The Counterintuitive Law of Productivity

Then I asked,

“How long, O Lord?”

And He replied,

“Until cities lie in ruins

without an inhabitant,

until the houses are left unoccupied,

and the land is desolate and ravaged,

until the LORD has driven men far away,

and the land is utterly forsaken.

And though a tenth remains in the land,

it will be burned again.

As the terebinth and oak leave stumps when felled,

so the holy seed will be a stump in the land.” (Is 6:11-13)

The thing that catches my attention about this prophesy is that it is focuses on the land, more than the people.  I put the word “land” in bold so you can see the emphasis.

Strange.  Why would God care about something inanimate?

But it’s not so strange if we look at Leviticus.  Check out the warning God gave the Israelites at the time of Moses:

But if in spite of all this you do not obey Me, . . . I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out a sword after you as your land becomes desolate . . . . As long as it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not receive during the Sabbaths when you lived in it.  (Lev. 26:27, 33, 35)

God actually wanted the land to have rest.

This is totally interesting.  It reminds us that God set down very specific laws regarding how his people were to treat the land they received.

Then the LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘When you enter the land I am giving you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD.  For six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather its crops. But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land—a Sabbath to the LORD. ” Leviticus 25:2-4

What’s so cool about this is that today we have tons of technology that shows us that soil does indeed need a rest.  Farmers often allow their fields to fallow over a season.  And our government pays over a billion dollars to farmers for letting portions of their land lie dormant.  The USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program website says that doing this improves water quality, reduces soil erosion, and increases habitat for endangered and threatened species.

God knows best.

But the Israelites couldn’t wrap their heads around this.  Evidently, they had to be busy.  They had to produce.  They had to be hands on, in control.  They couldn’t slow down.

Does this remind us of something?  Oh yes, we can be that way!

Isaiah 57 defines the problem well:  “Though you tired yourself out by running after idols, you refused to stop. Your desires were so strong that they kept you going.” Is 57:10

We’re frazzled and worn out, but we can’t get ourselves to stop.   We stay up too late.  We pack out our schedules.  We’re driven by our desires, not our faith.

And God wants us to rest, just like he wants the land to rest.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isa 30:15

It’s so counterintuitive to us.  Doesn’t God want us to work hard, be productive and fruitful, and do the most with what he has given us?

So what is this rest thing?  Busier is better!  Let’s get things accomplished!

We have to get it through our heads that God structured his creation to require both work and a time of replenishment.

We can’t keep depleting ourselves, like Israelites depleted the land.

If we continue to do so, God may take steps to put us in the proper order.

He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful. . .  Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”

God wants us to find the source of true replenishment, which is him and Christ.  We have to learn to connect, and stay connected to him.

Rest in God alone, O my soul, for my hope comes from Him. Ps 62:5 

Again, we find this counterintuitive principle.  In pruning, a farmer limits productivity to create productivity.  God limits our productivity at times, so a productivity in him can be achieved.

God teaches us to be still, and drink from the spring that will truly quench our thirst.  (John 4:14)

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul .  . . Ps 23:2-3a

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.  Ex 14:14

Will we still our efforts, and find rest and replenishment in the Lord?

Will we still not only our constant striving, but our constant fretting?

I’m totally guilty of this.  My thoughts can be as busy as my schedule.  My mind whirls with fears and “shoulds.”   I micromanage.  I spin.  I edit.  I keep devising ways for everything to work out.

And the irony is that the only thing that’s going to work out is the thing I put in God’s hands. Because he is the source.

I’m so afraid of a lack of productivity.  I need to work and plan, so things will go right!

Yet I come back to this passage.  God made the land desolate. It seemed like the end.  But he left a “holy seed” that would be a  “stump in the land.”  This is how he achieved his purpose.

You know, growth is so crazy.  I have plants in my yard that look dead all winter, but with the spring, they are leafy and blooming again.  I have trees I’ve cut down, and you would think that would be the end of them.  But before long, shoots grow out of the cut wood.

And the last verse of Isaiah 6 foretells this kind of growth — a seed planted in a ravaged land, a hewn tree that still has life in it.

God specializes in the circle of life.  The season of inactivity leads to a season of abundance.  It isn’t the end.  It is, in fact, necessary.

God wants the land to rest, so it will be more productive.  God wants us to rest in him, so we will be more productive.

Will we listen to him, or will we be like the Israelites, endlessly toiling?

It’s counterintuitive.  Everything in us screams to stay in control, to make things happen.

But the efforts that are fruitful spring from the seed that sits quietly in the soil and connects to the nutrients.

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Filed under Isaiah, Strength in God, Surrender, Uncategorized

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