What obstacles are you facing in your walk with Christ? Are you questioning your call to ministry? Is your service stretching you almost beyond what you can bear? Does your investment in your local church feel stale and unproductive? Isaiah’s marvelous vision of the Lord, his call, and his response might just redirect your vision for the future. However, a perceived call to ministry does not always guarantee the clear vision that Isaiah had. Many church members and many who are in ministry have a hard time with the obstacles they encounter in their service and some might relate to the psalmist who exclaimed, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’” (Psalm 27:8,English Standard Version).
Changed by God’s Holiness
Isaiah joined the ranks of those who saw God and were forever changed by their experience. Moses met God in various forms and several different times and walked with God as a friend (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10). Jacob had the audacity to wrestle with God at Peniel (Genesis 32:30) and walked away with a limp. After he saw the Lord, Isaiah answered the call, “Who will go for me?” and delivered God’s message to a resistant people. What Isaiah saw energized his whole life. His vision and the message can energize ours.
Isaiah saw God for who he is, and he observed true worship. Our understanding of God’s holiness changes how we answer his call. But first, it must change how we worship. The vision of God “on a throne, high and lifted up” enlightens us about God’s unlimited authority and about his position far above us. The robe-filled temple, and the trembling, smoke-filled house speak of his filling presence—his ownership of every space on earth and in Heaven. God is complete, lacking nothing. His holiness, his otherness, is beyond our ability to comprehend.
Isaiah’s vision of the Seraphim tells us about those who worship. When they worship, with protected eyes and feet, proclaiming “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), they teach us how to remain faithful and effective in our service. Limited beings should not see nor venture near the high and holy One. In fact, they cannot even survive the experience uninvited and unprotected. Yet seraphim surround God unashamedly, singing his praises and declaring his greatness. Isaiah got the message immediately and cried out, “Woe is me.” He recognized who he was, a weak and sinful man. As his mouth was touched with a burning coal, his sin and guilt were forgiven.
God’s Holiness and Our Call
It is natural to reflect upon our own call when we read Isaiah’s story. Sometimes we think God calls us because we have so much to offer, that our skills and intellect will be a great blessing to the kingdom. While it is natural to recognize that we have talents, and it is right to offer all we are and all we have to God, we are mistaken if we think our calling is all about us. This mistaken understanding of who we are and who God is brings us to question his work in this world. “Why does God allow . . .?” When difficulties come, we may put ourselves in the dangerous position of qualifying and even rejecting God based on our limited observations and childish understanding. Instead of accepting the holiness of God, we put ourselves on the throne.
A 2-year-old child can be quick to express disagreement. The foot stamping, the crossed arms, the grimace, the howl, and even the “I’m turning my back to you because you will not give me what I want” stance are all part of “the treatment” used to convey their displeasure. Entire cultures give God “the treatment.” Brilliant minds reject him. Hard working folks ignore him. Self-importance wells up in attempts to put self in the place of God
In a culture that is comparatively wealthy and saturated with selfishness and a sense of entitlement, why are we surprised when patience grows thin? We hear the common complaint: “Why would God allow my ministry to be so stressful and disappointing? Maybe I’m not supposed to be doing this.” The “my needs are not met being met” affliction infects many who have shown promise in service and leadership. These obstacles and frustrations are usually enough to have us looking for the exit. At times the warnings of Jesus about trouble in this world seem to fall on deaf ears. We wrongly assume that we will not face trouble and persecution, even though the church has been under persecution since the beginning. This kind of thinking results in misdirected worship which places the wrong person on the throne.
Calling and Humility
Isaiah wrote about another vision, one he did not experience. It is part of the message God sent to the people. We can experience this vision through the Word and in our conversion. Isaiah only dreamed of what we have the privilege of experiencing: salvation. Holiness is God’s essential nature. Sinfulness is ours. The gap must be closed so we can draw near and worship God as Lord. Perhaps Isaiah put some distance between his vision of the Lord in chapter 6 and the message about the Servant in chapter 52 to build up to the salvation highpoint. Here he describes the Servant Redeemer as crushed, so altered that he was “beyond human semblance” (v. 14). This seems contradictory and confusing. High and holy does not fit with broken and bleeding—unless we see ourselves in the picture. The prophet explained this in no uncertain terms: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6, emphasis added).
God sent Isaiah with a message to the people. His vision of God’s holiness is our call to holiness. His call to service is our call to service. But our experience is better than a burning coal to purify our lips. Our experience should be the death of the selfish direction of our life, and with our sins washed away, we rise to a new life in Christ. We do not face life alone. We face life with his Spirit to guide us and comfort us. Part of that comfort comes when we recognize our human limitations. We realize that we cannot see what God sees, and there is sacred ground that we cannot cover. Rather than reject or abandon our calling, we simply remember to worship. Like the seraphim, we allow God to handle what we cannot, and we accept that he is with us every step of the way. Then, because it is his holiness that we rely upon, we worship with the seraphim, singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Carol Stine is a writer and speaker who lives in Florissant, Missouri. Addicted to Joy is her blog. Check it out at: addictedtojoy.blog