When I was 25, a particularly bad time in my life, I did what I always did when I was in trouble - I ran to my grandmother's, which was the closest thing to home in my family. I walked in the house unannounced; grandmother silently sized me up. I had not been eating and had lost an incredible amount of weight. My clothes were hanging off of me as they would a skeleton. Grandmother put her hands upon her hips and declared, "Charles, you need some meat on your bones."
She went to the refrigerator, rummaged around a bit, and told me to sit down. Within minutes, the kitchen was full of warmth and the smells of chicken and dumplings simmering on the stove, okra frying in the skillet and cornbread rising in the oven. She set a heap of stick-to-your-ribs food in front of me and then sat down across from me and watched silently while I ate.
Finally, she stood up and said, "You need something else to eat." I started to protest that I was about to burst when Grandmother turned around and sat back down holding her worn, well-thumbed, heavily noted Bible. She opened the Bible and began to feed me from God's Word.
You see, Grandmother realized that I needed more than chicken and dumplings, and okra and cornbread. I needed something that would put some spiritual meat on my bones. Jesus said, "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."
When Ezekiel was 25, it was a particularly bad time in his life, too. The Babylonians had besieged Jerusalem and had taken many of the Jewish people, including Ezekiel, into exile. The enemies of God's people knew that if the people were cut off from their source of life, the food of God's Spirit, they would starve.
The Bible tells us that when Ezekiel arrived at what would be his home in exile and saw the physical, emotional and spiritual starvation of his fellow Jews, he was overwhelmed and remained in a fetal position for seven days. Nine years after he went into exile, Ezekiel received word that his wife had died in Jerusalem. The next year the exiles were told that Jerusalem itself had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Day by day the spiritual flesh melted off the bones of the Jews.
But then, God set Ezekiel in the middle of a graveyard; a valley full of the dry bones of the dead. Ezekiel, in the dullness of his despair, perhaps sensed that his bones and the bones of his people would soon settle into the soil of this valley. So when God asked Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?" he shrugged his shoulders and said, "O Lord God, you know."
God's response was to tell Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones that God would restore their flesh and breathe life into them and that they would live. Ezekiel prophesied, and all these recycled folks, whom God said were the people of Israel, stood in front of Ezekiel and said, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." God then told Ezekiel to tell the people that even though they once again had some meat on their bones, it was going to take spiritual food to restore life in their starved souls, and that food could only come from God spoonfeeding them with his Spirit.
The good news of the gospel is that God can bring life out of death; God can feed those who are spiritually starving with his Spirit. But three things need to happen in order for God's children to be fed at God's banquet table.
First, God's people need to recognize their spiritual need. The people of Israel said,"Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." We all live by this old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." We get in trouble, though, by denying that we are broken. We are not ready for God to work a miracle in our lives until we admit our need.
What is your need? In what ways are you spiritually starving? Have you been lazy in serving God? Are there things or people you love more than him? Are there parts of God's Word that you have refused to eat from, opting for the fast food of what others say; arguing that turning up of your nose at what God gives to you is your interpretation of his word, when it is really unbelief? Have you rejected God's cooking for your own cooking, God's will for your will?
Then you need the spiritual renewal and refreshment that only God can give you. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life." This bread is available to us only when we admit that we are starving.
The second thing that has to happen in order for God to give us new flesh and the breath of his Spirit is for us to believe that he can. God asked Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?" The obvious answer is, "No, they are just dry bones. It's a hopeless situation."
Are you in a valley of dry bones? Are you feeling hopeless? Are you not where you want to be spiritually; are you frustrated in your vocation, your marriage, your relationship with your parents or peers?
Imagine that you are Elijah on Mount Carmel, standing against 340 prophets of Baal, and the only hope is for God to send fire from the sky. What happened? God sent fire.
Imagine that you are Paul, debating Greek philosophers about the truth of Jesus' Resurrection. Lost cause, right? Yet God brought a few dry bones to life that day in Athens.
Imagine that you are Jesus, all alone, dying a horrifying and humiliating death on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In three days God made Jesus' dry bones live.
Jesus told Peter, "With God all things are possible." Do you believe that all things are possible for God? Spiritual revival is possible only when we admit that we are starving and believe that God really can feed us.
The third thing necessary for spiritual revival is that we be willing to do whatever God asks us to do. God issued a ridiculous command to Ezekiel, "Prophesy to these bones, say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." However incredulous he might have been, Ezekiel was a desperate man who was starving to see a miracle of God, and he was willing to do whatever God told him to do in order to be fed by that miracle.
Do we want spiritual revival enough to do whatever God tells us to do, no matter how ridiculous it seems? Or do we want to compromise with our pagan culture so that we won't seem weird?
Some Christians are actually afraid of what God may do if they give him control of their lives. They're like the little girl who was afraid of the nightmares waiting to sneak out of the closet to pounce on her, so she ran and jumped into bed with her parents. Her mother said, "It's all right, sweetie, Jesus is with you in your room." That seemed to satisfy the little girl, so she went to the door of her room, but before she went inside she yelled out, "Jesus, I know you're in there, but if you move you'll scare me to death!"
Too many folks are scared to death that God will actually do something in their lives that will embarrass them in the eyes of the world, so they continue to eat food that doesn't satisfy.
What God did in that graveyard in Ezekiel's sight proves that he can change everything - despair into hope, doubt into faith, spiritual death into spiritual life. But only God can do it. And God will do this only when we realize that we need it, when we believe that he can do it, and when we are hungry enough to do whatever he tells us.
People of God, you need some meat on your bones. Dish up God's Word. It's time to eat.
The Rev. Charles R. Traylor is pastor of BelAir Presbyterian Church.