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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fullness in the emptiest of places

I came across a quote the other day which kind of made me take a moment to contemplate what the author must have meant when the words were penned. The origin of the quote is unknown, but it states, "Life is like a flute.  It may have many holes and emptiness, but if you work on it carefully, it can play magical melodies."  I would like to point out it is not the work "I" do on my life which produces the melodies which are pleasing to the hearer, but the works "GOD" does in my life!  He is the only one capable of bringing melodies out of our empty places, not by "plugging the holes", but by covering them with his grace and love.  

I will always show you where to go.  I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones. (Isaiah 58:11 MSG)

To be fair, I cannot pick this passage out of Isaiah to stand all by itself without giving you the preceding couple of verses.  They outline some "conditions" God outlines for our right living.  Here is the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would have said:  "If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight." (vs. 9-10 MSG)  How is it God will always show us where to go - when we begin to walk in the way he has called us to live.

Unfair practices have no place in a Christian's life.  You could call these anything which "place a yoke" upon another.  In other words, you place another in bondage to do or be what you want them to be by what you demand of t hem.  I think God was aiming at the idea of placing demands upon others we would never place upon ourselves.  As a child, I would often think someone got to go first in line, had he biggest piece of cake, or simply got to swing first, all the while thinking how "unfair" life was!  Isn't it amazing how we "judge" the fairness of life by the standards of who goes first, gets the most, or has the best ride?  I think this passage deals with matters a little bit deeper than who got the biggest piece of cake, though.  It deals with the attitude of heart which places another under obligation - holds another in a place of being oppressed.  The instruction to us is to get rid of the unfair practices - to stop placing demands upon others and to start living above the demands others have placed upon us.  We are to live free - serving but one master - and he doesn't place a yoke which oppresses!

Blaming victims?  What on earth could this mean?  Well, I think it might deal with the tendency we have to tell someone "I told you so".  It is easy to see we might even do this with ourselves on occasion.  When blame victims for what happens to them, we might just be placing them under a yoke of burden they were never intended to bear.  Pointing the finger is an easy thing to do - realizing the remainder of the fingers are actually point back at us is much harder!  The old adage "it takes one to know one" might just apply here.  We are not in a position to judge the hearts of another - we can see their actions and even observe their emotion, but we cannot judge their hearts.  Only God can do this.  Whenever we try to even judge our own heart, we fail - because no one knows our heart as well as God.

Gossip is an action which is dealt with multiple times in scripture - more than most of us would like to admit.  Looking at the progression of what Isaiah has penned here, we can see he is dealing not so much with the actions or deeds of another done toward us, but the actions and attitudes of our heart done against another.  It is an easy thing to gossip about another's short-comings. It is quite another to allow those short-comings in another to begin to unveil the same short-comings in us!  When we stop talking ABOUT another, and start praying FOR another, we might just realize how closely our own actions and attitude mimic those we would most like to criticize in the other!

Instead of unfair practices, blaming victims and gossiping about the sins of another, we are instructed to begin to "give into" the lives of others.  The first three actions "take away from" the lives of another - the instruction to live generously, not only in terms of our material stuff, but in terms of the expenditure of our lives, actually "gives into" the life of another.  Isaiah is pointing out the difference between justice and injustice.  One builds up - gives into - another's life.  The other takes away - tears down.  We are called to be "builders" - to live in a way which exemplifies the generosity of a great God who has redeemed us with the most valuable of things he possessed - his Son.  In this way, the tides are changed in the lives of the oppressed and the victims - and we play an active part in the changing of this tide!

The end result of this "shift" in our way of responding is an ability to shine in darkness.  Instead of creating darkness, we actually allow light to be shed where only darkness once dwelt.  This brings us to our highlighted passage - being filled to overflowing in even the emptiest of places.  If you have ever wondered how it was someone could face the most horrific pain, endure the greatest loss of their life, or face terror with boldness, it was probably because they had this type of "grounding" in their lives.  God is the only one able to give us a full life in the emptiest of places.  We all will face some of these "expanses" in the course of living on this earth - places where the emptiness becomes so apparent it hurts.  In those moments, God brings fullness.  God is a God of the opposites.  He sees hurt and gives healing.  He hears defeat and gives courage.  He encounters emptiness and fills the space with his presence.

I don't know about you, but emptiness is a challenge for me.  If you look closely, you will find I have tried to mask those empty places in my life - but no amount of "masking" will ever bring fullness out of emptiness!  It is only when I reveal my emptiness that I am able to have it filled to overflowing!  How about you?  Need to remove some "masking" from your empty places today?  It might just take some getting used to, but when you are willing to live without the mask, the emptiness has a tendency to get filled with the best of stuff!  Just sayin!