And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)
I was struck this morning by the power of this simple truth. There is always something intensely moving and inspiring in the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones. It’s a dramatic story that defies convention and speaks of the power of God, but we can easily overlook the fact that the entire story is centred on the sovereignty of God. As I reread the passage, today’s verse jumped out at me, and I was reminded that God alone is the giver and restorer of life. I was also reminded that our attitude will largely determine the extent to which God exercise this power in our lives.
The sovereignty of God and our correct response is perfectly illustrated in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones.
Familiar expressions such as ‘all things are possible with God’ gain proper perspective when seen in the light of the sovereignty of God. The dry bones are a perfect example. To all intents and purposes, God’s question defines the impossible. The bones represent men who were utterly dead. All that was left was the physical evidence that they were once men, the detritus that remained after life was gone and the flesh, muscle, and sinews with it. To all intents and purposes, the answer to His question should have been a resounding ‘no.’
In human – and our very worldly and scientific – terms, there simply was no way that those dry bones could live. Every single thing that might have even hinted at the possibility was gone. But this, of course, is the conundrum that is faith – that thing in us that believes for the impossible. Faith is the thing that defies convention and the laws of the natural world. It is the thing that persists in reaching for something beyond the conventions and accepted ‘rules’ of the world we live in. It is the thing that directly challenges every human and natural fact and reality. Faith, in essence, looks always to the sovereignty of God.
What sovereignty means is that God is above, beyond, and infinitely more powerful than all of these theories, rules, laws, and conventions. This is because He has put them in place. They are products or outworkings of His sovereign purpose. In simple terms, God decides and then puts it into effect. Because He is the creator of everything, and because it is all held in place by His will, He is able to create the exceptions too. The sovereignty of God over all things enable Him to do anything He chooses irrespective of the things He has put in place to order His universe. In basic terms, He made it, He’s the boss of it, and He can break any of His ‘rules’ any time He wants to.
This is the essence of our faith – we don’t look at the circumstances or the physical reality, but rather at the God who created and has sovereign power over it. We can say that faith is an inner belief that manifests as an attitude – the kind of attitude that constantly says that God is bigger. Looked at from this perspective, we can easily see the power inherent in the principle of faith because it’s driven from within by a sovereign God. But a sad reality is that very few Christians actually live in the active, manifested faith that is available to us. The reason, I believe, is that we miss the crucial relevance of the sovereignty of God.
All too often, our faith may fall into the trap of being the ‘name it and claim it’ variety. We’re taught to declare the Word and expect results – results which often don’t appear. We’re encouraged to apply Scripture to every situation and to keep speaking it until we get what we desire – and eventually give up and move on. It’s frustrating and disappointing, and can seriously impact the little faith we have. What’s worse is that these principles are not wrong. They’re entirely biblical and should ‘work.’ That they so seldom do is a matter of the sovereignty of God being excluded from the equation.
We can learn a valuable lesson from Ezekiel’s response. It’s succinct and to-the-point. It’s the central pivot of the entire story, a revelation of the fundamental ‘first step’ in having and exercising faith. Ezekiel’s answer epitomises a heart in surrender to the sovereignty of God. This should always be our starting point – ‘Lord, only You know.’ It’s a fundamental error every Christian makes until we learn the hard way that faith isn’t simply about declaring Scripture in order to achieve the results we desire.
In every situation, only God knows the right outcome. This is a simple, unequivocal fact. We cannot see the bigger picture or the ramifications. We cannot see the potential consequences if we were to receive what we ask for, and we cannot know the purposes of God in each particular situation – purposes which may be at odds with what we desire. I always come back to Psalm 37:4 when looking to reconcile the truth that my desires may not be God’s desires. Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. It’s a verse that contains a two-fold meaning and which confirms the issue of the sovereignty of God.
Most of the time, we simply read this verse to the effect that, if we love God – delight in Him – He will give us what we want. This is only partially true, and this lopsided belief inevitably leads to disillusionment. The other meaning is the starting point which determines the outcome of the one we take for granted. This meaning focuses on the absolute sovereignty of God – if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will instill in our hearts the right desires that line up perfectly with His purposes. Then, when we ask in God-based faith, He will fulfill those desires. Ignoring this second, critical truth is rather like a cart without a horse. We can bellow all the right words for ‘giddyup,’ but the cart simply won’t go anywhere.
Ezekiel’s response to God brought faith and released life. The power remained the sovereign power of God, but the prophet’s attitude aligned himself with God in the right attitude of humility and surrender. He acknowledged that he could not possibly know, and that only God could know. This carries the implication that the sovereignty of God was all that mattered. In other words, Ezekiel implied that he was willing to accept not only that God alone had the knowledge and wisdom, but also that what God decided to do was just fine by Him. This is the really hard part about faith and the Christian walk. Our fleshly desires are constantly at war with our spiritual desires, and with the desires of God. It’s a matter – a very difficult matter – of coming the place in faith of ‘nevertheless, not my will by Your will be done.’
It’s a natural human response – particularly when blessed with a vivid and lively imagination – to be enthusiastic to the point where God’s purposes get lost along the way. We desire the life that is promised, but kind of want it all at once. We interpret things as being confirmation that what we desire in a given moment is what God desires, and then rush on with wholehearted commitment to ‘praying it in.’ All of these sentiments may well be positive responses, but they’re exercised outside of the awareness of the sovereignty of God.
The prophet had learned along the way to see everything in the perspective of the sovereignty of God. He had come to a place of humility, a place where he accepted that God alone had the right of choice, whatever the outcome. Like us, he may well have desired that God manifest His power in mighty ways, but surrender enabled him to step back and allow God to do as He chose. Perhaps this is one reason why we don’t see the power of God at work in our lives as much as we should. If we’re in the way, if we’re focused on our own desires or what we think God desires, we don’t leave Him very much room to move.
This kind of humility is only learned through constant relationship with God. It is only when we spend time with Him and in His Word that we begin to truly see God as He is and to comprehend the real meaning and power of the sovereignty of God. Unless we spend time with Him, unless we learn to yield and to give up our self-life in His presence, our desires will always remain largely our own. When we lay down our desires, God will replace them with His, and we will find our faith expanded to pray in the certainty of God’s will.
It’s absolute truth that God desires us to live life in abundance – not ordinary but extraordinary. But it’s His life in us, not our life, that makes the difference. Without that, we are simple dry bones. God alone knows whether we can truly live, how we can live, and what is required for us to live. Only He has the power to restore life in abundance to each one of us, and if we respond with the right attitude of humility, recognising the absolute sovereignty of God in all things, we can be sure that He will achieve the impossible and give life in abundance to these dry bones.
Sovereign Lord, we acknowledge You today. We submit ourselves and our lives to You in humble surrender and obedience. Help us to shake loose our own desires, to truly die to self, so that we can become the dry bones without a life of our own, the bones that You desire in order to restore Your life to each of us. Place Your desires in our hearts, and empower us to listen and learn Your will, so that we can pray in faith according to Your perfect purposes.