Living the Dream: A Blueprint for Growth

If something is not growing it is not alive

 

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Mrs Gren. I only met her recently whilst revising science with my son. She’s not a real person. She’s an acronym. The 7 letters stand for 7 processes found in any living thing. “It’s not easy to describe simply what is living and what is not. In fact the only way we can tell if something is alive is if it can do all seven of what we call Living Processes.” (ksw.org.uk) The 7 processes are Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion, Nutrition.

Today let’s just think about one of those: growth.

 

What this tells me is that if something is living, I should expect it to grow.

Big and strong – how to gain 4 inches in heightbig and strong

 

My nephew loved to wrestle and play fight. I was there the day he had finally grown to a point where he was able tophysically overpower his dad. His face was a picture. This was clearly a milestone moment in his development and meant far more to him than it did to anyone else at the time!

I am about 1 inch taller than my dad. He is about 1 inch taller than his dad was. My son is already shooting up faster than is comfortable to me! Statistically people are taller on average in industrialised nations today than they were 150 years ago – in fact around 4 inches taller according to scientists. Why? Nutrition. Basic childhood nutrition is all it took for us to grow as a species.

 

Are some of us on a diet more like our predecessors 150 years ago, i.e. unable to grow to our full potential? I’m not speaking physically here as you may have guessed. As I read the following chapter of the Bible, I see 4 ways to feed our souls and grow another 4 inches!

Isaiah 54  (NIVUK)

1 ‘Sing, barren woman,

    you who never bore a child;

burst into song, shout for joy,

    you who were never in labour;

because more are the children of the desolate woman

    than of her who has a husband,’

says the Lord.

2 ‘Enlarge the place of your tent,

    stretch your tent curtains wide,

    do not hold back;

lengthen your cords,

    strengthen your stakes.

3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;

    your descendants will dispossess nations

    and settle in their desolate cities.

4 ‘Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.

    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

You will forget the shame of your youth

    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

5 For your Maker is your husband –

    the Lord Almighty is his name –

the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;

    he is called the God of all the earth.

6 The Lord will call you back

    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit –

a wife who married young,

    only to be rejected,’ says your God.

7 ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you,

    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

8 In a surge of anger

    I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting kindness

    I will have compassion on you,’

    says the Lord your Redeemer.

9 ‘To me this is like the days of Noah,

    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.

So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,

    never to rebuke you again.

10 Though the mountains be shaken

    and the hills be removed,

yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken

    nor my covenant of peace be removed,’

    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

11 ‘Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,

    I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,[a]

    your foundations with lapis lazuli.

12 I will make your battlements of rubies,

    your gates of sparkling jewels,

    and all your walls of precious stones.

13 All your children will be taught by the Lord,

    and great will be their peace.

14 In righteousness you will be established:

tyranny will be far from you;

    you will have nothing to fear.

Terror will be far removed;

    it will not come near you.

15 If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;

    whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

16 ‘See, it is I who created the blacksmith

    who fans the coals into flame

    and forges a weapon fit for its work.

And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;

17     no weapon forged against you will prevail,

    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

    and this is their vindication from me,’

declares the Lord.

Inch 1: Rejoice

Being ‘barren’ is no trivial matter. People go to great lengths and expense if they can’t have a baby. But in the Ancient Near East, around 700BC it was more serious. Children were a blessing from God, so if you didn’t have any you were looked down upon by others. It was to your absolute shame to be married without having children. Surely you’d done some terrible thing for God to withhold his blessing in this way. Not only that, even if you could handle the put-downs from other people, the family unit was its own social-security system. Not having children meant an uncertain future in your old age. The more children you had, the more likely you were to be well looked after.

Now think about Isaiah’s words to the ‘barren woman’ in verse 1:

‘Sing, barren woman,

you who never bore a child;

burst into song, shout for joy,

you who were never in labour;

because more are the children of the desolate woman

than of her who has a husband,’

says the Lord.

It would be natural to burst into song once a baby was on the way. But to sing, rejoice and celebrate, even whilst considered infertile takes faith.

Family growth here is an analogy for the growth and restoration of a nation in exile. What does it stand for in your life? Do you want to see your church grow? Rejoice and celebrate BEFORE the growth occurs. Do you want your finances to be blessed? Thank God in advance for trusting you with stewardship of more. Is it growth in your relationships, or physical health? Praise God for what he has done and for what he is about to do. Burst into song! Be hopeful, expectant and prove your faith by thanking God in advance!

Inch 2: Enlarge your thinking

If there was a baby on the way, you’d make plans. You’d prepare a room, buy a cot, and believe me, no amount of preparation will be enough for what will hit the parents!

Imagine an infertile couple decorating a spare room in baby colours, putting a nappy changing table in place, picking out curtains, stocking the drawers and wardrobe with baby clothes. That would be either stupid or full of faith!

In verse 2 Isaiah encourages Israel to enlarge its tents – prepare for growth.

What do you need to do to prepare for when your dream starts to be fulfilled? Open a business account? Decorate a room? Set time aside for some activity? Where do you need to make room for a bigger future? Is it in your diary, is it some physical space, or is it an enlargement of thinking?

Enlarged thinking is best helped by enlarged speaking. What you say has an effect on what you expect. But be careful who you share your dreams with!

What’s more, Isaiah tells Israel, “Don’t hold back” (v2). In our preparation for the next big move of God in our lives, let’s not make some token gesture. Faith is the currency of heaven, and God seems to be encouraging us to go all-out to show him that we are ready for his provision.

Inch 3: Kick fear in the teeth

God has to tell people throughout the Bible not to fear. This is because fear is a common human response to danger. It is also a real faith-killer. I’ve said before that there are good, healthy human fears, and then there are fears that God is not pleased with. In particular, the fear of man will leave you paralysed, too worried to articulate the dream, too fearful to step out and make room for the growth you are looking for. God said it to Joshua before he entered the promised land, he said it to the Israelites in Isaiah 54:4 and he says it to us today.

Notice the fears that he deals with in this context:

Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.

Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

You will forget the shame of your youth

and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

Shame, disgrace, humiliation, reproach (being told off). I find it interesting that the fear is not physical harm so much as emotional. Nevertheless, do not fear. Why? Read on…

Inch 4: Look up

Verse 5 reminds us why we have nothing to fear:

For your Maker is your husband –

the Lord Almighty is his name –

the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;

he is called the God of all the earth.

According to verse 5, God is,

  • Your maker – he made you! Go back and read Psalm 139 again and get that into your head!
  • Your husband (red-blooded guys bear with me here, it’s a metaphor) – he wants to protect, provide for and honour you.
  • The Lord – that means master / boss. He is the manager of your life. Let him lead you!
  • Almighty – nothing can prevent him from doing what he wants. He’s omnipotent.
  • Holy – there is none like him. He is matchless, higher than any other, perfect and deserving of eternal worship.
  • Redeemer – he will rescue you from slavery, pay the price for you to be free and let you live in safety

And in case you needed any more reassurance,

  • He is called the God of all the earth – ‘nuff said.

So look up! Don’t be afraid! Rejoice and make lavish preparations for growth.

Isaiah 54 JPV

Below is my version of Isaiah 54.

It’s not the inerrant word of God. But it’s the way I have chosen to interpret the chapter for myself and the church I belong to.

I pray that it encourages you to step out and live the dream. Dream on!

1 Rejoice, child of God! It doesn’t matter what has happened before, whether you’ve tried and failed and you’ve seen no fruit; because your success is going to outshine those you once thought had it all!

2 Start to think bigger. Prepare for growth. Don’t hold back. Stretch your imagination to the limits so that you might increase your capacity to receive what God is going to do.

3 You will spread out to the right and to the left; then generations to come will continue in this work, overthrowing principalities and powers in the heavenly realms. They will settle in territory once held by the enemy for as long as anyone can remember.

4 Do not be afraid. You will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace. You will not be humiliated. I have borne your shame for you. You have felt shame before but that is a thing of the past. You have experienced failure before but a new day is here.

5 Children of God, you are the bride of Christ – the Lord Almighty is his name. The Holy one of Israel is your Redeemer. He’s the God of the universe, and he sees you as a beautiful bride. As a perfect husband he wants to protect you, honour you and provide for you.

6 He now beckons you out of your place of rejection and into the safety of his arms.

7 You will have felt abandoned whilst I was strengthening your character, knocking off some corners in order to make you beautiful.

8 But I was never far away. My face was hidden but my love never stops. Now is the time for us to run together again. Be ready.

9 Remember when I told Noah I’d never flood the earth again? Well you’ve been through a bit of a flood yourself, and the waters are still only receding, but you won’t need to go through that trial again.

10 The world around you might shake and crumble but I have never stopped loving you and I never will. I feel more deeply for you than you could ever understand.

11 Yes there have been storms. And yes you’ve felt alone and uncomforted. But I will restore the storm damage. What has gone will be replaced with something so much better. I am making your life into something so strong and attractive you won’t even recognise yourself!

12 Even when under pressure your ability to resist attack will be attractive to others. There will be something beautiful about the grace with which you deal with opposition.

13 Future generations, those you are now discipling, will devote themselves to the Lord’s teaching.

14 You will be established by knowing that you are made right with God; and because God sees you as righteous, no enemy can have anything against you. So don’t be afraid!

15 If anyone does attack you, it won’t be me. In fact whoever does attack will soon give in.

16 Don’t forget that I made everything, even the enemy. They can’t do anything to you without my say so.

17 No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will always have an answer for the accuser. This is your heritage now. You are justified!

Happy Ending?

That last verse is a bit of a reality check. With all God’s promises about growth, he finishes with the reality that there will be weapons forged against you. Don’t think that attacks are a bad sign. In fact if you’re never under attack, you’re probably no threat to the enemy!

It is a happy ending though, because, despite attack being real, you are promised that no weapon forged against you will prevail. Especially if your dreams are kingdom building dreams – then we know for sure that the gates of hell will not prevail against that kind of growth. Yeah, gates. Not weapons. With Jesus, now it is us who are on the attack!

Which part of your tent will you enlarge?

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