Thursday, March 18, 2010

What It Takes to be Called - Part 1

Growing up in a Pentecostal church, there was something that appeared so - magical – about ministers. They arrived at church in a nice suit, with a well-dressed wife who played at least one instrument while coordinating the nursery, the ladies committee and the dinner on the ground at the same time. (Or like Sis. Dillon, they would play the organ with one hand and write down names of anybody who wasn't in service with the other!) They were so . . . together. And it all seemed glamorous in a way.

But as all children learn, appearances are very deceiving. There is little glamor in the life of those who carry the gospel to the world. In fact, preparing to preach, minister, or carry the gospel in any form requires a process that is anything but glamorous. A process outlined in Isaiah 6.

Isaiah 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

The obvious reason for including “In the year king Uzziah died . . .” is to date Isaiah's vision in time, and that is what I found in most of the commentaries. However, I wondered if there might be something more significant – something beyond just the equivalent of “In the year that Ronald Reagan died . . .” So, I looked up Uzziah.

Apparently, Uzziah was a very successful king. He had a lengthy reign, he ushered in a period of great success for Israel, he fortified towers, his name was “spread abroad.” He was a man called of God, and influenced by Godly men (Zechariah). (II Chronicles 26; II Kings 15:3) But all that success – the fact that God was using him mightily – led Uzziah to become proud. And in his pride, he stepped beyond the reaches of his authority.

II Chronicles 26:16 – But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.

Our ever present adversary – pride – got the better of Uzziah, and it led to a long slow destruction. He went into the temple determined to offer incense. A group of priests stood against him, telling him that it was wrong. He became angry (How dare THEY tell ME what to do . . . God has used ME, not them.), and in the heat of his anger, he was stricken with leprosy. The historian Flavius reports that this occurred at the same time as a great earthquake that caused damage to the temple. So, the great king – the promise of Israel, he whose name had been told even unto Egypt – lived out 11 years in a leper's house, apart from the kingdom until his painful end.

Looking at that, there is certainly a lesson about pride to be learned from Uzziah, but the purpose here is to examine it in the context of what is happening to Isaiah, who is being called.

Imagine for a moment that you ARE this guy. He has been calling out to the people about their waywardness. Jotham, who is governing along with Uzziah (still the defacto “head of state”, even as a leper) isn't all bad, but he's no Uzziah, and he steers completely clear of the temple. Things weren't all bad, but the glory days of Israel had lost their sheen and the people were behaving like heathens. I imagine it was similar to the American yearning for “Camelot” in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, only perhaps worse because the King – the one that was so unbelievably awesome – lived on in a pathetic condition.

And then the day comes that the King – and the dream – finally dies. Must have been a dark day. I'm sure that there were some that hoped for the miraculous restoration of Uzziah. Isaiah was longing for a miraculous restoration of God within his people. And then all of it – died. Just died. Put a lid on it. Put a fork in it. Put a period at the end of it. It's done.

Haven't we all experienced that moment – the moment when something that we have prayed for, hoped for, fasted for – has just died. That terrible, awful moment when we realize that the picture perfect miracle we have constructed in our minds is just not going to happen? I know I've been there. Recently. Not so long ago, I had to bury a dream that was my miraculous second chance. And as I stared at the figurative grave of my hope, I spent weeks wondering where exactly the Lord was. I can only imagine that Isaiah felt something like that. And probably asked the same question: Lord, are you there? And if you are, where?

And yet, the loss had to come. Uzziah had to die if God was going to call Isaiah. Might it have been different if Uzziah hadn't gotten so arrogant over the offering of incense? Maybe. But arrogance in human beings always leads to destruction. And for the message to go forth, Uzziah had to die.

And that is the first principle of the calling: we must lose anything that is not compatible with the message. If you are going to seek the calling of God in your life, prepare yourself. You WILL experience a loss. The Lord will have to tear some things away from you that keep you from going, being, saying, and doing what He wants. In my own life, I have begun to see the outlines of what He might want me to do in the wake of the death of my personal “king.” I've wondered – if I knew what it was going to require, would I have prayed to be used this way? Honestly, I don't know. If I knew the price, I might not have wanted to pay it. Guess there are definite advantages to NOT knowing the future.

Seeking to be used of Him is dangerous for that reason: salvation is free. But to carry the message? That requires a cross.

And after the cross comes the glory, but in reading Isaiah, the glory might not be what you think! More on that later!