We were in those few days after Thanksgiving, when the world seems to take a few days off work to indulge in eating, sleeping, and some very glorious spending. We are all stuffed with turkey and potatoes, we are eating pies for breakfast, and we are putting leftovers on sandwiches we would never dream of the whole rest of the year. It's a week of dietary anarchy. It's so, so good. Every day feels like Saturday, and yet Saturday still won't be here until tomorrow. I love it all so much.
In the Thanksgiving mail, I found an envelope addressed to me, and when I opened it, there was a check for tens of thousands of dollars. Literally. Addressed to me, made out to me, all for me. You guys, I don't care who you are… I dare say that a glance at a check like that makes the mind spin and the heart stir. All I have to do is sign it, and everyone's Christmases - and colleges - will be paid for.
Quick. Somebody get me a pen.
But then I realize that "they" didn't sign it. They, the anonymous philanthropists and creditors who promised me all the money, are waiting for me to sign the check. Not endorse it, no. They're waiting for me to make a promise to myself, to borrow money I will repay to myself, to sign on the line and become indebted to them. I could have all the money, but only for a while. I have to pay it all back, or I become their slave.
That's not as much fun.
Instead of signing the check, I exhaled in resignation and indignation. That kind of money wouldn't be mine, not on these terms, not on this day. I grabbed my Sharpie and wrote in bold letters across the front: VOID.
Because when someone writes a check that cannot be used, you must write the word VOID across the face of the check to make sure nobody spends what isn't really in the account. No matter the amount written in the box and on the line, that check is now nothing. It's like millions of monopoly dollars. It comes up empty. Returned void.
And suddenly that phrase, those words triggered something within me: Return Void. Where had I heard this before?
"The Word of God will not return void." Isaiah 55:11
I had never really understood that phrase, return void. I mean, I understand what both words mean, separately, but together it sounds like some kind of King James language that nobody uses anymore. When people speak in King James, I tend to skim over it.
But I had just written this word Void, in capital letters across the check, cancelling a promise that was empty in the first place.
So, let me think on this promise that the Word of God will not return void, now that it's tangible in words I understand: It will never come up empty.
When I study Scripture, I am making an investment. I store it in my heart and my mind. Even if I read something that seems to not apply to me, something that makes little sense to me, something that raises more questions than answers - it is not empty. It is not meaningless. It will return to me in a moment when I need it. The words will show up in my mind when I need comfort or clarity. The principles become a building block for something I will learn later, something I couldn't have understood if I hadn't learned this first.
The Word of God will not return void. There is something in it, the seed of something I can take to the bank, so to speak.
When I offer the Word of God to someone else, I am making an investment. When I pray over someone and speak a blessing of peace into their conflict; when I write a verse on a card and drop it in a note to a friend, or tuck it into the pages of a library book for a stranger to find; when I pray the Word of God over the spirit of someone I love, asking him to be near in ways that I cannot, or to bring comfort in ways I cannot, or to make himself real to them in ways he has made himself real to me, I am making an investment.
It is not empty. It is not meaningless. It does not return void.
There is something in it - for them and for me - the seed of something I can take to the bank - even if I don't get to see the pay off this side of heaven.
Spending time in the Word of God is never wasted. It's a blank check that keeps multiplying, with zeroes and commas. And it's signed. It's a promise that delivers.
I sat down this week, putting pen to the first pages of the next book I am writing: a tangible, conversational book about falling in love with the Bible in your actual life.
And I admit it feels daunting. It feels like I'm making promises bigger than I can keep.
I started spilling with notes and ideas, revelations and discoveries, stories and ideas to write into the book. But instead of feeling joy and anticipation, I feel anxiety, like there is something bigger than me growing inside me, and how will I hold it all? Holding my thoughts feels like wrestling with a bouquet of helium balloons in a windstorm. How can I hold these pieces and capture them before they slip away?
My heart is literally racing as I write these sentences. Like I should take a Xanax, or at least a few deep breaths.
I feel like I am in one of those money machines on a game show, where they put the contestant in a vertical wind tunnel with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. The contestant can keep what they can catch, so the possibilities feel endless, but the wind is so fierce that they end up with something like a measly forty bucks, a tattered twenty in each hand.
How will I gather all the pieces, hold them all, and offer them to you? What if you read this book and feel like I'm writing a check for tens of thousands of dollars, and then you finish feeling like you've got a tattered twenty in each hand, not even enough to buy a week's worth of groceries?
I certainly can't make any promises that aren't mine.
But the beauty of it is this: the promises aren't mine to make or to keep.
So, I'm writing a new book, and I can hardly contain myself with all that's bursting to be said. And with each word, I'm holding onto this promise with both hands: spending time with God is never, ever wasted. He promises it will never come up empty; it will never return void.
God said it, and I'm banking on it.