March 2020–about March 2021 was interesting, to put it mildly. A year unlike any other! But in many ways, it hasn’t been all that different from recent years. Yes, a pandemic makes it a bit different. But the relevant topics of discussion haven’t changed very much. Perhaps the passion and urgency of the conversations have changed the main issues haven’t.
One sad feature behind so many of the topics today is the level of confusion. There are lots of reasons for why there is confusion. For example, the challenge of trying to discern what is true and what sources you can believe adds a significant level of confusion. But beyond the challenge of knowing what sources and people to trust, there is just confusion about what will truly bring joy, peace, satisfaction and flourishing to people and our communities. Issues like gender, addiction, education and race relations rise to the top as issues that confusion swirls around.
Part of the challenge in regard to these issues is that when you start trying to address them, there is complexity to them. Then add on top of the complexity the harrowing speed and busyness of our culture and there isn’t much time left to think deeply about these issues—at least not with our voracious entertainment fix we NEED daily. The question for followers of Jesus Christ is what hope is there in such a confused world?
In order to answer that, I’d like to consider a passage from the deep recesses of the prophet Isaiah—Isaiah 28:23–29. This passage follows on the heels of a very passionate, furious denouncement of the wickedness in Israel and especially the leadership (priests, prophets, and rulers). Against the backdrop of the strong judgments in vv.14–22 comes this passage which hopefully will help all of us turn to the right source for answers with the right attitude.
Isaiah 28:23–29 (ESV)
23 Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech.
24 Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
25 When he has leveled its surface, does he not scatter dill,
and put in wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and emmer as the border?
26 For he is rightly instructed; his God teaches him.
27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cumin with a rod.
28 Does one crush grain for bread?
No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it with his horses,
he does not crush it.
29 This also comes from the LORD of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom.
This is a speech from the prophet Isaiah (v.23) and the point of the speech is clear enough. Namely, that a simple, peasant farmer knows how to farm and does the most common-sense farming strategies of the day, because the Lord is the one who instructs him. This does not mean, that God physically talked with the farmer and directly told him about these farming techniques. Therefore, the question must be asked, “In what way did God instruct the farmer?” The answer would be through the created order and physical principles of this world that God has allowed us to learn. It’s not just Christians that know how to farm! Why is that? Because there is a God who created everyone and everything in the world!
The question you might be asking (or should be asking), is what does this have to do with the confusion and complex issues of our modern-day culture? Everything! The issues of gender, education and our belief about this world are being turned completely upside down. And yet, no one is arguing that we should radically change the way we farm—yes, maybe new equipment or fertilizers, etc.—but no one is arguing that we should try to farm by not planting seeds. No one is arguing that we should not use water anymore to plant. No one is arguing that discing your fields is so important that you should do nothing but disc your fields all season and when it’s time to harvest, do not use a combine use a disc!!
The point is, there are basic, simple things that we are not trying to change because it would be absolute nonsense to change something so straightforward and obvious! Yet, there is our problem. We will be instructed by God in obvious outright physical principles, but when it comes to spiritual issues, we refuse to be instructed by God.
Consider 2 physical lessons that men have been instructed by God in, but then refuse the spiritual corollary.
Physical Lesson 1: Resistance and difficulty is necessary for growth.
Example: Plants and trees that grow up without wind or storms do not grow deep strong roots that help them stay firm and grow strong.
Spiritual Corollary: Rejoice in trials for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness and when steadfastness has it’s full effect you’ll be perfect, complete, and lacking nothing (James 1:2–4).
When things get hard or difficult our natural reaction is to complain and run for some kind of escape. That’s why many of us have roots that are too shallow to really nourish us well, or to help us remain steadfast.
Physical Lesson 2: It takes consistent hard work and effort to produce food, or anything of value.
Example: If you plant a garden and you do not take the effort to weed the garden, it will be overrun by weeds quickly which could choke out all of your produce. You also have to pull weeds from the garden more than once every season—at least that’s how it seems to work for me! It takes consistent care to keep a garden weed free.
Spiritual Corollary 2: To produce spiritual fruit and growth it takes consistent hard work to root out unbelief and cultivate faith.
Physical exercise is a great example of how spiritual growth works. A person who runs every single day will certainly grow their stamina and be healthier than a person who runs one day per month. Our bodies need consistent, daily training to really grow. But when it comes to spiritual growth, we often think we can quickly jam in Bible reading, or sermons or prayer and somehow that will carry us on for the next season of our life. We struggle to believe and discipline ourselves to consistently and daily develop our relationship with Christ.
Reflection and Application
I would encourage you, to pick one of the physical lessons and its spiritual corollary from above and do an audit in your own life of where you’re rebelling against “the instruction of the Lord.” Here are some examples to get you thinking:
- Perhaps it’s in your attitude at work whenever problems come up. You get agitated or frustrated, rather than seeing the problem as an opportunity to grow deep roots of dependence on Jesus.
- Maybe it’s your sporadic intake of God’s Word. God’s Word is our daily bread (cf. Matt. 4:4). You cannot just load up on bread one day a week and then not eat the other six days!
- Maybe it’s your approach to repentance and change. You are serious about fighting temptation for one day. But then the next day comes and you give in and it takes you weeks before trying again. Remember that growth takes consistent hard work!
- Maybe it’s the way you seek to communicate love to your spouse. One romantic night or date ever month or so is how you try and communicate love, rather than seeking to communicate your love day in and day out. A loving relationship isn’t built on romantic homeruns every now and then. Rather, it’s built on the daily self-giving and sacrifice to count them more important than yourself and to look out for their interests (cf. Phil. 2:3–4).