Even in Exile: Expecting Expansion
Banished to my attic bedroom, where the ceiling fan did little to cool on a hot summer day, I had no choice but to stew. Flopping backwards in a huff, I searched for validation in the eyes of the 90s hip hop and R&B stars who hung all around me on the once-visible wood paneled walls and, finding none, wished to be all grown up. I knew I was wrong when I did whatever teenaged girls do to be sent unceremoniously out of a parent’s sight, but that didn’t feel as good as blaming my all-too-willing chastiser, who, adding insult to injury, shouted, “You might as well clean up that room while you’re up there!” as if exile wasn’t punishment enough.
To my parents, “You might as well” was not merely a proffered consideration. These words, put forth when most inconvenient and unwelcomed, meant whatever followed was certain to take place. Failure to follow through would not end well for me, and if I was already on the outs, there was no chance I was going to dig my hole even deeper. I didn’t need seconds. One plate full of punishment was enough for me.
So like Brandy, “sitting up in my room,” I was forced to think about my mess both literally and figuratively, and I decided to head back downstairs to grab a handful of garbage bags for the work ahead.
We all know that not every storm is a consequence of sin, but sometimes, Friend, when we find ourselves driven away, it’s because the idiomatic chickens are coming home to roost. If we are truthful with ourselves, being as self-reflective as we expect others to be, we will admit that there were warning signs and divine patience we exploited far too long. Sometimes God refuses to endure our disobedience a moment further, and we have to do our time.
But God, even when dishing out some much-needed correction, “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103: 10, NIV). Century upon century of willful sin finally resulted in a long-suffering God saying to a wayward Israel, “No more!” But thank God He is no mere executioner! He is our loving Father, and like the earthly parents He blessed me with, God gave the Israelites a “you might as well” to ensure their development even during a season of discipline. God has high expectations for us, even when punishing us: “Build houses,” He said, “and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and father sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may give birth to sons and daughters…” (Jeremiah 29: 5-6). And at the end of Jeremiah 29: 6, God commands them to “grow in numbers…and do not decrease.” In other words, God commands expansion even in exile!
It’s the new year, Friend, and while it’s customary for us to focus on expanding our wallets by forgoing unnecessary spending and expanding our health by pushing away from those sweet, fatty treats, let’s not forget the only expansion that truly matters: spiritual expansion. We have houses to build, too, but they won’t stand if they are not founded on the Rock (Matthew 7: 24-27). We have gardens to plant, too, but they won’t produce fruit if they are not connected to the True Vine (John 15: 1-8). And we, too, have families to cultivate, but they won’t flourish if we don’t treat each other as Christ treats His church (Ephesians 5: 21-28). While we may be paying the consequences for sin, like my waistline is paying the consequences for my chosen diet the last twelve months, this is no excuse to simply endure, waiting on restoration without intentional participation. God sits ready to bring us back home, but will we have made room for Him? You’ve got to dig your ditches, Friend (2 Kings 3). You’ve got to collect your jars (2 Kings 4: 1-7).
Remember the command, Friend: “…grow…and do not decrease.”
Happy New Year!