Over the last few days, we’ve finally gotten some rain around here. As you probably noticed, we really needed it. The grass was starting to feel like a pile of hay beneath your feet. If you had any sort of garden you needed to water it just about every day to keep the plants alive. I don’t know if our weather through most of July and the first days of August was considered a drought or not, but it sure was dry.
But still, despite that dryness, I’d be surprised if any of you decided to pray for rain during that time. It’s not because you didn’t think God could send rain; you just probably didn’t feel it as that great of a need. If you happen to do any farming, or if you count on selling some of what you grow, or if you count on eating what you grow, it might’ve been a different story. But for most of us, we probably didn’t feel that much of a pressing need for rain. I mean, if it didn’t rain for months, there would still be bread at Tops, right? We probably wouldn’t starve. It might not even affect us much at all. If anything, we might just be glad that rain wasn’t ruining our outdoor activities.
But there was a time when most people would’ve needed that rain. When more people were farmers in this country, no rain at the wrong time meant that crops would be ruined and livelihoods would be destroyed. There was a time when you just couldn’t buy more food at the store, a time when a lack of rain could mean hungry stomachs and empty plates. And then you better believe people would pray for rain. Then people would cry out to God for just a few drops to bring them life.
Today we look at a section of Isaiah where God compares his Word to rain. Just like rain gets the job done — it makes plants grow — God’s Word gets the job done. Through his Word, God tells us about himself, he reveals his will to us, and he lays out the good news of our salvation. In fact in his Word, God not only tells us about our salvation; he gives it to us! He gives us faith to believe it by the Holy Spirit. He strengthens that faith and that connection to Jesus. He gives us eternal life.
So have you ever had a drought of God’s Word? Have you ever gone for a period of time where you had no contact with the Word? I’m sure you have. Maybe there were times when you never cracked a Bible, you didn’t go to church, you didn’t really think about God at all. Maybe there were even times when you did go to church but you kind of put up a little umbrella over your head. You didn’t really listen to God’s Word, so it might as well not have been there.
Well, the question is, when that happened, did you even notice? Did you long for God’s Word like a dry, thirsty land longs for water? Or did it not even cross your mind? Friends, like a complete lack of rain, a lack of God’s Word eventually leads to death. Our faith grows weak without it. It won’t last forever. So we want to pray for rain. We want to pray to always remain in God’s Word and rejoice that his Word always works to bless us.
Let’s look at the picture God paints for us in the book of Isaiah. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. (Is. 55:10-11) God says his Word is like rain and snow.
And what do rain and snow do? Quite simply, they make stuff grow. The rain comes down and waters the earth. Plants shoot up. Some of these plants we are able to eat or use to make bread. And also from these plants we get seeds to plant more. And, we know, the water eventually evaporates and goes back into the atmosphere and when the conditions are right it comes back down as rain again. It’s all a cycle, and the water of the rain is a very important part of us living and having food to eat.
God goes on to show us, then, that his Word is just as important for our spiritual life. His Word goes out and always accomplishes what God wants with it. Just like the rain accomplishes so much, God says, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Is. 55:11)
Now, this idea of someone’s word returning to them empty might seem a little strange. But it makes sense if you think about it. Imagine a group of kids playing. They’re running around, jumping, shouting, laughing, and overall just being kids. So you go up to this group of kids and shout, “OK, everyone be quiet and stand in a line, please!” And what do the kids do? Nothing! They ignore you completely, if they heard you to begin with. Well, your word has just returned to you empty. It didn’t accomplish anything. But if someone else came in and said, “Kids! Quiet! Line up! Now!” And if the kids all listened and did it, then that person’s word did not return empty, but it accomplished what it was meant to do.
Well, God’s Word never returns to him empty. It always accomplishes what he wants. Think of it with the creation of the world. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. (Gen. 1:3) He created seas and animals and the sun, moon, and stars in this way. He said the word, and it happened. Period.
Now, when we think of the Bible, we probably think of it a little bit different than that. God doesn’t thunder the words of the Bible directly from heaven to us. No, we read the Bible, we study it, we hear it in church. It might not seem like it comes directly from God. But it does. The Bible tells us, All Scripture is God-breathed. (2 Tim. 3:16) God breathed his Word out in the Bible, only he wasn’t saying it out loud, he was causing human beings to write it down. The Bible says, You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had it’s origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (1 Pet. 1:20-21)
So here in the Bible, we have God speaking. This is his Word. This is the word that does not return to him empty but achieves the purpose for which he sent it. And why did he send it? Well, the apostle John mentions why toward the end of his gospel. These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (Jn. 20:31) One of God’s purposes in his Word is that people would hear it and believe it. God wants people to trust in Jesus as the only source of salvation. Through that faith we get life, eternal life because of Jesus’ life and death for us. That all comes from God’s Word. Or, as another passage puts it, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:17)
Yes, this Word of God is the only reason any of us are believers at all. Whether it was God’s word together with water in baptism. Whether it was the message of Jesus’ love for us that we heard that brought us to faith, God the Holy Spirit worked that faith in us by his Word.
And he keeps doing it. Again, think of that rain comparison. You don’t want it to just rain once. It keeps raining, and it keeps giving benefits to the plants. Well, God’s Word keeps benefiting us. The Holy Spirit builds us up in our faith. We grow closer to him. We keep his promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation even closer to our hearts. And we still get the benefits of his Word in our baptism as the Holy Spirit continues to work through that. Plus, in the Lord’s Supper we get Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine to, again, build up our faith. And this is all from God’s Word.
So, of course, we pray for rain, right? We want to continue in this Word, any way we can. We want to be here in church to soak in that Word and sacrament. We want to come to Bible classes. We want to study the Bible at home. We want to be thinking and living his Word at all times. We are thirsty for it, and we just want to drink it in no matter what.
Well, at least we should want those things. It’s easy not to, though. Sometimes we sort of expect God’s Word to always be there for us, and if we happen to not be in church for awhile, or if we don’t really listen that closely, or if we just never study it at all, we sort of expect everything to work out for us anyways.
But there’s a problem. God’s Word is always effective, but we who hear it are not. In other words, we can close our hearts to his Word. We can shut our ears to it. We can put up an umbrella in the rain and just not hear his Word at all!
It’s like that parable that Jesus told in today’s Gospel lesson. (Matt. 13) The person planting seed planted it everywhere, and the plants grew better in some parts than others. Well, that wasn’t the seed’s fault. The seed was great, but the different soils would sometimes hinder the seed from growing. Are we working to hinder the Word in us?
You see, there’s a great danger looming over us, friends. What if the raincloud of God’s grace and favor from his Word should pass us by? In other words, what if we ignore God’s Word so much that we just don’t hear it all anymore?
Martin Luther, who lived in the 14- and 1500’s in Germany, warned about that at his time. “You should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been.” Luther said this because in his day, it was really raining. God’s Word was everywhere there in Germany. The reformation had just happened, people were getting back in to God’s Word again, and their faith was flourishing from it. But Luther was warning them to take advantage of this and continue to hear God’s Word, because if they didn’t, those rain showers could pass them by.
And we see how that’s happened. Today in Germany there are still Christians, certainly, but not all that many. Like most of Europe, there are many huge, gorgeous churches in Germany that sit mostly vacant on Sunday mornings. The “Lutheran Church” in Germany for the most part bears little resemblance to the true Word of God that Luther championed. That rain passed them by.
Many of us think of the US as a Christian nation, but can we really say that? More and more, even in the Christian church, turn away from God’s Word. And we here could be doing the same. The Word doesn’t seem that important. It’s just not exciting enough. It just doesn’t pay the bills. So what’s the point in following it? Why should I continue in it?
Friends, our faith is in grave danger when we think that way. We could fall from our faith. In fact, if we turn from God’s Word, we will fall from our faith. And that would have eternal consequences.
So let’s pray for rain. Let’s pray that God would continue to shower us with his Word. Let’s pray that we continue to hear his Word, understand it, obey it, and bear much fruit from it. Let’s not get tired of hearing his Word. Let’s not grow weary of studying it, reading it, going to Bible classes, and having devotions in our home. His Word is life! It’s the only source of our faith! Let’s drink it in every chance we get!
The forecasters on the news do the best they can to predict when it will rain. But the rain of God’s Word only comes from him. Let’s pray that he would continue to give us that gift. Let’s pray that he would fill us up with his love, build up our faith, and send us out to spread it to others. He has the power; we don’t. Thank God for that! Let’s pray he accomplishes his desire in our hearts. Let’s pray for rain.