Beautiful Garden in the Desert (Isaiah 58:11-12)

Greetings. On the 16th of October, 12 days from now marks the 10th anniversary of the formal opening of Bukal Life Care and Counseling Center… the main ministry of Celia and myself. Because of this, I was asked to preach at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary on the 13th of October relating to this event. Today, I am preaching a similar message to the one I will give on that date. The passage is the theme passage of Bukal Life Care… Isaiah 58:11-12

These verses are in the middle of a chapter on True Fasting. It is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible… Isaiah 58. Fasting is to deprive yourself of physical things, in hopes of spiritual benefits. Muslims will deny themselves food during the lunar month of Ramadan during daylight hours. Devout Jews would fast two days a week— on Mondays and Thursdays. Until fairly recently, Roman Catholics were expected to avoid certain types of meats on Fridays… and many Christian groups around the world will deny themselves certain foods, drinks, or other physical joys during the Lenten period. And that is fine. It can be a way to focus on spiritual things. It can be a way demonstrate a worshipful heart. Unfortunately, Isaiah 58 shows that people back then, much like today, can do fasting wrong or for the wrong reason. True fasting is not depriving yourself to show God how holy you are to get Him to overlook your wrongdoing. True fasting is not depriving yourself to get God to bless you. True fasting is depriving yourselve by choosing to be a blessing to others, not yourself. If you are not eating because of a fast… don’t leave the food in the shelf to gobble down later… give it to the needy now. Don’t fast to try to get God to overlook your sinful past. Rather, fast as a part of a holy obedient life.

In verses 11 and 12, Isaiah speaks of the results of living a holy obedient life, and one that is focused on helping those who are in need:

11 The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never run dry.

12 Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the foundations laid long ago; you will be called the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.

In this passage, I believe there are three blessings. One might even say that they are three ministries. After all, the Abrahamic Covenant makes it clear that we are blessed by God so we can minister to others as a channel of God’s blessing… A true fast.

The first blessing, or ministry is Sustaining. At the beginning of verse 11, it says “the Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and will strengthen your bones.” The three sustaining words are leading, satisfying, and strengthening. Leading can be thought of as spiritual sustaining. In the Bible, spirit about power with purpose, life with direction. So God sustains by leading. God sustains emotionally through allowing us to be satisfied— find contentment. God sustains physically by strengthening. Of course, we are whole beings so leading, satisfying, and strengthening are for the whole person.Those are pretty comforting words. The passage describes a parched land. We live in the Philippines where things are rarely parched… dry. But this is just a word picture. I think you will find that there is a lot of parched, dry, inhospitable land out there. 2020 has been a difficult, challenging, stressful year for many. There is a lot of stress… a lot of conflicts… a lot of lostness… a lot of feeling weak and without hope. David spoke of God leading… leading to green pastures and still waters… but also leading through the valley of the shadow of death. And King David walked through a lot of valleys… sometimes led there by God… sometimes going there of his own accord. Paul spoke of being strengthened by God. Being able to do all things through the strengthening of Christ… yet in context he wasn’t talking about victory… about success. In the passage, you discover that he is talking about suffering… enduring… surviving.

This sounds bleak. It sounds bad… but it is not. God is a sustainer… and as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1 we are able to comfort each other based on the comfort God provides us. God is with us. God is with me, God is with you. He is able to lead us through a dry, parched, desolate land… satisfying our needs, and strengthening us to endure.

And that’s GREAT! But I think most of us hope for better than this. Enduring is nice… be I believe all of us want to do more than simply survive.

Verse 12 offers something better than just sustaining.

The second blessing or ministry is Healing.

Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the foundations laid long ago; you will be called the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.

I would like to make a controversial statement here… You might not agree with me. But I don’t think God cares all that much about ancient ruins. I am not so sure that He cares about foundations laid long ago. I am not so sure He is concerned about broken walls and unrestored streets. I believe God cares about His creation. He cares about people. And he cares about communities.

God is concerned about rebuilding, restoring, repairing broken people and broken communities. Sustaining is about surviving… enduring. Healing is about restoring what was lost… fixing what was broken. There are a lot of broken people… both inside and outside of the church. God heals and restores, and calls on us to do the same.

People come to our counseling center (Bukal Life Care) who are broken. They come to talk about their struggles. They come to ask questions. They come to be with someone (live or online) who cares. That is fine and good, but isn’t it a shame? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a church had such a reputation that when a person is in the community has a problem they knew that the church was the place to share their burden? They know that the church was the repairer, restorer, rebuilder of what is broken.

Sustaining is good. We need that. Healing is good. But we need better than that as well.

The third is Redeeming. When we face bad things. A dry, thirsty, parched land, a valley of the shadow of death, we need sustaining… to endure, survive— to be led, strengthened and satisfied. We need healing— to restore what was broken, repair what is damaged. But we also need redeeming. Redeeming is not just undoing what is bad. It is making good of what is bad.

In the book of Genesis… Joseph was taken by his brothers and sold into slavery, because of jealousy. For years Joseph struggled… but God was there to lead, satisfy and strengthen him through that difficult time. Then God healed Joseph… restoring his status and honor, and giving him a new family. In the final healing, he was was reconnected to his birth family, and God helped heal him of his anger, and he forgave his brother. This is good… but not enough. Joseph was able to bless his family and give them a place protected from famine. As Joseph told his brothers years later… what you did, you meant it for evil… but God meant it for good. Joseph took the bad that came his way and not only survived it, and restored what was lost. He redeemed it… making things better.

It is like if someone dumped a lot of rotting garbage, basurang nabubulok, at the steps of your house. What can you do with that. You can survive it. You can keep going in and out of your house, stepping carefully over that garbage. You sustain yourself and endure. That is good. Or you can heal and restore. You can clean up things removing the garbage. That is better. Or… you can take the garbage, and you can compost it in your garden to grow more beautiful flowers and healthier fruits and vegetables. That is redeeming.

Isaiah says in verse 11,

You will be like a well-watered garden,  like a spring whose waters never fail.

We chose our name, Bukal Life Care from this verse. The Tagalog word for spring is “Bukal.” Isaiah speaks of people doing more than just surviving in a dry, parched land. He speaks of them being as a well-watered garden… like a spring whose waters never fail.

Richard Rohr says,

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. … If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.

… The Jesus Story is about radically transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing on the pain to the next generation. Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it and can also use it for good, humanity is in major trouble. Because we will suffer. …

We shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach.”

Christians seek to redeem the pain and suffering… the basurang nabubulok in life… and transform it into something good… something better. Sustaining in times of trial is difficult. Healing, is challenging. But to redeem the challenges in life… that is miraculous.

My hope for each of you is that you will experience God’s sustaining power in your life as He strengthens you, leads you, and teaches you to find satisfation and contentment in the valley of the shadow of death, in the dark nights of the soul, in a dry and sun-parched land. My hope is that out of this sustaining, you are able to heal others, restoring and repairing broken lives and communities, giving comfort to others out of the comfort you have received from God in your times of need. My hope is that regardless of the state you are in, you can serve as a channel of God’s favor in this world, working redemptively, as a garden-producing spring of life in the harshests of deserts.

If you read between the lines, I am saying “Expect a lot of suffering in the next few years.” That sounds more like a curse than a blessing. But God’s best blessings come out of suffering.