The Place to Start
Ezekiel records, "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry" (Ezekiel 37:1-2). Ezekiel and the folks he works among have just found out that Jerusalem has been destroyed. They're confused and afraid. They're beginning to think God has a credibility gap -- there's a huge discrepancy between the promises of God and life as they are experiencing it. In spite of God's promise to bring the people back after a while, they say, "No, there's no hope. We can't go on."
The people of God have always been a melodramatic lot.
God gives Ezekiel a vision to explain some things to him -- one of the more famous visions of the Old Testament. In this vision, God took Ezekiel to a valley that was like a mass graveyard filled with skeletons, as if there had been a huge slaughter there hundreds of years earlier. The bones represented the house of Israel. There weren't just a few bones; there were "a great many bones". And they "were very dry".
This probably wasn't the most enjoyable experience of Ezekiel's life and career. But it served to impress upon him just how hopeless the situation was. These bones weren't just a little dead; they were very dead for a very long time. There was absolutely no life at all in that valley. Nothing in the valley could serve as a spark or a catalyst for life. If life was to come, it would have to come from a source outside of the valley.
This is actually a good place to start thinking about salvation. As long as you think there's a chance of life spontaneously generating from within yourself, you won't turn to the Source of life who exists outside your system. Until you realize how dead you are, you won't ask for life. You'll think, "I can do this myself."
This is also a good place to start thinking about ministry. When I used to look at want ads from churches looking for staff leaders, so many of them say something like this, "We're looking for someone who is a proven soul-winner."
I think I know what they mean, but they need to remember that no human is a soul-winner. God is the soul-winner. At best, we are the crew God hires to harvest. We can plant and water and cultivate and harvest, but only God can bring life out of death. That's not something I can do (or anyone else for that matter). Too often, churches who are looking to the guy in the pulpit to be THE soul-winner are really looking for someone who will do all the work for them. We're all called to share our faith with people, but we're also called to remember that, short of direct intervention from God, dead things stay dead. We don't bring people to life; God does.
You may be an incredible communicator with a gift for sharing your faith with others. But you cannot bring a valley full of very dry bones to life. God is the only one who can do that. No gifts, talents, resources or programming can introduce life into death.
Unless you begin with the understanding that dead things stay dead without direct intervention from God, you'll view salvation and ministry the wrong way.