Enlarging Your Tent
By Iverna Tompkins
Transcribed by Jane Vaughn
God is speaking to the church-at-large, to individual churches, and to individuals in the Body of Christ – all at the same time. Let’s be reminded of this as we look at a familiar context – Isaiah 54. This is positively a “now word" from God, although it certainly addresses a situation in the lives of the people to whom it was originally given. In this chapter of Isaiah, we find many familiar verses, not the least of which is verse 2: “Enlarge the place of thy tent.” As is true with most contexts in the scriptures, there is a key here that will unlock our understanding. Something important about these keys is that if they are lost or left undiscovered, we may as well not press on, trying to gain greater insight from the passage. Such is a valid concern as we look at Isaiah 54.
Keys help us in applying the truths of God’s Word. For instance, the key for “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” (Ps.23:4) is: walking through the valley. Having walked through something, we can then sing with greater understanding what was penned a number of years ago by Andre Crouch: “If I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that God could solve them…” Haven’t we discovered that our assurance in God’s faithfulness, our increase in trusting God, came as a result of going through something? There was a key that opened our awareness: God is still on the throne and He does remember His own!
And so now we will find a key to “enlarge your tents.” The prophet Isaiah is talking to a group of people, the Israelites, God’s own people, who have known some tragedy – as a result of their own sin. Never lose sight as to why God allowed the children of Israel to be captured by their enemies, first in Egypt and then here, by Babylon. Their captivity was a result of their turning from God. They disregarded the terms of the covenant. (See Deut. 10 and 11, NIV – note “so that” and “if” – “then”).
I don’t know why it is that we, as individuals, feel we have a right to be angry with God when He corrects us. We say things like, “I don’t know why the Almighty does so much to me. I’ve served Him all my life!” The implication is that we are innocent of any wrongdoing, yet have so many negatives in our lives – it must be at God’s hand. This is a pattern that follows all the way through scripture. The message here, in Isaiah, is a wonderfully positive word to these recently released captives. It’s all about growth.
The message is: “Get ready for growth because it is going to happen.” But something preceded this moment. And something that did not happen is being exhorted to occur now before the promises of growth are fulfilled. I think we have to see this “something,” because when God puts a thing first, it seems to me it is first in His mind, and warrants our undivided attention.
The chapter opens with this: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate that the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. 2Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes; 3For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (54:1-3).
“Sing, O barren.” It is no shock to God that they’re barren. He knows their situation. They are focused on the negatives. (Selah!) They realize that only about one-fifteenth of the number of people that came out of Egypt’s captivity centuries earlier have returned to their Promised Land this time to rebuild the nation. “We can’t get it done. We don’t have enough people.” “We can’t get it done, we don’t have enough money!” “We can’t get it done; we don’t have enough gifts operating.” Sound too familiar? And the Lord says, “I’ll tell you what – SING!” Woefully, our reply is something like this: “I can’t sing now.” You can if you remember Whose you are!
This is a wonderfully positive word in Isaiah 54! Although it is directed to ancient Israel, we know that God is always speaking to future generations as well, and to the Body of Christ specifically. What this is saying to the Church – the Church – is, “You are going to grow, regardless of all the negative circumstances that seem to be happening throughout the world.” Know that God has a Church! They are His people; they are numbered by Him, just as He numbered the Israelites coming out of their captivities (Num.1:2;46-47; Ezr.2:64,65). And, God knows where, when, and how the expansion is going to occur.
Regardless of all the negative things we have seen surrounding the Church in past years – that does not change God’s promises. God’s promises are yea and amen! (2Cor.1:20). If He says it – you can count on it! God is going to fulfill His Word. But there always is a condition. We need to understand, it’s a promise to us – If – “If and when you do this, here’s what’s going to happen.”
One of the things I want to emphasize is that you can’t enlarge the tent – make it bigger – until you pick up the old stakes. There is no moving a tent that is still attached to the old stakes. And you can’t pick up those stakes until you find them by clearing the land of the overgrown weeds.
Some of us are so staked in (and weedy!) – we say things like this: “Well, they may say this, but I’ll tell you what I believe…” or “We’ve always done it this other way.” Have you ever heard that? It is a stake that’s driven very deeply into the ground, and weeds have grown up all around it until people don’t even see the stakes anymore. You cannot broaden a tent with that condition.
We cannot grow until we are willing to till up that land – break up the fallow, hardened ground (Hos.10:12) – and begin to look for the stakes. We need to ask ourselves, and the Lord: What is it that has had me pinned down to “littleness?” Why is it that I can’t think beyond this tiny little world that I live in? This tiny little situation? What is it that has me locked into this place? Find that old stake! Most likely, there are several.
“Well, what are the “old stakes?” I’m so glad you asked. For starters, every pre-conceived idea you are holding on to. “Our church doesn’t believe in that!”
When I travel, I am able to experience many different kinds of church situations. I particularly like to watch the choir members. Sometimes the music is loud and they sing the words so fast that I have a hard time keeping up with them. I can’t read that fast, let alone sing all those words! :-) And they expect me to join them, and praise and worship with all that? (::whine::) “Everything’s changed!” And we often hear, “Whatever happened to ‘Amazing Grace?’ I know that one! All four verses!” But if I want to, I can get a word in here and there, and I can praise with all of it! And I do – gladly! Pull up those stakes that keep you from growing in the things of the Lord!
There are choirs that are professionally rehearsed until they are perfect, but some of their faces do not reflect the glorious God to Whom they are supposed to be singing. Other choirs may be more relaxed and not wear matching choir robes, but they really believe what they sing! And it shows – it shows all over them! And the dancers come up, but they don’t merely do a step they’ve practiced! They go to the throne and worship the Lord! I love that!! We need to be sensitive to what God is directing in “change” and be certain it glorifies and pleases Him. But when it is from His Spirit – oh, what joy we can enter into as we worship our God in the congregation. If you don’t keep your tent stakes where you can reach them, you will have a problem and will probably miss out on one of His greatest blessings.
What about those “weeds?” Listen – by digging down through the weeds of tradition – church traditions – and finding my tent stakes – and being determined, not just willing – but determined to remove them through my conscious effort – I can clear my own land. You see, I would prefer to simply “pray” the tent stakes out and the weeds away – because I agree with the Lord they need to be moved – or removed. “Lord, if my feelings are not pleasing to You, just get rid of them.” :-) I can almost hear His response, “I’m not going to do it for you. Pull up those weeds yourself.” Hello?
In a church I particularly like, I have observed – earrings – in guys’ ears! :-) And they’re in the choir! I grew up in a church that didn’t believe even the women could wear them! :-) And now, in my own church family, men are wearing earrings! I look for those men and watch to see if they’re “faking” their praise to God. :-) Most often, I plainly see the glory of the Lord rise up in them. Then I think back to how it “used to be” and say, “Lord, do You not see the ears?” :-) I know what that’s like – “used to be” – because I’m 76 years old and I know how deep to throw down those stakes. You just pound them in and “what we have always believed is…!” Pound – pound – pound. And they get so deep and covered over.
Then the Lord responds to my inquiry, “Yes, I see them. I want growth for thee.” And I say, “Oh, do Lord! Stretch me out!” And I hear, “Stretch it out yourself!” :-) Then I plead, “Can’t You pull up these stakes?” His wisdom replies, “You’d just put them right back in the same old hole!” You see, Church, I’m trying to help us take hold of a Truth. What we have to face is whether or not we honestly and truly desire to grow!
When you have a busy church-calendar, with many opportunities for drama and the dance and other creative programs, the building can be packed out with people. When there are so many talented voices and several who can lead the worship times, and have humble hearts that allow the Lord to lead through whomever He selects, there is something we must watch out for: All of this can take place with our appreciation – but does it take place with our participation?
It’s a good thing when the worship leaders remain quiet for a chorus and invite the congregation to sing alone. We must learn to participate in worship on whatever level we are able. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Ps.100:1). “Sing unto the Lord, all the earth” (Ps.96:1). Worship takes place in individual hearts and we must not be content to be observers. That is the easy way when new songs and choruses are introduced. The tendency is not to make the effort to do something new and different – because we like the old way better. There’s a stake. Dig it up. Otherwise you will remain a captive of your past.
If you think I’m exaggerating about the situation, then you have never read the whine in Psalm 137. “By the rivers of Babylon [in their captivity], there we sat down, yes, we wept. We remembered Zion.” They remembered their former state, the “good times.” They remembered when so-and-so was in the choir and so-and-so was in the orchestra and when it was just wonderful to meet together in the old days. They said, “We remembered and ‘we hanged up our harps on the willows in the midst’ of our captivity. ‘For they that carried us away captive required of us a song. And they that wasted us required of us mirth [or joy], saying…’” Their captors said to them, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” And the people cried, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:1-4).
God looks at this group of captives – His people – His called ones – His Israel – His Zion – His favorites – and says, “Where are you?” “Well, we were up there in Babylon, captive. And, can You believe that they tried to get us to sing?” Listen – here were people who once sang the glorious praises of God every chance they had. When something negative occurred in their lives, they hung up their harps. We’re not much different today, only we hang up our guitars refusing to sing praises to God when our circumstances get tough.
Their question – “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” – is the question that brings us to the key of growth individually, growth as a church, and growth in the universal church. The key is learning to sing the praises of God in a strange land!
Go to Part 2