God chose some people (The Israelites) to be His. Not because they were particularly lovely, not because they had their act together, but simply because He chose them to be His. Isaiah's song is about how God did everything right in growing them. The vineyard that He prepared should have brought forth an incredible harvest. He had set His people apart, rescued them repeatedly, given them instruction to help them succeed. He loved them. He disciplined them. He gave them the Promised Land. Their thanks? Their "thanks" fills up the previous chapters of Isaiah in the form of rebellion, oppression, self-indulgence, pride, and immorality; wild, nasty, sour grapes.
As S. and I talked about this verse I realized; how often do I expect that if I do the right thing it will always produce favorable results? And if God Himself does everything right with the people He made and still there are wild grapes (not because God is weak but because He gave the Israelites a choice) then how can I expect that my good efforts will without fail produce good grapes?
That thought was immediately followed by repenting of every time I have wondered, "Why is her son so rebellious? She must have been too permissive, too authoritative, too absent, too....something." Certainly she is flawed (we mothers know we are not a perfect God!) but perhaps she prepared a beautiful vineyard only to have her son turn his back. Who am I to judge what she must have done to cause it?
Or when I have shaken my head at a pastor who can't seem to grow his church beyond thirty people. What's his problem? That's a tiny cluster of grapes... he must not be putting in the work to have a healthy vineyard. Tsk. Tsk.
Then I thought of my own life. How many of my pity parties result from thinking I should have received good grapes...and instead have to call it a wash and start over? If I prepare the land, clear the stones, do the planting, prepare a tower... shouldn't that end up looking like a mega-church? Super fruitful! It should look like obedient, wonderful children for sure. I should be well-liked. It should mean a thriving, secure spouse. Heck, it should probably mean an easier life and certainly if I'm doing everything right there won't be conflict in my personal relationships.
Why do I expect in my frail humanity to get better results with people and situations than my perfect Lord? I'm embarrassed at my level of pride!
One thing I am learning in the brutal year of 2010 is that trusting and obeying the Lord is enough...even if it never brings about the earthly rewards I'm banking on. Even if the ones I love rebel, even if my ministries fail when no one will hear Truth, it is enough to listen to the Lord and let Him keep record of results.
This verse was brought back on another level this week. I was asking S., "What else could we be doing wrong? We're out of money. We're still sitting in the same place of waiting and no clear answers. Should we really move ahead with Big Oak?"
Here I was again in my assumptions, "IF it's from God it wouldn't be this hard. IF it's of God it wouldn't mean having to rely on other people's checkbooks. IF it's from God then everyone will agree that we should move ahead. IF it's of God I should at least have the energy to complete His will!"
S. reminded me that I am measuring results by the world's standards.
When I am reminded of the fruit of the Spirit I measure the success of this year differently. We might be in quite a predicament but I can't even articulate the way God has established long-suffering, faithfulness, love, and self-control in us. I have been like a big raw steak, beaten with a mallet in the name of "tenderizing". And it is happening. Truly, when I stop looking at my idea of results, I believe we are where the Lord wants us. Those are good grapes.
The hope, as God surveys His failed vineyard, is that He doesn't abandon the wild grapes. His discipline is brutal and His justice is real, but even that has purpose. The ugliness of disobedience can't rob the story. In fact, God uses it to tell a bigger, beautiful story of redemption. He continues His work...and will until the end.