“So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11 NRSV)
This picture was captured April 22nd, 2014, on the top of the property at Potter’s Inn (Divide, CO). Placed near the entrance to a Prayer Labyrinth, this sign is meant to draw our attention to the various ways God continually reveals himself to us. If only we would slow down and pay attention.
Spring has sprung in Colorado, which means the winds from the west pick up every afternoon. Those seasonal winds may be a hindrance to a nice walk in the mountains, but if we pay attention we will become aware that those winds signal a change. Something is stirring. The long winter is ending. Color is coming back into our landscape…Just as we expect the sun to rise every morning, we can be certain the flowers will bloom once again.
I took this picture because of what the image invokes in me. Not only is there no flower in sight, but I purposefully ran the picture through a filter to draw out the bleakness of the scene. In this case, it was the absence of the flowers that taught me about God.
I can relate to the paradox of this image. It feels as if God has closed up shop and gone on vacation to Florida during the “winter” seasons of my life. But, no matter how I feel, that just isn’t true. God is with me, comforting me, teaching me how to trust even when all I see is desolation. This very well may be the place where God teaches me about “hope deferred.” (See Proverbs 13:12)
Just as we experienced the glory of Resurrection Sunday a few days ago, we know the true delight of any “sign of life” comes from the agonizing time spent in-between. The day after a tornado, when you wake up to survey the damage. The moment after the phone call from the doctor, when you realize the long road of treatment ahead.
The Friday night and Saturday when Jesus is buried in the tomb and the rock is placed over the entrance.
Good Friday is “good” and Holy Saturday is “holy” not because we enjoy living in the in-between. Who enjoys the pain of despair, doubt, anguish, guilt, uncertainty, fear and abandonment? I can’t imagine such a person.
Allow me to share with you a small portion of my journal from January 18th of this year. It was written on the final day of a Spiritual Formation class in California.
God told me [through the reading of Psalm 30], “Adam, take a look at all the healing, and all we’ve been through together. It’s time to take off the sack clock and put on the clothes of gladness. You are coming out of winter!” The river is thawing. It’s time to sing my songs of joy again. This is not me standing in Winter saying, “I want summer.” It is God telling me, “Your long winter is over.”
Those were the prayers of one who has been comforted by God’s declaration of new orientation, which always feels amazing after a long season of disorientation.
Did you know a similar thing was actually happening in Isaiah 51:11: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing…” Although it seems like those were prophetic words spoken over the people, the context actually shows this verse to be part of a longer prayer of deliverance, which the people were addressing to the Lord.
Isn’t this interesting? We pray to God and declare what we know to be true! We remind God, and ourselves, of the promises we’ve been given. We rehearse God’s attributes and remember the ways we have already experienced “resurrection.” This is where we find comfort and consolation. This is where we receive joy and gladness. This is where sorrow and sighing eventually flee away.
…in this sacred space called prayer and worship.
Looking back at those words today – only three months later – I am utterly amazed and astounded at what the Lord has done for me and my family. Almost immediately after my class, I was invited to apply for a church in Indiana as their next minister of worship and creative arts. As the process played itself out, I continually stood back in amazement at God’s obvious involvement.
Walking back into full-time ministry feels like a “returning” for me. I must confess that at first I wasn’t sure I wanted a thing to do with it. In the end, though, God showed me that he wants to RESTORE WORSHIP in and through me. So that’s what I’m gonna do!
In terms of my family, we are filled with thanksgiving and praise as we recognize the undeniable ways God has revealed our next steps, knowing that God’s presence will go with us. May the same be true for you.
Our Creator God is faithful. He has not abandoned us or forgotten us. He will restore us and cause us to delight once again – and the ransomed of the Lord shall return with singing!