When you hear the word transformation what comes to mind? My first thought was how we all transform, as we get older. Some of you may remember when I looked like this and now I stand before you much taller, and I’d like to think a little wiser than when this picture was taken. Another example of a transformation that fascinates many people is popcorn, something small and insignificant becomes a delicious snack; check this out. He turned boring water into a drink, which in my opinion is more tasty! Transformations come in all areas of life, this past week I had the amazing opportunity to serve alongside the youth of this church in Long Island. Long Island was deviated by Super Storm Sandy and we were able to help with some construction to help restore some homes. The project I worked in started out looking like this.The flood waters from the storm ruined this paint job and our project was to make it look new. The final result was this.Throughout the week the youth worked hard and were able to see this project transform. The idea of a transformation has always fascinated humans. Transformations come with endless possibilities, what will come next?
Those feelings of anticipation that something better is to come must have been how Ezekiel was feeling when God’s hand led him into the valley that was just covered in dry bones. Not only is there anticipation from our desire for something more, something better there is a sense of emptiness, brokenness that causes us to ache for that something more. For Ezekiel this valley represents a place of brokenness and hopelessness. It reminds him that his people have lost hope in their exile. At this time Israel has been kicked out of Jerusalem, their home and the place they worship. They are feeling cut off from God and as though they will dry up like the bones. As God leads Ezekiel to walk in the midst of the dry bones Ezekiel is resting in that despair as he is reminded of the battles they lost, the people they lost, and the land they lost. Sometimes it seems as though God is calling us to rest in those broken places for a while. It is never easy and seems to take longer than we would like, just as being a child waiting for jiffy pop to explode from its tinfoil sell, a magic trick to take place seems painstakingly slow. We have to remember that for Ezekiel this was not just a walk in the park; he was facing his brokenness and Israel’s brokenness. Have you ever experienced something like this? A day where you feel particularly confronted with your broken humanity? Maybe it’s brought on because of a fight with you’re a friend or spouse, or you watched the news for too long and were faced with too many stories about senseless murder or other hate. I’ve had a moment like this. When I was in high school I faced a valley of dry bones. I had a friendship that feel to pieces because I was selfish, had a temper and didn’t know when to keep my mouth shut and listen, kind of like the nation of Israel. In the months that followed the argument with my friend I was forced to rest in that brokenness. I had been a bad friend. It was not very restful, I felt anxious, alone, confused, and angry… all things I’m sure Ezekiel felt as God led him through those piles of dry bones.
But then, as the weight of his brokenness is almost more than Ezekiel can stand, God begins to speak. He asks Ezekiel “Can these dry bones live again?” Ezekiel must have been caught off guard, lost in his own thoughts of what had come opt pass and what was coming. He simple replies, “Only you know Lord.” Such a simple response, but it allows God to continue the conversation. He tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones that they will live again. Not only will they live, their bodies will be restored. They will have muscles, tendons, skin, and breath in them. God isn’t planning on just making skeletons walk; He’s planning something much more. If I were in Ezekiel’s sandals I would have thought, “You want me to speak to the bones? What can I do? I’m just a human. God you call me Son of Man, you know my limitations.” But instead Ezekiel simply obeys. As he is speaking something incredible happens, a noise shakes the valley as the bones begin to move, they begin to come together. Right before his eyes bones form bodies, muscles and veins cover the bones, than skin covers those. Now Ezekiel stands in a valley filled with motionless bodies. When the rattling stops and the bones are incased in flesh and blood God speaks again. He tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bodies once more, saying that God will put breath in their lungs. God commands Ezekiel to call upon the four winds to fill these empty bodies. Ezekiel once again obeys and the bodies come to life, forming a vast army.
What a transformation, dry bones become a strong army that is ready to fight. Ezekiel must have been blown away, but should he be? God has done this before, but the first time is documented in Genies chapter 2. The first time God didn’t use dried up bones, he created Adam from dust, from practically nothing. He didn’t need the four winds; instead he breathed His breath right into Adam’s nostrils. When we read Ezekiel’s story we are always surprised by God’s power, but should we be? I mean, He’s done this before with even less material to work with. Even though God has created life before, this time is special, this time is different. God uses things he already created to make something new. Ezekiel is an important part of this process. He allowed God to speak through him. And instead of using dust, God uses the bones He already created. He doesn’t just breathe directly into these bodies, this time God has Ezekiel call upon the four winds. Now these four winds are important, Milard Lind says in his commentary on Ezekiel that these winds already knew God, they new His power. Meaning, this is not just wind form the North, South, East or West, but it is the Spirit of the living God flowing into these bodies. Bringing them to life once more.
Now that God has shown Ezekiel his power once again, Ezekiel is given another important task. He is to prophesy to the nation of Israel. This time he does not come with a message of despair and judgment. No, those days are over. This time God sends Ezekiel a message of hope, that just as He restored the dry bones, He will restore Israel. In Ezekiel 36 God tells Ezekiel He will restore the land of Israel so the trees will bear fruit and the land will sustain its people. He will show them His power through their transformation out of exile and their restoration as His chosen people. This is big news, and a prophecy I’m sure Ezekiel was looking forward to delivering. The nation of Israel will be restored!
Just as God transformed and restored Israel, He is transforming and restoring us. I mentioned early that I have experienced my own valley of dry bones, and I’m sure we all have those times of brokenness. Luckily for us, we believe in a God who is in the business of making old things new. Meaning that those dried up places of our own lives, whether that’s a broken relationship, a personal struggle with sin, or doubt; God is willing to speak those bones back to life. He is waiting to transform us and our circumstances into something new, something beautiful. We just have to be willing to answer His question, “Can these dry bones live again?” Are we willing to answer in a way that continues the conversation? Just as God transformed the dry bones into living things by His Spirit, we can be transformed through the love of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone. The new is here!” To hear the sweet sound of our creator calling His creation to be something more beautiful than we could ever image. I’ve seen this in my own life, my dry valley, that relationship that fell apart has been restored; by the grace of God I now have a Christ centered friendship that will last a lifetime. I was blessed with the opportunity to be in her wedding this summer. God has done amazing thing in my heart and in this situation to create a more beautiful friendship than was there before. God had a plan for our friendship. Just like God had a plan for Israel and He has a plan for each of us. Ezekiel never would have thought God would use him to restore Israel, because he felt limited by his humanity. Even when we feel we are not good enough, we must remember four simple things to help us surrender to God’s transformative power.
The first is to be willing to REST in our brokenness; just like Ezekiel had to walk in his dry valley, we must do the same. This can be a very painful process and I don’t mean we should wallow in self-pity, I simple mean we must be aware of our brokenness and our need of God’s grace. Because in order for a transformation to take place be must be aware that we are in need of one. But even in the midst of resting, even if it isn’t particularly restful or comfortable we have to remember what Psalm 23:4 Says “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I have no fear because your rod and your staff comfort me.” (ESV)
The second step is to LISTEN for God to speak. Ezekiel listens when God speaks and continues the conversation. God can speak to us in many ways, through prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and conversations with others. Our relationship with God allows us to be in conversation with God and to know him. John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (NIV) Through out relationship with God we are able to follow Him.
Which brings me to the next step, ACT Follow where you hear God leading you, even if it’s uncomfortable. Ezekiel acts as God commanded even though he thinks he is limited. This past week I saw teenagers serving God even though they were in a strange city, doing things outside of their comfort zone and it was really really really hot. James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (ESV) When we live out our faith through living like Christ and serving others we are opening our selves up for the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts.
The final step is SHARE tell others about your experiences. Ezekiel goes back to the Nation of Israel and shares his experiences to help them engage with God’s transforming love. When we tell others about the transformations we have seen in our own lives and in the lives of others we are spreading the love of Christ and coming together just like the bones came together to form something more. We come together to form the body of Christ. 1 Cor. 12:12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
These four steps may take time, and our transformation is a life long journey, but don’t let those boney valleys of your life trap you in a human sized reality. Instead listen for the God’s gentle whisper that’s calling us come to life.