Monday, May 19, 2008

Redefining Failure

“As for them, whether they listen or not-- for they are a rebellious house-- they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel 2:5

Things were bad. The entire nation had abandoned the God who loved them, turned their backs on a covenantal relationship, and were worshipping idols made of wood and stone. Over the years God sent prophet after prophet to urge the people to turn from their sin to avoid certain judgment, but to no avail. Instead of repenting, they stoned or persecuted the men whose spoken words were from the Lord Himself. The Lord had already brought judgment down on the kingdom in the north. Ezekiel was living proof of that-- he had been taken away to Babylon already. Judah was running out of time. Yet still they stubbornly persisted in their evil ways.

The Lord already knew there was no hope of turning these people around. Yet He prepared Ezekiel to prophecy yet another message of coming judgment and Judah’s need for repentance. Perhaps He did not want Ezekiel to go in with unrealistic expectations. He knew how discouraging it would be to speak the truth and have it thrown back into his face. So the Lord told Ezekiel: “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them . . . yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate.” (Ezekiel 3:4, 7)

Yes, Ezekiel, I am sending you to a people who will not listen. You will fail in your mission. They haven’t listened to Me, and they will not listen to you.

So why was God bothering to send poor Ezekiel? When you read what misery God required of him during his ministry, it gets even more perplexing. Ezekiel had to spend 390 days lying on his left side. Then he would turn over and lie 40 days on his right side. He would eat bread cooked in cow dung. Worse yet, Ezekiel would be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice in the days ahead: his wife would die on the first day of the siege of Jerusalem as a sign to the people. Yet Ezekiel would not be allowed to mourn. All of this would be a sign to Israel that their judgment was from God. All that suffering, for a godly man, with seemingly no reason since the House of Israel would not turn back from their sin. Why bother?

We are results-oriented people. Our society measures the importance of a person by their position or their wealth. This obsession with visible success has influenced how we view things. In a church setting, we judge the “success” of a ministry by numbers or growth. If we are doing things right, then we should see growth. I just read a chapter today in a book on the spiritual disciplines that claimed if we are not seeing answers to prayer, then we are praying wrong.

I wonder how Ezekiel would have responded to that idea.

When God sent Ezekiel to the people, He sent him to fail. Ezekiel would do everything by the book. He would follow the Lord’s instructions carefully and completely. But the people would not respond.

The point to what God asked of Ezekiel, I think, is that God wanted the witness to be there. They would be without excuse. God had warned Ezekiel: “As for them, whether they listen or not-- for they are a rebellious house-- they will know that a prophet has been among them.” God was giving them every last chance to turn from their sin and back to Him.

It had to be that way, because God is who He is. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us God is not “wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God is good, and His actions toward His people are good. So He provided every means to receiving a positive response from them.

We are results oriented. God just wants us to be faithful. He has called us to live lives which are light to the world around us living in darkness. Year after year, decade after decade, even when we never see positive results from our testimony.

To God, the process is more important than the product. He wants us to keep our eyes on Him, and not on the results of our attempts at following Him. He has His purpose for our lives. We just need to keep our focus zeroed in on Him, and resist the temptation to tally up the numbers or other man-made indicators of success. We just need to remain faithful.

No comments: