I don't know about you, but for many years after I found out about Jesus and believed in Him as my Saviour, I thought I needed to do things for God to merit His salvation. In other words, I tried very hard to be good, so God would not be disappointed in me, change His mind, and revoke my salvation. I was simply terrified that if I made a mistake, it would be the end of my relationship with the Lord.
I believed that because I did not receive proper instruction in the Word after I was saved. And so for years, I kept trying to earn my salvation. I believed my sins were so great that I needed to make amends first and be a better person before God could really work in my life. So I tried to "improve" myself for Jesus to accept me. I tried everything from good deeds to not swearing, drinking or doing anything that would make God angry. Unfortunately, I became so tightly wound by all my own self-imposed do's and don'ts I started to resent my relationship with this angry God who demanded so much. What I didn't see was that I was the one who was doing the demanding. I was the one imposing the rules and standards. I was trying to make myself good and perfect instead of letting the Holy Spirit work within me. In addition to that, I tried to live up to the rules and standards my church had imposed. Before I realized what was happening, I started sliding into a deep depression. For many years my faith was lifeless, fake, and dull because I didn't let God do His work. Instead of allowing His Holy Spirit to work a change within me, I was trying to do it for Him. And because I didn't allow Him to have full access to smooth out my rough spots, I would become incredibly nervous when talking to people about Him. Why? I didn't want to say something wrong about Him or offend Him. Again, my own self-imposed rules.
Today I want to look at those rough spots in our lives that need smoothing out by looking at Isaiah 40:3-5.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Isaiah 40:3-5, NKJV).
Have you ever noticed that we tend to run the words together when we read the above verses? For example, when reading the highlighted verse above, any pauses we make are in direct relation to the punctuation. And that is a shame because we miss the deeper meaning of this verse. This is how the verse is punctuated in the Jewish Publication Society's translation:
Hark! One calleth: "Clear ye in the wilderness the way of HaShem, make plain in the desert a highway for our G-d. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of HaShem shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of HaShem hath spoken it (Isaiah 40:3-5, JPS)."
Did you spot the difference? One reads as if a voice is crying in the wilderness. The other tells us what the voice is actually demanding. In other words, it should read, "The voice of one crying, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. . ."
Quite a difference, don't you think?
This verse was about the coming Messiah, and John the Baptist quoted it in John 1:23, announcing that he was that voice preparing the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. John called for the people to repent and turn to the Lord. To signify that they were indeed repenting, he also called for them to be baptized as a sign of that repentance.
When Jesus came, he preached the same message but baptized the people with water and the Holy Spirit. Those who repented received water baptism as a sign of their commitment to God and of their repentance. At the moment of their conversion, they are filled with God's Holy Spirit. In essence, they prepare the wilderness of their souls (through repentance) to make way for God to enter into a relationship with them through His Holy Spirit.
And when God sees a lost soul laying down His life to follow Him, He takes over from there if we are willing to let His Holy Spirit work in our lives.
Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Raising valleys and lowering mountains is no easy task. Making a straight path to the Lord is not easy if we try to do it independently of God. But according to Romans 5:8, God accepts us as we are in our sinful state, and we don't have to make ourselves perfect to come before Him. Without God, we are in the wilderness. Our lives are a barren desert full of valleys of despair and mountains of sin, and God in His mercy offers us a way to make those rugged areas level. He has prepared a way out for all who are in the wilderness through the gift of Jesus Christ, and all we have to do is make ourselves available to receiving that gift.
It takes a bulldozer to level valleys, with mountains of dirt to fill in the empty spaces. And it takes dynamite to blow a hole through a mountain, to clear a path for a road. Both complicated and lengthy processes to go through before the way is clear and flat. On our own, there is no way we can cover up our sins or get rid of them to make ourselves "perfect enough" to invite God into our lives. It can't be done, and He doesn't expect it to be done. He wants you as you are, right where you are now. The only thing you need to do is repent of your sin (don't do it anymore) and confess your need of salvation. Leave the rest up to God.
If you have been a Christian for a while and your faith feels dead, maybe you've been trying to fill those valleys and move those mountains in your own power, forgetting that the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell within us at the moment of salvation, to begin a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). That "work" is God moving those mountains and filling those valleys so that on the day we stand before Him, we will be ready to enter into His kingdom. The only thing we need to do is trust God to complete His work within us.
It may take years because, let's face it, even though we've been saved by grace, we still live in a fallen world where Satan is actively trying to win us back into his camp (1 Peter 5:8). He will make us doubt our faith and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. That's Satan's job - to make us doubt God's Word, and if he succeeds, those valleys get lower, and those mountains get higher, and we struggle to find our way again. When all along, God has prepared the way for us through Jesus Christ, and all we need to do is allow His Holy Spirit to work within us to make us into the people He wants us to be. People who can stand firm in the face of adversity, persecution and ridicule by the world at large.
Are you a Christian who has been wandering in the wilderness? Or someone who has never known the Lord? Then open your heart to Him. Admit your sins and confess your need of God's intervention in your life. Accept the gift of salvation He offers, then repent and trust Him to take your sinful life and make it whole, clean and new again through His Holy Spirit. He can do it if you let Him.