Scripture is full of paradoxes. The poor are made rich, the weak strong, the humble lifted up. In reading the Word, we’re continually confronted with real life stories of situations which are downright shocking.
Seas and rivers part. City walls fall flat. Donkeys talk. Magi from distant lands travel for months following a star representing the arrival of a long-awaited Lord and King, only to find him wrapped in strips of cloth, a baby bedded in an animal’s feeding trough. And all of these examples pale before the anomaly of the Cross.
This past year has also been rife with paradoxes. With churches closing their doors and physical gatherings prohibited or scaled down, one would have predicted a drop in membership and a dramatic decline in offerings. While challenges and hardships have been real, we now have the benefit of hindsight to see just how faithful the Lord has been through it all.
Our Training and Equipping participation is going through the roof. KI Kids touched thousands of children instead of hundreds, and in multiple nations. We’re now reaching many more through the livestream of our online services, and our finances are stronger now than at the start of COVID.
This is true for most of our CGN churches as well, though it’s also good to be reminded that some within the network really need us to stand with them in times like these.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of how to create our own paradoxical story. A barren woman is told to ‘sing!’ in Isaiah 54:1 – “Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing and cry aloud, You who have not laboured with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married women, says the Lord.”
A lady who has unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant for years is told she’s going to have more children than a woman who’s already a mom – that she’s going to have such a brood that she had better get busy adding rooms and gathering lots of furnishings to accommodate an abundance of boys and girls.
If we didn’t have history to look back on, we might think Isaiah is just being a masterful poet, using hyperbole and metaphor to concoct a message to dazzle his readers. But the prophet did not play his prophetic fiddle to make the children of Israel dance. His words so angered them that they conclusively sawed him in two!
No, Isaiah was not being creative or politically-correct. He was stating something startlingly TRUE – that God routinely takes impossibly bleak and depressing situations and recreates them into brilliant billboards of redemption, power, and love.
Promises long shredded and filed away in the dustbin by this desperate woman were about to be recovered, restored, and fulfilled. Naturally speaking, realising one was barren was a most painful, disheartening, and terminal diagnosis. More than a physical malady, being unable to bear children meant that shame, rejection, guilt, fear, and dashed dreams would be one’s lifelong companions.
The flood of negative emotions that oppressed a woman in ancient times as she faced this bitter truth would reverberate condemnation like the echoing blow of a judge’s gavel.
The woman in the mirror was bereft, stricken, cursed. Family gatherings became a cacophony of whispers from kinfolk. The shifting eyes of passers-by, the huddled women in the markets, the ever-more frequent pointing of a crooked, careless finger. The awareness that her husband was on the lookout for her replacement, someone to give him pleasure, empowering him to produce offspring and build a legacy.
And yet the Lord says, “Sing!” Lift up your song of praise. Cry aloud your hymns of thanksgiving and adoration. This simple yet profound act of faith is the first and most crucial step in unlocking Hope’s promises.
Once one is pregnant with Heaven’s implanted Word, babies are not far behind! Out of intolerable travail, a holy assurance is fantastically birthed and a confession sired: my season of barrenness has been preparing me for barn-filled years of bounty.
COVID’s strike has been painful; but it has proven and is now preparing us for stewardship of much greater things. Desolation is not our destiny. Breakthrough starts with a choice to break forth into song to the One who is working all things together for our good.
It ends with more children being born in desolation, and with the need to aggressively extend our tents to the left and right in preparation for what God is about to do.
This is our invitation to be a part of God’s unfolding story of paradox. Have we not come to the Kingdom for such a time as this?
Pastor Kevin Graves