One of the joys I have in serving as a pastor is that there are moments, sacred times when during the preparation for a sermon or teaching it feels as if time stands still and God says, “I want you to share this with my people…but Dan this piece is especially for you…is your heart ready to hear, to own, to embrace this?”
I had one of those times a few weeks ago while looking at Isaiah 6. In the passage Isaiah has a vision where he encounters the holiness of God. He is forever changed. His response is to call out, to confess his shortcomings in light of the holiness of God, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” In his grace and mercy God has one of the angels take a live coal from the altar and touch Isaiah’s lips saying, “…your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Amen, hallelujah, praise God!
Isaiah then records hearing the voice of God ring out with two questions, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Moved by the holiness and grace of God, Isaiah responds, “Here am I, send me.” Here am I send me…now that preaches…we could get an entire month of sermons out of that phrase. It is here that we normally end our focus…but this was one of those sacred times when God led me deeper, further and allowed me to see something I had not seen before. Isaiah’s response leads God to tell Isaiah what to do. It is not a call to success as the world would define it, but a call to faithfulness. In other words, if we were to measure Isaiah’s prophetic ministry by earthly standards we would judge it a failure…Israel would not repent, their “heart would be calloused, their ears dull and their eyes closed.” If someone would have taken the time to chart his ministry, things would not have been moving up and to the right…it would have “looked rough.”
Isaiah asks what I think is a great question in verse 11, “for how long O Lord?” In other words, how long will you have me struggle with this calling before you set me free to a calling that will be marked with success? How long will I have to struggle with these people? How long will I have to endure? If I put my time in, eventually I will see things move “up and to the right” … correct … I mean that is only fair. God’s response is that Isaiah is to continue until “the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.” The only promise God gives Isaiah is “but as the oak leaves stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” The promise is that there will be a seed, life, hope for rebirth…but Isaiah, it will not necessarily be a part of your ministry.
As I wrestled with that, as I sat and questioned I had to ask myself. Dan are you willing to put aside success for the sake of faithfulness?
Some of you may be questioning this idea of choosing faithfulness over success. Yet in the Kingdom of God things work just a little differently and God has the ability to transform and redeem on His schedule, in His time. Isaiah was faithful. In chapter 11 we read his words, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…” I wonder if Isaiah could fully imagine the work of Jesus as he spoke those words. I know Isaiah could not have imagined that every Christmas season, thousands of years after his death, people would be reading the words God gave him to faithfully deliver as we celebrate the birth of Jesus each Christmas season.
Success is simple…it is easy…it is quick. I pray I have the strength, character and wisdom to choose faithfulness. Won’t you join me in seeking to walk like Isaiah?