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Barren or Promised Growth?

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. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. (Isaiah 58:9-12)

I live in the Arizona desert, so growing things here is a little more difficult than it might be in the lush greenbelts of our country. Xerarch is a term that indicates the ability to grow and even 'evolve' in dry places. Most of us face those "dry places" in life much more than we do the really well-watered ones! Those "barren" places just don't look very promising when we are smack-dab in the middle of them, do they? In fact, the very word "barren" suggests "sterile" ground - unproductive and unfruitful. I think the barren places are the exact places God will choose to show his power in our lives! A full in life in the emptiest places - isn't this the same as "dry places"? Dryness actually produces emptiness. Emptiness begs to be filled. Even dry places become "collectors" of something. Here in Arizona, we have dust storms from time to time - big ones! The roof shingles get a real workout with some of the high winds! What do those winds do in the driest places? They stir up the dust, moving anything that has withered and become "brittle" in the heat of the day. One of the things we are known for is our tumbleweeds. In the midst of the dry places, these weeds spring up, wither and die - leaving mere skeletons of what once was. When the winds come, those are easily plucked from their spots and are carried away in the winds. The desert floor will be littered with the results of the windstorm - not much to look at, but signs of growth once there. What we don't see is the result of the winds - they move the seeds and spread the soil over them. In the coolness of winter, the rains will come. The growth once evident on the desert floor will again be seen. Even dry places have the promise of growth!

Our lives are much like the desert floor at times - filled with all kinds of "tumbleweed" issues - pricking at us like there is no tomorrow. They spring up, looking like they are going to produce something of real value in our lives, but they just cannot stand the heat of the day, so they wither where they took root. Plucked up by the storms of life, the "floor" of our lives is cleared again to become the planting spot for the things which promise lasting growth. Until the dead stuff is cleared, the "void" that has been covered by all that stuff cannot be filled. The dead stuff takes up valuable room in our lives - it has to be cleared away before that space can be filled with what matters. The good news is that God uses the rubble of our old lives to build us anew! Even the stuff that looks dead has a purpose! As those tumbleweeds in our lives blow across the desert floor of our weary soul, they serve as a "sweeper" of sorts. They begin to gather other dead rubble in their path and sweep it along in the path they are taking with the force of the winds of God's Spirit. As the old is cleared away, the place for newness to spring forth is prepared - readied for the planting that will yield a positive harvest.

If you have ever studied the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem found in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, you will understand what I am going to say next. They didn't "start over" with the building materials - they used what they had, salvaging what could become useful again when placed in right order. Some of the things in our lives are simply not in "right order". We definitely need "new materials" to be infused, just as Nehemiah and Ezra did when rebuilding the walls, but there will always be some portion of our experiences, past learning, and even our past mistakes that God can be put in "right order" again. Once in the "right order" those things no longer become stumbling blocks or rubble piles, but the potential stones that help to form a foundation in our lives! God uses the old, brings in the new, and ensures the way is made for the dry places to bring forth something afresh and promising. The dry places seem more frequent in our lives because they are the hardest to endure. Anyone hiking across the desert will tell you it is the hardest hike they have taken - until they try to climb Everest! The altitude of the highest peaks can also be our "undoing"! We long for the "peaks" and "lush valleys" in life. The point between both may very well be the driest place - God stands smack-dab in the midst of the driest place, his hand poised to bring forth growth where none seemed possible. Just sayin!

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