Never Empty

Isaiah 55:10-11 “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

We may have reason to wonder about “It does not return to me empty.” We have tried God’s Word on brothers or sisters who have strayed from the faith, children who’ve stopped coming to church, or friends we have been trying to evangelize. The rolled eyes, the look of disinterest on their face, say, “Oh no, not this again.” “Really,” we think to ourselves, “God’s word never comes up empty? Then what do I make of this?”

When I was riding a train across Denmark ten years ago, a man took a seat facing mine. Then he did a very un-Scandinavian thing: he started a conversation with me. His name was Amir, and he was immigrant from Saudi Arabia. He was very eager to tell me about his Muslim faith. It was hard for me to get a word in edge-wise. He told me about his respect for Jesus as a prophet, the many things he learned about personal hygiene from the Koran, his belief in fantastical creatures in the Koran like monsters that eat rocks and boulders. At the moment I found him more than a little naive, and some of the teachings of the Koran more than a little silly.

Later I thought, “Maybe that’s how some people look at my beliefs from the Bible–the miracle stories, the spiritual world we cannot see. And if other people look at me the way I was looking at Amir, then how can I expect to reach them with the Word? How can I expect that God’s word will not end up empty?

The problem is never with the power of God’s word. It is with the sinners who hear and use it. Who are we to deny God’s promise, or just as bad, consider it boring or irrelevant? No one hears God’s word and remains unchanged. It is always working on people for salvation or for judgment. Appearances can deceive. Experiences can be misinterpreted. But God does not lie. Where his word is present, it is never just an empty letter.

Isaiah reinforces the promise in a positive way: “It (the word) will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

I said a moment ago that God’s word is always working on people either for salvation or for judgment. But the emphasis of Isaiah 55 is salvation. These words of promise are part of a comparison with the life-giving power of snow and rain. No doubt Isaiah and the people of Judah had often seen their dry, thirsty country suddenly burst into life when God sent rain. Even a desert blossoms and turns green when the rain falls on it. It works every time.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth.” God has given us a Word of Life, Good News perfectly composed to give him what he wants: souls that seek him, hearts that trust him, and lives that are lived for him. He speaks to us like a young man in love, trying to win a woman’s heart. More than that, he speaks to us like an utterly devoted and committed man trying to win an unfaithful woman’s heart. “You left me for another yesterday? I honestly don’t remember it. I forgive you for the way you have turned against me, each and every time. I will always be here for you, always be waiting for you, no matter what the future brings.”

You won’t find this Word in my friend Amir’s Koran. His god would rather scare you into submission. You wouldn’t think of it left to your own thoughts and ideas. Only this Word tells you God loves you so much that he gave up his own Son to save you and make you his own. Only this word brings with it faith and the Holy Spirit. Only this word changes God’s enemies into friends, slaves into Sons, and spiritual corpses into living and breathing children of God.            

So don’t give up on God’s Word. Maybe your life isn’t easy. Temptation still gets to you. Sometimes your soul feels like a very dry, very dusty spiritual desert. God’s Word is just the Water of Life we need. Trust that in it God still accomplishes what he desires, and achieves the purpose for which he sent it.

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