A Bigger, Better Tent

Isaiah 54 was a passage God put on my heart when I was going through an extremely difficult time as a single woman.  A single mom, to be exact.  I was having a hard time, financially.  My house was also having all kinds of problems.  I felt insecure as far as being able to provide for my kids and parent them at the same time.  I was being attacked legally by someone who should have been helping with the task at hand.  I felt that I was not up to the challenge of single parenting.  (Is anyone?  Should we be?)  It was the best alternative I knew for my children, but I felt like I was sinking fast.

In the midst of this, one night, when I was feeling worthless, helpless, hopeless, and afraid, God opened this chapter of Scripture to me in a way that changed my fears dramatically.  It didn’t make it less difficult, but it made it less terrifying.  And what’s more, it made it actually hopeful.  So much so that I wrote each verse and promise from God on a 3×5 card, and as I worked each night, I flipped through those cards, meditating on them during every small break.

I want to share this with you because I want to bring hope to other unmarried women, barren women, and single moms (maybe single dads, too, but not being one of those, I’m not sure if this will strike a chord in them).  I think that this applies to every one of you as much as it applies to me.  If you’re reading this and none of those descriptions fit you, maybe you can pass this on to someone who needs to hear it and will be blessed by it.

Isaiah 54:

Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.

I am not physically barren.  I have 5 children, so it would seem that this verse does not apply to me.  But what God spoke to the inner recesses of my heart through this verse was that, even though I was not married and could, therefore, no longer bear children, I was still extremely fertile.  My relationship with God can produce much more fruit than my relationship with a man.  This applies to productivity in my earthly family.  It also applies to spiritual fruitfulness.  I was certainly desolate; there was no doubt about that.  His promise here was that if I pressed into Him and turned to Him the energy I would be putting into a spousal relationship, He would make me fruitful.   This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I will always be single, or that you will always be childless.  But right now, in this season, this is what we need to build, so that it can be maintained if and when that aspect of our life changes.

“Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
“For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.

In my worries about my physical house — a toilet that wasn’t working, light switches that needed changing, rain gutters that were falling off, and a resultant crack in my basement from water getting under the house — and in the midst of my concerns about the emotional and spiritual home I needed to provide for my children — God was telling me to enlarge my territory.  Not to tighten my belt, so to speak, not to focus on just the little I had, but rather to expand and to look out beyond where we resided.  The promise that my descendants would resettle the desolate cities was especially meaningful to me.  It’s a promise that my children and their children, both physical and spiritual, will bring life to places that are lacking in life.  I love seeing how this is already happening.  It doesn’t really have to do with me; definitely isn’t my doing.  But it’s the fulfillment of God’s promise to me.

However, this isn’t just a promise that will happen on its own.  I have an active role.  He doesn’t say that He will enlarge my tent; He tells me to “enlarge the place of my tent” (press out into other regions, go places that I might be afraid to go … again, literally and figuratively … the things about which I say, “I don’t want to go there”).

Interestingly, soon after this, God moved us 1000 miles from our home.  It has not been easy at all, but I feel Him expanding us, networking us, helping us to understand another culture within our own, preparing us for bigger changes perhaps.

Another way that He’s been doing this in me is through something He challenged me with 2 years ago:  Whatever I realize I’m afraid of, He’s challenged me to walk into it.  It’s like Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the waves.  I need to step into my fears and keep my eyes on Him.  Sometimes, I can see directly how overcoming  a particular fear can serve Him … like stepping out in public again, writing this blog.  But other things, like trying to conquer my fear of heights … um, I’m not sure that will be used directly in ministry, but it’s the discipline of not giving in to my fears, of getting myself to the place where I won’t hesitate to follow Him, so that I can obey His call without stalling in fear.  Taking this challenge — to walk into my fears, to do what I’m afraid of, as long as it’s not immoral, illegal, or foolish — has helped me to grow a lot in the last couple years, and it’s definitely strengthened my trust in Him.  (By the way, I am horribly afraid of heights.  I’m afraid to stand on a chair to change a light bulb, though I’ve been working on that.  My ultimate goal is to go ziplining.)

He says to “stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not.”  That exhortation to spare not means that I’m not to be cheap or selfish or moderate in stretching.  I’m not to hold back because I’m afraid He won’t provide.  I’m to grow where He tells me/us to grow and not hold back, but trust Him for His resources, financial, emotional, spiritual, etc.

“Lengthen your cords.”  In order to make your tent bigger, you have to have longer cords.  These are what define the outer boundaries of your tent, your territory.  God doesn’t just expand our boundaries for us; we have to provide the longer cord for Him to do that.  Stretching out from the tent pole, these cords are what hold the tent up.  I have to become stronger in His Word and in my relationship with Him.  I need to become completely responsible financially, sacrificing when necessary in order to remain solvent and steady.  I need to build my emotional stability, and I need to take care of my physical body.  All these things have to be strong enough to be stretched farther and farther.

“And strengthen your pegs.”  The cords, when stretched out, have  to have something strong to hold them in place.  God can draw those cords way out and give me vaster and vaster territory in every area of my life, but those cords will just pop back and the tent will collapse if the tent pegs aren’t strong enough to withstand the tension.  Those pegs have to be driven hard into the Rock.  My Rock.  My Redeemer.  And what’s more, those pegs have to be leaning outward … out toward more territory, out toward others, not inward toward myself.  Again, if those pegs lean inwardly, no matter how strong they are, no matter how deeply they are driven into the Rock, the cords will slip off and the tent will collapse.  And just as tent pegs occasionally have to be checked and hammered back into the ground, so I need to be watching for any signs that I’m getting pulled away from the center of the Rock, and allow Him to drive me farther into Himself.

“You will spread abroad,” He says, “to the right and the left.”  An amazing thing about this is that He’s not just expanding our fruitful, productive territory in one direction.  He’s spreading us out in every direction!  And little by little, I see this happening.  I have a little influence in California.  I have friends to encourage in Tennessee.  He has given me a place to minister in Minnesota.  And my influence is reaching in very small ways into India and Africa.  Who knows where else?  Not in big ways, no.  Nor does it have to be big.  But the fact is that He expands our influence in many different directions when we’re open to that.  And little things can make a big impact.  A fearful Sunday School teacher witnessed to Dwight L. Moody and won him to the Lord.  Besides being a successful evangelist, Moody’s ministry (and thus, that Sunday School teacher’s ministry) can be traced all the way to Billy Graham’s conversion.  My little influence, where God has expanded my tent, can reach someone else who may do great things for God!  I didn’t set out to expand my influence.  God did this, really through no effort of my own.  I lengthened my cords and strengthened my pegs … or if truth really be told, I allowed Him to do it, and followed His leading (and often not perfectly, but the best I could).  If we give Him that, He does the rest.

Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

Wow, did I, and wow, do I continue to need to hear this.  For me, being divorced was probably the most shameful thing I have ever experienced.  My belief had been that divorce was practically the unforgivable sin.  I had grown up hearing, “Divorce is not an option.”  I was part of a subculture where it didn’t matter if every part of the marriage vows had been broken, the only part that mattered was “Til death do us part.”  The person who severed that officially broke the marriage.  I spent years after my divorce, trying to convince God not to love me.  (I know, right?)  Because I had had something of a public ministry, I received hate mail from people because of my divorce.  I was humiliated, disgraced, reproached, and full of shame.  And the worst thing for me was that I believed God could not use me any more, and being used by God was my very favorite thing in life.  Without that, where was the meaning?  I believed that I had to live with this because of a mistake I made when I was young, one that will, of course, continue to have consequences throughout my life.  But it really did feel like the unforgivable sin to me.  Other people’s mistakes could be forgiven and they could move on.  I would live my life being punished for making a bad choice.

God said here in Isaiah 54 that He was taking all that shame away and that I could forget about it.  Furthermore, He said I could even forget the shame of my youth.  I do still live with consequences … and those consequences will be with me for the rest of my life.  But the shame doesn’t need to be, nor does the reproach.  My status as a divorced, single woman does not need to be reproachful.  God can still use me!  God uses best the one who can’t do it themselves.  I can hold my head high with the confidence that I’m working for the King of Kings.

There’s so much more in this chapter to share with you, but I’ve had a long day and I’m tired, so I’ll share more another time.  In the meantime, I think there’s enough here to think about:

1.  How have you felt devastated?  How do you compare yourself with those who are married, or if you’re unable to conceive, how do you compare yourself with those who have children?  How do you feel that you’re lacking because of that?  It’s important to face those things in order to understand what God is offering you.

2.  What seeds has God planted in your heart?  If you press into Him and build your romance with Him, allowing your spiritual womb to be fertile, those seeds will grow, just as a baby grows in the womb.

3.  Where and how is God enlarging your territory?  Do you see the possibility of your influence expanding to other places, beyond that of your home?  This may not be geographic expansion.  Maybe He’s expanding you into new venues or taking you different places for your work.  Maybe He’s giving you more opportunities right where you are.  Those are things that expand your territory, your sphere of influence.  Remember that if you’ve given your life to Him, every time you walk into a place, you’re bringing the Holy Spirit with you.

4.  What areas of your life need more strengthening and stability?  These are the cords that you need to make stronger so that your tent can be stretched.  Do you need to be more disciplined, spiritually?  More responsible financially?  Do you need to work on integrity?  Are you struggling morally?  Ask the Lord how to become stronger in these areas so that your tent cords can be stretched out.

5.  Are your tent pegs strong?  Do you have a strong relationship with the King of Kings who wants to expand your tent?  He’s the Rock, the foundation that you need to drive your tent pegs into, and you need to drive them in hard.  They need to be inspected regularly to be certain you aren’t pulling out of the Rock and weakening your tent.  What specifically do you need to do, to press into Him?  Are you spending time in His Word?  Are you praying … and not only talking, but listening?  Are you surrounding yourself with biblical, wise influence through teaching and friendships?  Are you spending time in Worship of the Lord of the Universe?

6.  Are your tent pegs positioned so they’re leaning out toward others?  Remember that if you point them toward yourself, leaning inward selfishly, your tent will collapse.  Direct your attention outward toward others.  What specifically can you do to align yourself better in this way?  How can you use your gifts to serve others?  How can you be “Jesus with skin on”?

7.  Are you feeling shame because of your position as a single person or a barren woman?  Do you feel like you’re being punished, or like others look down on you?  Does your lonely bed feel like a badge of a lesser status?  First of all, if there is sin that you need to confess, do so, and accept His forgiveness.  And then, this is often what’s hardest … forgive yourself.  God has forgiven you, so let it go.  Yes, there may be consequences that you have to live with.  But you don’t need to walk in shame anymore.  God has called you by name.  He wants to use you.  He wants to expand your tent!  That’s something to rejoice about!  As verse 1 says, shout for joy!  Break forth into joyful shouting!  God has amazing plans for you!

Isaiah 54:1-4

“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
 “For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

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