Yesterday morning I was sitting in front of 200 female inmates facilitating a seminar (with my friend, MaryEllen) about Jesus and the Word of God. Many of these women are newly incarcerated. Raw. Emotional. Hopeless. As I looked over the faces of those women I saw so many things: Rejection. Fear. Shame. Guilt. Sadness.
Four months ago I sat in the same spot (with half the number of women in front of me) doing the same thing. This time, it felt even deeper. The situations were more hopeless and the number of ladies was overwhelming for two volunteers. Now, I felt fresh in my compassion for these hurting ladies. So many of them seemed to walk unloved and unaccepted.
MaryEllen and I have repeatedly asked God to help open our eyes…what does He want for us? We don’t want to miss what He has for us as we serve in the prisons.
As I sat there, watching their faces, I kept thinking about the passage of Scripture God led me to that morning. Ezekiel 36-37. Not sure about you, but Ezekiel isn’t my go-to book of the Bible. However, I felt called to read chapters 36-37 yesterday, so I did.
Dead bodies. Dry bones. Cold hearts. Not exactly an inviting section of Scripture. Or is it?
I can’t lie. I grabbed my Bible, sitting there watching them (the inmates) watch the video and I opened it again to Ezekiel. It seemed to beg for a second look. What’s here, Lord? Don’t let me miss it! Does it tie into this week?
“The nations will know that I am Yahweh”— the declaration of the Lord God— “when I demonstrate My holiness through you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you into your own land. I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances. The you will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be My people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:23b-28 HCSB
This was beautiful news. I’m so grateful for redemption. For healing. For brokenness turned to beauty. This is what Jesus does.
The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them. There were a great many of them on the surface of the valley, and they were very dry. Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord God, only You know.” He said to me, “Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood to their feet, a vast army. Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord God says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open up your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” This is the declaration of the Lord. Ezekiel 37:1-14
Suddenly, I am in love with the book of Ezekiel…this is the hope and redemption we crave deep in our hearts. It reminded me of last week, where I had the privilege of interviewing four people who were ex-offenders. Their stories breathe Jesus and HOPE. Dry bones coming to life. Dead heart coming alive.
The similarities started swimming through my head. I could also feel God prompting me to share this truth with the inmates this morning. If you know me personally, you know public speaking is my top least favorite thing to do. Sometimes you KNOW that not doing something would be actual disobedience to the Lord, and this was one of those times.
I sent out my prayer text and buckled down my heart to submission. Crying out for strength. Asking for wisdom. Pleading for courage to be brave and step out in faith this morning.
So I shared from Ezekiel 37 this morning. Dry bones. Dead hearts. They were amen-ing me all the way. They could see themselves here…in the valley of dry bones. Dry. Parched. Dead. Hopeless. I shared from my own life and points that I’ve been wounded and confused and felt completely dry.
The Word of God is powerful. By the end, there weren’t many dry eyes in the place. Including mine. I literally cried through reading Ezekiel 37. I told them that God is in the business of bringing dry bones back to life and making dead hearts come alive! Several women opened up to us later with their stories. Their pain. Their insecurities. They admitted their dryness…and we prayed for Jesus to rush over them with His cleansing and healing water. That He would bring life to dry bones.
Standing there this morning, it was one of those surreal moments. To see the Word of God be living and active in front of your eyes. They saw His power to redeem even the most hopeless situation. And I’m in awe.
We all have dead places in our lives. Times when we walk through the valley of dry bones and wonder if there’s a way out. Moments of hopelessness. “Can these dry bones live?” God asks. I’ve seen His power, friends. Don’t underestimate Him. Don’t give up on people…He can redeem! He can bring life!
Today in a female prison in Florida, I saw God breathe life into some dead hearts. I saw Him connect tendons and flesh and skin and bring dry bones to living form. I’m in awe.
There are dry bones and dead hearts. Then there’s Jesus.