah's time as they tried to put together a coalition that could resist the Assyrians. This didn't turn out so well for the Kingdom of Israel, but in the end, the promise is that the people will have joy instead of shame. The Hebrew word for “instead” means to replace a thing with something closer to the ground, or the foundation. You can think of it as a closer fit to what God was intending from the start.
God has made many promises to His people, and that includes us, and He never once broke a covenant with us. Our track record, however, isn't so clean. We are a forgetful species when it comes to God and when we forget God's promise in Isaiah and other places like it, we easily fall prey to fear and discouragement instead of pushing forward into a promised purpose. We develop a perception, and we get stuck in it.
What happens next is often a dogpiling of emotions. John Eldredge once said that if the devil cannot defeat you, he will dogpile you. That's what happened to Judah. Attacked by Israel when they wouldn't join the Israeli-Syrian coalition, they found themselves embattled on all fronts. They were battling skirmishes all around them, just like us. When that begins in our lives, it gets hard to climb out from under it and we can make the same bad deals Judah did, leaning on broken reeds in our own lives. The fact is, we can’t climb out from under it without help from God.
Living into God’s promises for us moves us closer to the rejoicing we want to do, filling our hearts with joy throughout the process. Sadly, the inverse of that is true as well.
Tension in the Turmoil
we step out of that limiting perception simply by choosing instead to believe through faith that God is faithful to deliver on the promise
As we examine the text of Isaiah about rejoicing, there’s a tension here between the shame instead of reward, disgrace instead of inheritance, and it’s the reality of where we are placed against the reality of where God is leading us. The big question is, where are we putting our faith? Are we putting it in the perception we've crash-landed in, or are we instead placing it in God’s promise?
Remember, we’re in a state of spiritual desperation here, in our world, nation, community and especially in ourselves. But the promise of this passage is that we don’t have to be. And that's not just getting back to square one, but a double portion of rejoicing in our inheritance that we'd lost and everlasting joy that we could never earn. That’s exactly the thing for which we are looking, striving and struggling.
Perception, as I mentioned it, is the issue here. Much the same way we look at the promise of salvation and see who we are and we wonder if we deserve it, we can get stuck in the same trap moving beyond our salvation. The simple fact is, we don’t deserve God's goodness or His mercy, in anything, and that's ok. Our future in Christ is based on the Five Solas, specifically these two: Sola gratia, sola fide (by grace alone, by faith alone). We weren’t saved by our works, but rather by our faith in the grace God first extended. SO that means that anything we subsequently receive from God moving forward - mercy, justice and the balance between the two - that has nothing to do with anything upon which our perceptions are based.
That’s very freeing, but ... it requires faith. Powerful faith. Did I mention the faith that is required needs to be powerful? Think top fuel drag car instead of a 1988 Yugo.
In the lives of this church, we step out of that limiting perception simply by choosing instead to believe through faith that God is faithful to deliver on the promise of an inheritance to us. He did that for the people of Israel that Isaiah prophesied to all those millennia ago, so why not us? Why not now? Why not here?
Speak Life over Your Faith
Developing powerful faith can be done in a variety of ways, but they all revolve around constant contact with the Holy Spirit. Praying. Fasting. Worshiping. Being in and studying the Word. Worship on every day that ends in "y." Communion, both sacramentally and in community. The biggest thing we can do that is above and beyond this is change our narrative. We can constantly remind ourselves that this promise is here for us and that it was part of our being freed from sin. We can create a habit inside 30 days of doing this, and it's important that rabid, Holy Spirit-led, habitual faith is a vibrant characteristic of our individual and collective church make up.
This is how we start making the promises of the word reality in our lives so we can move into the purpose God has planned for us. We don’t have to earn anything at all in order to start moving into this promise. Just believe. Just like Jesus told Jairus. Like in Romans 10:9-10. God promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Rejoice and live into that. Jesus promised he would be with us until the end of the age. Rejoice and live into that. Rejoice. Live.
If we can stop living under the lie of our perception and start waking up every morning, going to bed every night placing our faith in that promise in the same concrete way we believe in our salvation, then powerful revival is possible for our church.
For What Reason Are We Here?
This is how we get to our purpose, a purpose that is the point of our existence. It's a transformational relationship that sets captives free, and it matters because we are truly freed to serve God by the promise at the heart of all of this. Others around us can experience that same kind of freedom.
We have to change our own narrative. Instead of thinking of how things fall apart in our lives, we look at how things can be when we believe in God’s promise and live our lives into His purpose. When we are a praying, fasting, studying, worshipping and communal people, with Jesus at the center of our very being, and his Holy Spirit directing us, there isn't anything that can stand against us. When we dream of a vibrant and thriving church that blesses the lives of others, instead of thinking how it can’t happen, a changed narrative and active spiritual life call to mind God’s promises propelling us to pray for a provision that enables His purpose and then pushes it toward completion.
That purpose makes God happy. Flipping that script makes God happy. Replacing that thought makes God happy. Putting the One there INSTEAD of the other is how we fulfill God’s purpose ... and make God happy.
Acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock once ran into a roadblock with his crew of cameramen, lighting directors and visual effects people over an Avante Garde way of doing a scene. They had always done it one way, but Hitchcock had a vision for something completely new. In order to deal with their objections, he told them the scene was actually a dream sequence. That little instruction gave them the license needed to see things in a whole new way, and develop new skills and approaches that ultimately achieved a blockbuster film. God is challenging us today to look at the future of our church as a dream sequence instead of the same old story we've been living for so long.
The difference is, God’s promise says we get to actually live that dream instead of just dreaming. That's a dream worth having. And that dream is something to rejoice over, don't you think?
Roland Millington is a United Methodist Church pastor serving Brimfield United Methodist Church in Brimfield, IL. He's the author of two books available digitally through our store, or as hard copies through LuLu Publishing.