God might call you to be ignored

word-balloons

In Isaiah chapter six, in one of the most stunning pictures of the pre-incarnate Christ recorded in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah experiences a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne. When he lays eyes on Him, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah is so distraught that he curses himself—he knows that no one can see the Lord and live (Exodus 33:20). But he doesn’t die—instead, an angel takes a piece of coal from the altar and cleanses him, touching the burning coal to his lips. His guilt is taken away; his sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:7).

And then the Lord speaks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Almost every time this story is shared, this is where it stops. We get to see Isaiah boldly answering the Lord’s call, in what I always imagine is a rather heroic fashion, as though he’s saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle this!”

And this is how so many of us treat this passage—as though it’s a call to “our” moment to go and do great things for God. To move mountains and make the sun stand still.

At least, if we stop reading at verse eight and totally ignore Isaiah’s marching orders. This is what God commands:

Go, and say to this people:

Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed” (v. 9b-1o).

Essentially, Jesus tells Isaiah he’s going to be ignored by the people to whom he will be sent. He will preach judgment upon Israel, and promises of the coming of the Messiah to rescue His people…

And they’re not going to listen to a word of it.

Isaiah’s ministry, like so many of the prophets, is marked by stubborn disobedience that comes as a response to his preaching. The people won’t hear, because they cannot. That’s the point. His ministry is to “make the heart of this people dull.”

Can you imagine how difficult that would be? To know that your calls to repentance will have the exact opposite effect?

Maybe this is what God’s calling you to, as well.

This isn’t a pretty thought for many of us. This is not the stuff mega-churches are made of. And yet, it’s probably the reality for more of us than we realize. We speak, we pray, we plead… and there’s nothing. For many, your words are nothing more than the incoherent mutterings of Charlie Brown’s school teacher.

This is the reality I deal with on a regular basis, in fact, as I try to share the gospel—it’s like it passes right over them. And it can be unbearable, if you don’t remember where to find hope in the midst of discouragement. Again, Isaiah helps us:

…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)

There’s a confidence here that grounds the exuberance of Isaiah’s cry of “send me!” It puts flesh on the bones of Isaiah’s cry, if you will: God’s word does exactly what it is purposed to do. It means some hearts will be hardened by the unapologetic proclamation of God’s Word, while others will turn and be saved. As Spurgeon said so well, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.”

This truth should cause us not to despair, but to rejoice. We need not be ashamed of the gospel, and we need not be despondent when its truth goes unheeded. God’s word will still accomplish all that He purposes. Whether we’re heard or ignored, that has to be enough for us.


An earlier version of this post first appeared in May 2009.

How to Build a God

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Remember these things, O Jacob,
     and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you; you are my servant;
     O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
     and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.

— Isaiah 44:9-22

HT: The Resurgence

In case you missed it (05/17)

In case you missed them this week, here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

The Trekkies are Gonna be So Mad: Thoughts on the new Star Trek

The Stupidity of Idolatry: Isaiah derides idolatry and reveals my own idol: My mind

The God Who Acts: A brief survey of the Book of Isaiah reveals its major theme—and our only hope

Finding Direction: My struggles to find direction in  a season of confusion

The God Who Acts

I finished reading Isaiah yesterday. While spending some time reflecting on the major themes of the book, I found this question coming up over and over again: What is the major difference between the God of the Bible and other “gods”?

The God of the Bible — The Father, Son & Spirit — acts.

He calls (Isa. 41:4, 41:9, 42:6, 43:1, 43:7, 48:12, 49:1, 51:2).

He carries (Isa. 46:4).

He speaks (Isa. 7:7, 10:24, 22:15, 23:16, 29:22, 37:6, 38:1, 43:1, 43:12).

He purposes (Isa. 14:24, 19:12, 23:8, 44:28, 46:10, 48:14, 54:16, 55:11).

He judges (Isa 59:18, 65:6).

He saves (Isa. 25:9, 30:15, 33:22, 35:4, 45:22, 49:25, 63:1, 64:5)

He redeems (Isa. 29:22, 43:1, 44:22, 44:23, 48:20, 50:2, 52:9, 63:9)

There is no other god who emphatically states, over and over again, “I save. I judge. I purpose all things.”

Only the God of the Bible.

Only Jesus.

This is the message that Isaiah came to preach. This is the message that Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection, proclaim: There is a God who acts to save His creation and He will redeem us.

We cannot save ourselves and all other “saviors” are folly. There is no hope in a god that cannot act.

There’s no hope in TV. Sex. Sports. Bands. Education. Self-Esteem. False-Religion. Vague Spirituality.

There is only hope in Jesus.

So let us put our hope in Him.

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him (Isa. 64:4).

Week Three: Consume or Consumed?

I was reading Isaiah 28:7-8 the other day; in these verses, Isaiah describes the corruption of the priests and prophets of Judah as they have been consumed by what they consume—they reel with wine and stagger with strong drink. They are swallowed by vice. “They stumble in giving judgment. For all tables are full of filthy vomit, with no space left.”

These also reel with wine
and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
they are swallowed by wine,
they stagger with strong drink,
they reel in vision,
they stumble in giving judgment.
For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
with no space left (Isaiah 28:7-8).

I sat wondering about what I can learn from this passage, and I was reminded (again) about the necessity of careful consumption, not just physically, but intellectually & spiritually.

[Read more...]

Called to be Ignored

In Isaiah chapter 6, there’s this amazing scene, where the prophet Isaiah experiences a vision of Christ in His glory sitting on His throne. When he lays eyes on Jesus, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa.6:5)

An angel comes down and cleanses Isaiah of His sin by touching a burning coal to his lips, and then Isaiah hears the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8a) Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8b).

Right up until that point, this sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Whenever I read that part, I always imagine this epic hero-type scene, where Isaiah “man’s up” and essentially says, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle this!” You know the kind of thing, I’m talking about, right?

But I can only do that, if I stop reading at verse 8. Because after that, he actually receives his marching orders:

Go, and say to this people:

Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed” (v. 9b-1o).

Essentially, what Isaiah is told is this: You are called to harden the hearts of the people. You are called to be ignored. [Read more...]