by Don Watson
In Ezekiel 37 God gives the prophet a vision of scattered dry bones. In this vision, scattered bones, flesh, muscle, and skin miraculously come together and form bodies – lifeless bodies, until Ezekiel calls the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, from the four winds to bring them to life, making them a great and mighty army. There are few passages in scripture (if any) that, so honestly and powerfully, picture the plight of God’s people. Like Israel, we are in a captivity to sin that is so deadly, God pictures us as scattered bones – not merely dead and stripped clean of any flesh or skin, but bones, dry bones. The lesson is obvious, we need to be revived – we need revival.
After reading this vision, I was struck by the importance, no, really the necessity, that if we are to live in revival, each of us must continually accept the fact that we are not merely dead, not merely bones, but dry bones – completely devoid of any life of ourselves.
I grew up in the Adventist Church, and remember often hearing sermons or series of sermons on revival. The speakers would often quote that "It was our greatest need." And it would result in my parents deciding that we would not eat sugar anymore or watch TV anymore and so I pretty much dreaded revival. Don't get me wrong, I loved going to church – well, Sabbath School anyway. Church was a bit boring but still, it was all, by and large, a good, wholesome atmosphere and community to grow up in. It was the same way with church school. I went through College in Adventist Education, and while it wasn't perfect, it gave me this rich foundation of God and purpose and a lifestyle of being good and loving others.
I wanted to say all of the above to put the rest of our discussion in perspective. In spite of my good experience in Adventist Education and the Adventist Church – and I am still a member – my life began to fall apart at the very seams, the core, the very places that should have been my strength. [I've also discovered I am not alone in what I have experienced in our church] What I am saying is this: In a church where morality and obedience is the very core of our message (We are God's Remnant who "keep the commandments of God." – Revelation 12:17), I, and thousands of others like me, have found it impossible to be moral or obedient. I realize that my personal weakness does not in itself indict the church. I accept responsibility for me, and the repentance, into which God has led me, has been such a blessing! God is teaching me that revival, which we as individuals, churches, and denominations (Not just some of us but all of us) need to constantly experience, is not "a green valley getting greener" (Roy Hession, The Calvary Road); it is not a good car getting a few final dents banged out, but a valley full of dry bones being made to live again and stand up an exceeding great army (Ezekiel 37). If revival is ever to happen and continually be sustained, we must of necessity accept the fact that we are not merely deficient, but dead. We are not merely dead but stripped to the bone of anything of use (Flesh, muscle, skin). And furthermore, we are not merely bones, but dry bones!
Please forgive me for beating this dead horse, but I don't want you to miss what I'm saying here. We need to accept that "God's call to us is NOT to become better Christians – as God sees us there are not any good Christians – but rather [And here it is . . .], Christians honestly confessing that their Christian life is a valley of dry bones and it is that very confession that qualifies us for the grace that flows from the cross and makes all things new.” (Roy Hession, The Calvary Road)
But in addition, (And this is my point) corporate Christianity [Churches and denominations] need the same kind of "dry-bones-understanding" about who they are, and a daily repentance (a constant turning to God).
There is a lot of corporate talk about how good we are and all the wonderful things we have accomplished, and too little honest, open recognition of our sins, weaknesses, and failings – times when we have neglected people – been too busy to corporately care – hurtful in our board meetings, unforgiving in our judgments of the sins of our members.
If we are not careful, there can be a corporate arrogance toward other churches and their doctrines, political positions, and practices that is nothing like the humility of Jesus. We can corporately single out the public sins and practices of the poor, the weak and the non-religious while we ignore and justify our own private sins and practices, because we are rich, religious or powerful. In seeking power and control, we have sanctified uniformity and called it unity; we have discarded the unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness of Jesus and called it purity and faithfulness; and finally, we have turned the gospel of grace into rules, policies, manuals, and "fundamentals" rather than a real, personal, intimate, unique relationship that each of us can have directly with Jesus Christ and the Divine Trinity.
I suppose there are times we look at the complex and often corrupt workings of corporate Christianity and wonder if revival can take place at all. It almost seems hopeless, but it is not. It is not. Look at what God said to Ezekiel about the corporate mess of Israel. "Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, 'We have become old, dry bones, all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'O my people [Hear the passionate love in God’s voice], I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, [Yahweh is the God of relationship – I AM] have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!' So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet-a great army." (Ezekiel 37:10-14)
Dear Grace Family these bones are us! But we are not without hope, He “will put [His] Spirit in us,” enter our dry bones and make us alive, a great army – it will take place.
Revival is NOT trying to correct all the foul things that make us dry bones. It is a completely different emphasis. It is a crying out after God to fill us with His Breath, His Spirit, and intimately live in us. But He can never fill a cup that is already full with us and our control, and our goodness. We must allow Him to break us and show us that we are dry bones. That is the criteria for being filled – constantly admitting we are dry bones. And that is the beginning of revival.