The Year of the Lord's Favor

My mother is the epitome of faithfulness. She is in the middle of her 51st year of teaching the same Sunday school class in my home church. She also is extremely disciplined in her quiet times. She believes that each day the Lord will give her a verse as she reads God’s word, and the margins in her Bible are filled with dates of God’s message to mom that day.
I have not experienced the “verse per day” that she has, but I journal as I read. On the first day of this New Year, I believe God spoke to me with not one but three verses.

I had been working my way through the book of Isaiah, and on the first day of the New Year, I came to Isaiah 61. The editors of the New International Version Study Bible have entitled this chapter, “The Year of the Lord’s Favor,” and I heartily agree:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." — Isaiah 61:1-3
As I read those words, I thought about all of us who have the privilege of serving the Sovereign Lord through Young Life. As a mission, we have experienced God’s presence and His Spirit. We have been called to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenheartedand to proclaim freedom and release to the captives.
We live in a world where many kids are poor in spirit. Some are rich monetarily but are destitute spiritually. They try to fill the emptiness in their souls with anything they can grab, but they know something is missing. There are other kids who are poor spiritually and financially. They have no hope for climbing out of poverty. Others are brokenhearted from disasters they have faced and the abuse they have endured. Their lives are ones of constant sorrow, mourning and grief except when they escape momentarily through unhealthy means. And so many are also prisoners and captives of their decisions or addictions and need to experience true release and freedom.

In the middle of all of this, we in Young Life come proclaiming The Year of the Lord’s Favor.
What I love about this passage is what I call the “insteads.” As kids meet Jesus, a whole lot of “insteads” take place. Instead of a burned-out life of ashes, they receive a crown of beauty. Instead of mourning, they receive the oil of gladness. Their lives radically change, and they can rejoice in who they are and what they will become. Instead of a spirit of despair, they receive a garment of praise.

Although kids meet Christ in many settings in Young Life, we can see this transformation take place at a Young Life camp. We watch a group of kids arrive at camp. We see emptiness in their eyes, despair on their faces. As the week goes by, they might express their hostility or their mourning. But gradually they meet Jesus, and their lives change. Beauty, gladness and praise replace their ashes, mourning and despair.

They become what Isaiah proclaims. Through a series of ups and downs — three steps forward and two back — they mature. They establish solid marriages, strong families. They make a contribution in their community, their school and their church.  Years later, people look at them as pillars of strength and stability where they live. As Isaiah says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness.” But they weren’t oaks of righteousness when they got off the bus. They are oaks of righteousness because they got off the bus and met Jesus and, through the years, followed Him.

This process is a testimony of the Lord’s splendor. How can a mission like Young Life be part of that process? It takes prayerful people who love Jesus and love kids. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army of committed folks to minister to kids. It is imperative to remember that the Lord has anointed each one of us. It doesn’t matter whether or not we are in full-time ministry. As children of God, He has set us aside to partner with Him in what He’s doing in this world. Some of us remember a time when we had a specific call from God. Some of us haven’t had a Damascus Road encounter, but we’ve been gradually pulled in the direction of ministry until it’s abundantly clear that we are anointed to do exactly what we’re doing.
Some of us are called to be on staff and work directly with kids. Some have been appointed by God to serve on committee, be a volunteer leader, give generously. Because of the Lord’s call on our life, we really can’t do anything else. We could succeed elsewhere. On some days we want to leave. But God has His stamp on us. “Mine for Reaching Kids” is written boldly on the name tags of our lives.

May 2003 be The Year of the Lord’s Favor. May you experience God’s presence in your personal life, with your family and with Young Life. Whatever you have been anointed to do, do it with all your might because it really does make a difference in the lives of kids.