The Garden of God:
Commitment for the New Year and Beyond
by James Robinson
The Lord can make your life a "watered garden" and an "overflowing spring."
As I look back over the past year, I acknowledge some of the greatest physical challenges we have known as a family. We also witnessed unusual challenges in our national family–economic uncertainty, ever-increasing dependence on the federal government and the continued threat of terrorism.
I personally learned great, meaningful and eternally important lessons. I witnessed clearly the fact that you can experience fullness and peace in the valley, in the storms and even in pain.
Through the suffering, every member of our family has become tempered steel and stronger than we ever imagined, with total dependence on almighty God and the comfort that comes from family and friends.
During the battle with staph infection, I found myself recognizing how suddenly an unwelcome enemy can strike. While I was bedfast, God took me back to Isaiah 58, where He directed me the night of 9/11 when I shared with a national television audience a message I believe God wants us to hear today.
As you begin a new year, I hope you will heed the message found in Isaiah. If you search these scriptures yourself, you will be inspired and challenged beyond words. Let me share some truths that resonate in every fiber of my being. I can tell you emphatically, I have come alive beyond anything I've ever known in my life on this earth and in my Christian walk. In this passage, God told the listeners and His chosen family of faith that if they would listen to what He said and practice His commands, they would become a "watered garden" and an "overflowing spring."
God revealed to me that in the comfort and fruitfulness of my own Christian life and ministry, I had tolerated weeds in God's garden. As one example, my appetite for food, especially sugar, damaged me physically, leading to borderline diabetes, which hindered my battle with infection. Rather than controlling my appetite, it controlled me. I was also undisciplined in any regular form of exercise, excusing myself because of my damaged right hip. The heavenly Father let me know that I must be very concerned about any issue He sheds light on and get that intruder (weed) out of His garden. If the Holy Spirit points it out, get rid of it because it has the explosive potential of staph infection. An ordinary-looking weed can be easily overlooked, but have the painful effect of an infestation of briers. He revealed to me that I was often distracted from Him and needed to refocus, plowing straight toward His standards.
Paul said to the Corinthians that as believers, we are to be God's cultivated field, literally His garden.1 From the beginning of creation, God has told us to be fruitful. In the Old Testament, He said He made His people a "fertile vineyard," planted with the finest grapes. Therefore, we should bring forth abundant fruit.2 If we fail to be fruitful, we become brier-infested, pestilence-ridden, trampled, unproductive ground. According to the New Testament, the fruit of the Spirit-filled Christian life is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control," and the result of this fruit in our lives will have a profound and even transforming effect on those who behold our good works and see our Father glorified.
Here is what God is saying to me–and I believe to the church and this nation, as well. If you will read Isaiah 58, you will find God calling His people to repentance. He tells them that He does not like the pretense of worship, going through the motions, or acting as though He's first when, in fact, they haven't put Him first in their hearts. He clearly communicates that "lip service" is displeasing to Him.
He then explains that real fruitfulness is living in freedom, helping to set captives free, and becoming a source of provision and care for those in need. We are to share food with the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, and provide clothes to the naked. We are not to hide from our own family–whether it is our birth family, family of faith or the family of needy people on earth. He says when we recognize not only these needs but the opportunity to meet them, our salvation "will come like the dawn" and our "wounds will quickly heal" as He leads us forward and His glory protects us from behind.
He then says we will call on Him and He will answer quickly if we will stop pointing fingers at one another, speaking accusations, refusing to reason together and spreading vicious rumors–in other words, participating in character assassination for personal or political benefit.
He tells us again to feed the hungry, help those in trouble and then our light "will shine out from the darkness" and "be as bright as noon." God will guide us and give us water when we are dry, and He will restore our strength, making us a well-watered garden and an ever-flowing spring.
Remember, Jesus said to the woman at the well that when we receive Him as the water of life, we will have living water flowing out of our very being–and everywhere a river flows, life springs up. God goes on to say through Isaiah that when we live in this fullness, in real intimacy with the Father and with the fruitfulness He expects, we will become a "rebuilder of the walls." Some Bible versions indicate we will restore the age-old foundations. In other words, we will return to the absolutes–His unshakable truth. We will begin to build our families and future on this unfailing rock.
Our nation's population has abused its freedom. We've failed to appreciate it, and we're in the process of losing it. Look how quickly and simply a deceived, vicious terrorist can potentially disrupt our level of comfort and take away more freedoms as a result of the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit. The passengers escaped by miraculous intervention and their quick response–not because security personnel were truly discerning and able to connect the dots. The signs were there but not detected. I repeat what God has made clear in Romans 1: "While professing to be wise, we can prove to be fools."
Quite frankly, we have a leadership crisis in the nation. We have weak fathers because they don't know the Father. Families are not strong and healthy because the church family is not strong and healthy. We can't pray in schools because many failed to pray faithfully and fervently in their homes. Our population is being taught to depend on mammon and government rather than God. People are looking to the wrong source. Many of our political leaders are selling our future by offering and accepting bribes, benefiting their state at the expense of others and in many ways creating the greatest Ponzi scheme of all. People looking for a quick fix rather than a correct fix are building on the sand and trusting the wrong gods...literally, trusting idols.
The Old Testament prophet said, "Your idols are more numerous than your cities." Look at the foolish entertainers and athletes whom people make heroes. May God help us to recognize that if we tolerate the briers, the thorns and the pestilence in His garden, we are going to see the problem explode in our own lives in very painful and damaging ways–just like staph exploded in my hip.
God revealed to me that if He sheds His light on something in our lives–some weed or brier–we are to be as concerned about it as He is. We need to get rid of it. We don't confess our sins to one another to feel better; we confess our sins that we may be made whole. That means we commit to the Father, we join our hearts together in prayer, and we win the victory over the enemy. We must recognize that the enemy–the principalities and powers of darkness–is stronger than any one of us without God's power to deliver and enable us. But with God and in agreement as one, we can walk over the enemy like dust. And if we are walking with God, we will be walking in harmony with other believers and praying for harmony in the family of God, and this does not call for a compromise of God's truth. It calls for us to come together in wisdom, reason together, find divine guidance and walk in it. When we do, we will be a watered garden producing beautiful fruit that will be pleasing to God and an inspiration to a world in darkness.
My commitment this year is to be a well-watered garden, an overflowing spring and to help awaken the church and the nation to the absolute necessity of returning to God's truth with our whole heart. We must seek intimacy with our Father, live in freedom and fullness while allowing the fruitfulness of His Spirit to be demonstrated for His glory alone!
1 1 Cor. 3:9
2 Isaiah 5
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