Monday, July 20, 2015

Sing, Barren Woman

Isaiah 54 is the Lord's Sonnet to Israel, but as with most Old Testament writings, there are applications for God's modern Lady, the Church, and personal applications for individual believers.

Start Singing!

Isaiah 54:1
 “Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord. (NIV)
I've always been a rather melancholy person. Quiet. Reserved. Most of the time, anyway. So I'm going along in my daily bible reading and I come upon this chapter in Isaiah. It seems like God is speaking to me. Sing. Burst into song. Shout for joy. Well, first of all I don't feel very happy at all. I don't exactly feel like singing. I really don't feel like shouting for joy. Mostly I just feel like crying. I have salvation. I'm going to heaven at the end of my life. That alone, I know, is worth rejoicing about. But my focus is on today. Today I'm lonely. Today I'm sad. Today I am suffering the most painful disappointment of my life. My money situation is a constant source of fear and dread. Divorced. Lonely. Scared. Broke. All my dreams had been shattered. And now God wants me to sing? It seemed like I just couldn't. The very thought of trying to sing or express joy just made me that much more aware of the gaping emptiness inside me that was threatening to swallow me whole. At the time I don't even think I realized what that gaping emptiness was. That was the barrenness. I was a woman without a husband. I was a woman without a dream. I was a woman without the hope of producing anything fruitful in my life. I wasn't living at all. I was surviving. Deep inside I felt a faint stirring of hope, but most days its sound was drowned out by fear. Most days my eyes, swollen from crying, searched the horizon for someone to restore meaning and purpose to my life. I understood that barrenness for me was not about giving birth to children, but finding a home and feeling safe, valued, and productive. It was about conceiving and giving birth to a dream that would make my life meaningful again.
Why was God telling me to sing? Was it because He was insensitive to how I was feeling and what I needed? That is how I felt at the time. Now, many years later, I understand that He was saying, "I know something you don't know. If you knew what I know, you would be singing. You would be shouting for joy." God had plans for me far beyond the broken dreams I mourned. The children He wanted me to conceive were the new dreams and new visions that He had for me. We can try to do things in our own strength, like the aged Sarah, who gave her handmaiden to her husband to try to fulfill God's promise of a child, or we can wait patiently for God to create a miraculous life in us. The “children” that will be birthed through this process will be so much more than anything we might have planned for ourselves.
Are you feeling barren as you wait for God's promises to be fulfilled in your life? In biblical days a barren woman, a woman with no children, was considered cursed. It might have made her a social outcast among the other women in her community. In that day a woman’s social security came through having children to care for her in her old age. Being barren meant being financially vulnerable and possibly destitute. You might be feeling crushed because you are unable to have children, or you may be suffering other painful situations that being childless in that day meant, such as stigma, isolation, and financial devastation. If you are feeling barren in any area of your life, whether social, emotional, financial, physical, or relational, you do have a reason to sing. You do have a reason to shout for joy. God has not forgotten about you. 
There are many ways that a person can feel barren. After my divorce, I felt barren. When I had to temporarily give up my plans to go back to college, I felt barren. When I felt God had given me a dream to start a women’s ministry that never materialized, I felt barren. When I worked for a government agency, and my paperwork kept piling up to a point of being insurmountable, I felt barren. When, nearly ten years after my divorce, I got remarried only to find out he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I felt barren.  Financial loss, poverty, the loss of a job, unfulfilled dreams, broken relationships, illness, failure of any kind, can leave a person feeling barren. Many times these losses and failures are the result of us trying to fulfill our own dreams instead of God's dreams for us. Other times we are trying to fulfill God's dreams, but in our own way and our own timing, like Sarah and Abraham, and they ended up with Ishmael. (Genesis 16:1-15)
We need to wait for God's timing. We need to do things His way. When I was young and headstrong, I thought I knew best and God was just going to have to get with my program. For this reason, I stayed barren for a very long time. In a symbolic sense, I had one miscarriage after another. Plans failed. Relationships failed. Debt piled up. I was truly a desolate woman, but I was not forgotten. More are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband. God wants me to give birth to His dreams and plans, not my own. He wants me to do this in His way and His timing. My plans to start a ministry, my plans to get married, my plans to go to school, were all done in my own strength, in my own time, for my own purposes. I wanted to better myself. I was going fulfill my dreams and take care of my needs all by my own efforts. Yet all my efforts either left me barren, or with an Ishmael to take care of. 
Sarah was a barren woman who tried in her own strength to have a child. Her decision left her even more barren, if that is possible. Her maid servant Hagar lost respect for her, and she was now no longer the only wife of her husband. But God had a plan all along, which He carried out at its proper time by bringing Isaac into the world (Genesis 16:1-5; Genesis 21:1-8).
Naomi and her husband Elimelek solved the famine problem in their own human effort by moving to Moab, and Naomi was bereaved and of her husband and two sons and was left temporarily barren. Again, God had a plan for Naomi’s redemption, and at the right time, He restored her to her community, redeemed her land, and gave her an heir who was also in the line of Christ (Ruth 1-4).
Hagar was sent away with her son Ishmael after Isaac was born, and when she ran out of food and water, she was sure that she and her son would die in the desert. Her situation was barren. But God had a plan and showed her a well of water. Her son grew up strong and was eventually reconciled with his brother Isaac (Genesis 21:8-20; 25:9).
I’m sure Moses’ mother felt barren when she sent her three month old child out onto the water. But God had a plan for Moses to be raised in a palace while his own mother nursed him. And when Moses fled Egypt, I’m sure he felt barren out in that desert for forty years, after his pathetic attempt to save Israel by killing an Egyptian. But God’s plan was greater than anything Moses could have cooked up (Exodus 2, 3).
God’s plans are greater than my plans or your plans. If you are feeling barren today, if all your plans have failed miserably, you have a reason to burst into song and shout for joy. Why? Because God is now able to birth something in you that was not possible while you were struggling and striving in your own strength. It is time to prepare, time to believe, and time to receive more that you first hoped for, more than you can now imagine.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
What are the dreams God has placed in my heart?
In what ways, if any, have I tried to fulfill God's plans my way?
What can I do right now, today to start following God's plans for me?
Do I need to pray for wisdom and guidance?
Dear Lord, Thank you for your promise to bring good things into my life. Show me how to live in anticipation and excitement for all the good things you have planned for me. Give me wisdom to keep me from following my own ways and patience to wait for your timing. In Jesus Name, Amen!

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