There’s a story in the Old Testament Biblical narrative where the prophet Ezekial is led into a Valley of Bones … dry bones, to be exact. The vision is a metaphor for the hopelessness that the people of Israel were feeling at the time. God speaks to Ezekial and lays out the story.
He tells Ezekial that he has the power to speak to the dry bones and they will come alive again—bone to bone, tendon to tendon, flesh upon the frames, and breath in the lungs. All he has to do is speak and hopelessness will become a mighty army and they will find settledness and belonging in a land that is home again.
But as the passage unfolds, it’s more incremental than miraculous. Ezekiel does prophesy over the bones, the valley shakes, and they begin to come together, as promised. Yet, they are left without breath.
God repeats himself and empowers Ezekial once again to call the divine breath from the four winds to give life to these beings. He obeys and the frames come to life as a powerful army. And still, they remain displaced.
God repeats himself again and reminds Ezekial that Israel is promised a land that is theirs, that they can claim as home. So Ezekial speaks and Israel is given this homeland, hope is restored, graves and despair are no longer their portion.
I’ve always taken the learning of this passage to be that God can produce hope in the face of death. That in the valley of our lives, when all seems lost, even there, resurrection can still break through. And I believe that’s part of it.
But today, I’m more struck by Ezekial’s role specifically in the story.
He’s shown the whole picture of impact, He’s given a divine vision of restoration. He’s empowered by the Spirit. He’s told how the story will end in victory and goodness, if he has the courage to speak new life into what appears to be dead.
And in my estimation, Ezekial fails miserably. He fumbles the play. He’s entrusted with vision and power and yet it takes him three tries to finally get it right. God has to keep repeating himself. Ezekiel keeps trying. And eventually, it comes to fruition.
If I’m God, I’m annoyed. I mean, come on, Ezekiel. I’m giving you everything you need to be a vessel of hope. All you have to do is follow the playbook.
And yet God isn’t agitated. He’s patient, kind, loving and delights in Ezekial’s partnership in restoring hope to his beloved Israel.
God works through Ezekial’s fragility and incrementality not because he has to. To be clear, he doesn’t. But rather, because he enjoys linking arms with him to bring about redemption to a broken world.
Take another hero: Moses. He runs from the call on his life for decades. He lacks confidence and hides and just wants to settle into a life that is obscure and status quo. He knows he’s called to make a big difference, but he’s scared. So he becomes a shepherd, husband, father, and hopes that purpose will pass him by. But God is too kind to do that. He loves us too much to let us waste our lives.
So one day when Moses is herding sheep, God makes an appearance. In that moment, Moses could’ve been miraculously changed. But he couldn’t bring himself to do that. He was full of fear so he hid in the cleft of a rock while God reminded him of the bigger plan for his life—how he’d intended all along for Moses to be a deliverer to the people of Israel who were enslaved in Egypt.
But Moses had some objections, and he couldn’t really handle the full glory of God, so he hid in a rock with the mere shadow of it surrounding him while they discussed the plan.
First, he stuttered. If he was going to be the voice of deliverance, didn’t that mean he needed to be articulate? Well, he wasn’t so that alone should be enough to get him out of this job. No problem. God offers that his brother Aaron can speak for him whenever he feels he’s inadequate to deliver certain remarks.
Second, he didn’t feel supported or confident. He felt alone in the task and couldn’t imagine doing everything that was required of a deliverer by himself. Again, no problem. God offers that not only will he give Aaron to Moses as a support, but he’ll also send his sister Miriam as well. At some point, Aaron and Miriam would literally hold Moses’ arm up on each side to sustain him physically.
This is a wild scene, isn’t it? The most powerful force in the universe seeks you out to tell you about the big, awesome vision for your life—you’re being asked to lead the largest emancipation of slaves in human history. And Moses’ reaction is to hide and make excuses to try to get out of it.
If I’m God, I’m pissed. I mean, he could’ve chosen someone else who was more enthusiastic about the task. Someone who was grateful to be given such an important role in history—someone who was going to jump at the opportunity to do something meaningful. And yet God is patient, kind, and loving toward Moses. He listens to each of his objections and doesn’t scold him or shame him for thinking too small, he just gives him the support and assurance he needs to move forward.
Much of my life as a leader reflects the stories of Ezekial and Moses. I’m often incremental in my approach to big change. Whether from lack of courage or sheer human limitation, it often takes me three tries to do something when I’d rather it had taken one. I am often afraid. Sometimes I lack confidence to say that thing that needs to be said in the face of power. Sometimes I hide because I’m scared of transforming too quickly. Sometimes I make excuses because I feel alone in my leadership. I feel unsupported and tired. And I just don’t want to do another hard thing by myself.
And in these moments, which raise themselves in one way or another on almost a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, I am neither patient nor kind nor loving to myself. I do not extend the same grace to myself that God extends toward me. I beat myself up. I lay awake in the middle of the night calculating all of the ways that I’m failing. My soul becomes heavy and weary because I use the delta between what’s possible and where I’m performing as a tool of shame. I make myself sick while rehearsing the story of how much God has entrusted to me and how miserably I’m squandering it.
And yet, nothing could be further from the truth of how God sees me. Nothing could be more distant from the life that God wants for me, for us.
God wasn’t annoyed at Ezekial that he had to break down the restoration of Israel into three parts. He wasn’t upset with Moses’ lack of confidence or excuses. He’s not angry or disappointed. He’s not tapping his toe with arms folded wondering if we’ll just get it together and hurry up so He can accomplish something in the world.
Because the truth is, linking arms with humanity to restore hope to the world is what he’s trying to accomplish.
Our humanity, fragility, fears, concerns, brokenness, and incremental pace doesn’t get us a strike in the “con” column. Just as it doesn’t mean that we’re any less worthy of being a part of big change in the world. Bringing the fullness of their humanity, Ezekiel still restored hope and Moses still delivered a people from oppression. None of that changed. And God delighted in that. Because he loves us. Because he loves working with us and through us to bring peace, redemption, and goodness to a hurting world.
The most counterintuitive but truthiest truth of all is that we believe our human limitations hold us back from making a difference and being worthy of divine love. But we’ve gotten the paradigm all wrong. Our frailties don’t disqualify us, they position us. Our humanity doesn’t disappoint God, it delights him.
He created our humanity, with all of its beauty and finiteness. God chooses to work through us to restore the world solely because it brings him pleasure. And no matter the ask, he welcomes the opportunity to give us the assurance and support we need to fulfill the plan he has for our lives, because he is kind. Then, now, forever. To them, to me, to you.