God's Word Never Returns Void

“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”—Isaiah 55:11

I used to think that this verse was primarily about salvation. When I would pray for people who had heard the truth of the gospel, I would pray that God’s word would not return void in their lives. I saw it as a verse that spoke to the great value of continuing to proclaim God’s word to the lost. God will work. He will scatter the seed of the gospel, water it, and reap a harvest. Don’t lose heart. God is always working.

But lately I’ve been thinking of it from a different perspective. I’ve seen it not only as pertaining to salvation, but also for continued sanctification and growth for God’s people. If God’s word doesn’t return void in our gospel proclamations to the lost, then it doesn’t in our own lives as well. This means that what happens on Sunday morning matters, and is never useless. It also means that the time we spend personally in scripture is never useless either.

The preaching of God’s word on Sundays does its work in the lives of his people. It might seem small and pointless. It might seem slow and like growth isn’t happening (Hab. 2:3) It might seem monotonous and routine (for the one preparing the sermon). It might even seem like foolishness to the outsider looking in (1 Cor. 1:18). But it works. Slowly, but surely, as the preached word goes forward God’s people are strengthened, equipped, and challenged in their faith. It might not happen in a burst of growth, but it surely happens over a lifetime of faithful hearing.

The same is true for us personally. Ordinary faithful time spent in God’s word is never for naught. The deposits of scripture that we make in our own life, through personal bible study, will be used by God when we are drawing on the reserves. As Paige Benton Brown so helpfully says in this talk, we are never overdrawn. There will come a day when we have nothing to deposit into the bank account of our mind and hearts. But the word we have deposited over a lifetime will protect us from bankruptcy. The deposits are doing something, even when they are small and we can’t see their outcome.

I’ve lived this firsthand, both as a recipient of the word working in the lives of fellow church members and also when I have had to draw on the deposits. When I was staring down the unknown of a prolonged hospital stay, God’s people showed up in droves. They were putting faith into action. God’s word wasn’t returning void in their lives. When I was gripped with fear day after day, God’s word, deposited over time, gave me strength when I couldn’t remember scripture on my own. The truth of who God is was imbedded in my soul because I had already done the work of depositing it into my heart.

There are days where it feels like Isaiah 55:11 is not true. A lot of days feel like that. But scripture is true because God is true. If he has told it to us in his word, then it is important and it will happen. He will finish the work he started in us (Phil. 1:6). He will never let his word return void. The deposits we make in the time of plenty will sustain us when there is nothing for us to deposit in times of want. We just don’t know when we will need the reserves.