Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:4-6
Ezekiel’s “Valley of Dry Bones” can represent a lot of things beyond just the exiled Hebrew people of his time. It can represent the state of our souls prior to salvation, the spiritual state of most nations today (maybe especially including the U.S.), or it can symbolize churches. For our purposes here, let’s take up the latter.
You know I believe in the church, right? I believe it is God’s unbelievable and completely unorthodox (is it OK to call the church unorthodox?) plan to reconcile a lost and broken world to Himself. First, He created us in His image with the free will to choose a relationship with Him or not. Then He sent His son (the Word become flesh) to atone for all of our wrong choices and rebellion in order that we, His regenerate people, might be reconciled to Him. And then, He sent His Spirit to fill His people (His church) and to work through them to continue to bring lost sons and daughters to Him. I believe that has always been His plan and that it will succeed, just as scripture foretells. That is the meta-narrative underlying all of the churches’ successes and failures and seasons of triumph and seasons of brokenness.
But it is against that greater backdrop that Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones paints a sobering picture of your church and my church today. Filled with human frailties at every level, when it comes to being God’s instruments of life change and peace, our churches fail at least as often as they get it right. Churches of every shape and size and demographic and denominational affiliation are missing the mark God intends for them. And please do not miss this…there are plenty of churches in our culture today who get very high marks in terms of “success” by human standards (lots of people, huge budgets, massive buildings, widespread missions and ministries, vibrant worship) but who, spiritually, are still dry and brittle bones.
In reality, the valley of dry bones is not a problem of form, which can be fixed simply by finding the right worship style or the right pastor or the right structure for governance or the right system for discipleship. All our human or material resources will not breathe life into these dry bones. The most relevant worship music will not do it. The very best preaching in the world will not do it. Nothing of any human doing can make spiritually dead bones come back to life. The harsh news here is that only the Spirit of the Sovereign God can accomplish that. Short of that, we are (even in all our giftedness) dry and lifeless bones. That is the hard news.
The good news is this: God is both able and willing to breathe new life into His people. He will do it…in His time and in His way. You see, in the end, He wins…and His church wins. And in the meantime, He will continue to manifest Himself in powerful ways as and when He sees fit. There will be periods of amazing revival. Your church and mine will see those days, not because we have earned that right in any way, but because it is God’s nature.
Ezekiel’s vivid prophecy is an encouragement to all of us today, because it tells of times of spiritual renewal in our churches. Those dry bones of a church which bear witness of spiritual death and decay will again come to life when the Spirit of God breathes on them. If you look at your church and see spiritual lifelessness, take heart…there is a new day coming. Until then, you should be prayerful and preparing for that day. You should continue to trim sails, making your church ready for when the winds of the Spirit blow. That better day could come tomorrow, or the next day. It could be next year. But know this…that day is coming. Watch and pray, my friend. Watch and pray.