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“Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

You know these words from Ezekiel 37 (NIV). They belong to the prophet Ezekiel. In the grips of a vision, he’s is in the middle of a valley that’s littered with human bones. For as far as the eye can see, there are just dry bones. These are the lives of the people of Israel.

God asks him, “Can these bones live?” to which Ezekiel replies, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

These words grab me because they are simultaneously declarations of helplessness and confidence. In an intensely personal way, Ezekiel knows there’s no way for these bones to live if it’s up to him. He may long for life and vitality, but these are out of his reach.

Even more profoundly, Ezekiel knows that God can make these bones live. Breath and even resurrection belong to God alone. Standing knee-deep in death and utterly powerless, Ezekiel is still convinced that only God can restore the dry bones of Israel.

You know these words too, because you’ve felt them. You’ve waited for God in the middle of your own valley of dry bones. Overwhelmed and without recourse, you’ve remained open to the possibilities of what only God can do.

Maybe these bones can live. Perhaps there will be renewal. But if there is, it can only be the result of God’s life-giving Spirit.

Words like these rise only from the shreds of humility. There can be no pride in them, no independence, no selfish ambition. They come only from complete trust and absolute dependence. These are beautiful and powerful words.

But there’s more than just words. There’s obedience, too. There’s mission. Even as we say, “God alone knows,” there’s still work to be done.

Ezekiel’s words are immediately met by God’s Word, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!'" (Ezekiel 37:4, NIV) God knows these bones will live.

But first Ezekiel must obey, so he speaks God’s Word to the bones in the valley. They shake and rattle. Flesh covers them. Breath enters them. Suddenly, a vast army is standing in front of the prophet. Now Ezekiel knows, too.

Ministry is short on answers and long on questions and quandaries. But regardless of outcome, all ministry requires steady attention to the demands of God’s Word. Most days are spent praying, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know,” but there’s still obedience. As we shuffle through our own valley of dry bones, we must still speak the Word of life to them through Jesus Christ.

Can these bones live? God only knows and until we do, there’s work to be done.

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