I confess. I was in big-time list-making mode.
We just moved back to Hartselle after living in other places for 15 years, and it’s time to start finding the church where God wants us at this stage of our lives.
My preference list included such items as: 1) Dynamic worship with a great choir, skilled instrumentalists and a blend of hymns and contemporary praise and worship music. Up-tempo when appropriate, of course. 2) Evidence of growth in the congregation, such as young families and plenty of youth. 3) An expository preacher who would teach me something new from God’s Word every week. 4) A great Sunday School class for further spiritual growth and more intimate fellowship. 5) Comfortable, attractive facilities. 6) Convenience to our home. You get the idea. It was all about MY wants, MY personal preferences, MY comfort level.
THEN, God used my preacher son, Matt, and the powerful passage in His Word found in Isaiah 6:1-8 to turn my thinking in a completely different direction. If you have 28 minutes, you can hear all of Matt’s message here. But, if you’re in a hurry and need the bullet points from my perspective, I’d like to share them.
- “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord” — Matt spent several minutes rehashing the background of Uzziah and his significance. Uzziah reigned as king over Judah for 52 years. During the early years of his reign, he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” and the Lord greatly blessed him. He was smart and innovative. He built up the armies and the land, and other nations noticed and admired him. But then his pride caused him to make a grave mistake. He went into the temple and burned incense, which was something only the priests were allowed to do. God struck him with leprosy, and he was not allowed to enter the temple for the rest of his life. When he died, the whole nation was holding its breath, so to speak, to see what would happen next. Isaiah sincerely wanted to hear from God. He had no agenda of his own. He went into the temple that day desiring to encounter God. Matt asked his congregation, “Why are you here today? In your mind, is it “all about you” or did you come to have an encounter with God?” Uh oh. A little unease came into my heart.
- “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
Isaiah saw an amazing spectacle when he went into the temple that day. The Lord himself with his immense train, flying seraphim with six wings proclaiming “Holy, holy, holy,” shaking doorposts and thresholds and smoke. Yet, his thoughts (unlike mine have often been) were not focused on the great “show” happening in church. Nor was his mind on criticizing the Lord’s apparel or the atmosphere/special effects inside the temple. But isn’t that what I’ve done WAY too many times? “Why did the music have to be so loud?” “Surely the preacher has something better than that to wear in the pulpit on Sunday mornings?” “I’m not a big fan of angels or long robes or smoke machines.” No. Isaiah went into the temple to find God. And Matt asked again, “Why did YOU come to church this morning?” Okay. Now I’m really having to rethink some things. I have spent far too much time focusing on the “trappings” of worship rather than on the preparation of my heart for worship.
- “5 Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah’s immediate reaction to the display of God’s grandeur and power was complete humility and a feeling of unworthiness. He knew that in comparison to God, he was ruined without help from God Almighty. He recognized that his own mouth was wicked and so were the mouths of the people he lived around. Matt asked, “Is that why so many people stay home on Sunday? Isn’t it easier to try to prevent God or anyone else from seeing inside our hearts and souls? Do we avoid a chance to encounter God because we don’t want to be made aware of our sin?” I couldn’t help but think of the number of times when my heart was full of sin, and I did not want to be in a place or a situation where I knew I’d be convicted about that sinfulness. But, wasn’t that the very place I most needed to be so that I could ask for forgiveness and receive it?
- “6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” What awesome words! We have to remember that in these verses, Isaiah did nothing but stand there. God did it all. The passage does not mention that the live coal caused Isaiah excruciating pain. We know that Jesus is the one who took on the pain of our sins and became the atonement for each of us. We don’t work for atonement/forgiveness. We can’t earn atonement/forgiveness. God provided a way for Isaiah before He sent Jesus, and He has provided a way for us. So, what is Isaiah’s response?
- “8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah did NOT say, “Here I am. Send him. . . or her . . . or them.” Matt’s conclusion was that “when it hits you that God loves you to your core, you’ll eagerly want to tell others about that kind of God.” In this passage, in Ephesians 2 and throughout the Book of Romans, the theme is the same: God is holy. We are broken. God provides a way to fix our brokenness. Thank you, Jesus!
So, what about my list of preferences? I believe God wants me to lay those aside and desire with all my heart to have an encounter with Him. I know that can happen even with an out-of-tune guitar, uneducated preaching, hard benches, flies buzzing and perspiration rolling down my back. I can picture a room in Cojitambo, Ecuador with that exact scene where I had a very clear and profound time with the Father. It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s ALL about HIM.