By Melody Murton, Head of Communications and Education
In a world suffering from despair and destruction, we all want to be restorers. We want to help shape the fairer, safer, more just world that we long for. But as anyone who has been part of a restoration project knows, between the ‘before’ and the ‘after’, there is a lot of time, hard work, and mess.
In this Bible study, we explore how God is inviting us to envision, undo and persevere as we join his work of restoration.
“You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community liveable again.”
(Isaiah 58:12 MSG)
Who doesn’t love a good home renovation or room makeover television series? The popularity of long-running series like Grand Designs or The Block suggest that we love to follow transformative ‘before and after’ journeys. It’s a delight to witness something ruined or forgotten be carefully, creatively nurtured back to beauty or function. It stirs hope. It deepens the appetite for more transformation.
Whether you’re binge-watching episodes of Grand Designs, or rolling up your sleeves for your own reno project, there’s an innate drive in everyone to be a restorer. We are made in the image of God who, in the beginning, brought order out of chaos; God who still speaks into the chaos of our world with the promise “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:2-5).
There are many stages to a restoration project, but this study explores three that can help us take the idea of restoration from home-building to kingdom-building: envisioning, undoing and persevering.
“Until you know what heaven looks like, you can't actually make it happen on earth. Sometimes that's an issue with the causes that we try to fight for… We might know what unjust structure needs to be toppled, but we don't necessarily have a vision that we're going towards or fighting for. Having a vision of what heaven looks like is really key in this work towards justice.”
— Thandi Gamedze, South African author and poet, speaker at The Justice Conference 2022
Every restoration project begins by seeing possibility. More than mere aesthetics, envisioning is not just dreaming about which walls to knock down and which ones to keep, it’s about hoping for the life that the space will create: the connecting, feasting, resting that will take place. Restoration is about bringing life to others.
Envisioning is a vital part of joining God’s work of restoration. It is impossible to read the stories on Tearfund's website and not be confronted with a sense of despair and injustice. And yet the call is to imagine and work together today for a different world. As we face the brokenness and injustice of our world, we can ask God to reveal not just what used to be, but what could be. A more just and compassionate world. A world that knows peace. A restored world.
Theologian Walter Brueggerman calls this prophetic imagination — where God’s people catch a glimpse of how God has said the world shall be but is not yet, articulate that vision for their own generation, and live in ways that anticipate it and breathe it to life.
“The task of prophetic imagination and ministry is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there. Hope, on the one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion; and one does that only at great political and existential risk. On the other hand, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question."
— Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination
Read: Isaiah 65:17-25
Once we’ve caught the vision of restoration for our world, it’s natural to want to jump in and start fixing! But like a crumbling structure needs more than just a coat of paint, we need to consider what needs to be undone, first.
Restoring an old building usually begins with carefully chipping away at the existing structure, removing rotten beams, digging around old pipes and roots to prepare the foundation. It’s time consuming, expensive, and requires skilled labour. But skip this part of the process, and the house comes down.
Read: Isaiah 58
In this passage, God’s people are living out what, on the surface, appear to be righteous rhythms and systems: they are seeking God, seem eager to know his ways, asking him for just direction, fasting and praying. But the ‘fast’ they have chosen is propping up division, dishonesty, exploitation and violence.
The prophet Isaiah calls this out, and brings to the people God’s command of a new type of fast: an undoing of injustice; a new normal marked by generosity, freedom, obedience.
The late Joel Edwards, reflecting on this passage says,
“Here, God invites us to a life which serves the other. And what it suggests to me, is that we are ‘wired up’ for good, we are designed to do the ‘right’ things… What you need to do is put the ‘other’ (the poor, the marginalised, the broken) at the centre of your function. And when you do that, you will find the capacity to be the restorer.”
When it comes to being God’s people of restoration in the context of poverty and injustice, we must be sensitive to where a work of undoing is needed. The beams may not appear rotten from the outside. The history of the church in the West in particular is littered with those with good intentions whose efforts to heal and save end up creating deeper and more entrenched cycles of poverty and inequality. Repentance, humility and discernment are required, and a willingness to dig beneath the surface.
But Isaiah 58 doesn’t end with undoing. Verses 6-14 sketch out the alternative — God’s original design — and it is in this re-imagined, redeemed way of living, that God’s people get to be called restorers. When they have faithfully done the work of undoing, they can wholeheartedly be part of God’s work of restoration.
“You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community liveable again.” (Isaiah 58:12, The Message)
Reflect: Take a few minutes to be still and silent. If you are in a group, you might like to spread out individually and find a quiet space. Use this time for confession and repentance, asking God to gently reveal personal and corporate sins. You might like to then re-read Isaiah 58:6-14 and reflect on one expression of restoration that you will commit to. In a group setting, as you come back together, invite anyone to share their reflections.
As Tearfund hears frequently from our partners, and we will continue to hear as global crises converge, the road to restoration is one that requires a great amount of perseverance. Development and transformation is possible, but in so many of the hard places our partners are working in, progress can be quickly derailed by a climate event, conflict, or a hundred other things. Being people of restoration is a long game, but it’s one that God invites us to step into alongside others.
Hebrews 11 is an amazing passage of scripture, sweeping through generations of ‘Bible heroes’ to demonstrate the incredible heritage of faith that every follower of Christ belongs to. It lists a great lineage of brothers and sisters who were part of a restoration story whose architect and builder is God (v 10). As they persevered, some saw the fulfilment of what was promised to them; many did not. But in perseverance, they put their hope-without-shame in God who they knew held the beginning and end of the restoration project.
Read: Hebrews 11:39-12:3
As Hebrews 12:2 says, Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of faith. He is the source of all restoration, and through his death and resurrection, opens the way for those who follow him to be agents of restoration in his name.
Restoring God, thank you for your promise to make all things new. Start by restoring our hearts, and then share with us your vision for restoration in our world. Spark our imagination, anchor our faith and deepen our courage for this work. Help us to draw closer to Christ, the Great Restorer, and at the same time be fused with hope and wonder to work for restoration our world so desperately needs.
Join Restorers, our monthly giving community, and be part of a network of passionate Christians dedicated to renewal, transformation and the restoration of hope in hard places across the globe.