J. D. Greear once said that the day he became a pastor was the day he left the ministry. What he meant by that saying is that ministry is meant to happen outside the church probably more so than inside the church. And, ministry should happen by the hands and feet of those inside the church, even more so than by the staff. To that point, 2 Corinthians 5:18 says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” If you are a Christian, you are a priest and a minister. And, every day we choose to minister to someone. Unfortunately, too often, that someone is self. Which begs the question of why? Why do we choose more often to be selfish than to give and minister to others. The primary reason is misplaced motivation.
In his book, “Awe” Paul David Tripp points out that the selfish motivation is one that replaces the awe of God with the awe of self. We are all designed to crave and seek awe. But, we are meant to reserve our awe for God – the only One worthy of it. And, when we properly place our awe on God, we are motivated to serve others. To illustrate this point, one of the best examples is that of the prophet Isaiah. If you think you have ever faced a depressing and wearisome ministry calling, you might want to first examine the calling of Isaiah. Yes, Isaiah is known for being one of the greatest prophets of all time. He is credited as being used by God to prophecy more about the coming Messiah than most, if not all, other prophets. Isaiah is known for all of these prophecies and many more. But, what few focus on is the precise calling that God gave Isaiah. That depressing calling is recorded in Isaiah 6:9-13:
“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.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
How is that for a pretty depressing ministry calling? Basically, God is commanding Isaiah to preach and prophecy for zero result until the cities are destroyed and the people are taken away into captivity. How would that motivate you? After a few months of zero response, would you still be zealous? Did you know that Isaiah carried out this seemingly fruitless calling for over 60 years without becoming weary? How is it that Isaiah was able to carry out such a depressing task for so long? What kind of energy source would provide adequate motivation? Well, Isaiah’s motivation or inspiration was recorded in the eight verses that precede those verses above. Isaiah 6:1-8 records:
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘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!’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’ And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’”
That is what motivated Isaiah – the awe of God. This vision of God on His throne rendered Isaiah so awe struck that this mighty prophet was reduced to a proverbial fetal position crying out as a ruined man. But, how many times have you read that passage and not walked away from it with the same type of awe that Isaiah had? Is it because it is just impossible to fully see or imagine what Isaiah saw? Maybe, but this passage is worthy of our continual meditation until we do. After all, this is probably the greatest motivating factor of man ever recorded, resulting in the most faithful obedience in the face of what would otherwise depress the most faithful of today’s pastors and layworkers. In order to meditate on this further, allow me to offer a more detailed description of what Isaiah likely saw that day:
Imagine that you are Isaiah and are transported to the Throne Room of heaven. As you enter, you are immediately blinded by the brightness of all the glory. It is not a blindness that makes you see black, but a blindness that makes you see a brilliant white. This brightness is brighter than anything you have ever seen. It is so bright that your eyes are in burning pain the whole time that they are trying to adjust. Because it is so bright it takes you a few minutes to adjust. While your eyes are adjusting all of your senses are being overloaded by all that is going on around you. You hear voices, loud and booming voices. The voices are so loud that the ground beneath you is trembling like an earthquake with each syllable. You fall to your knees in fear because of all of the quaking. The voices are loud, but they are crisp, clear and beautiful. The voices are saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory!" You this over and over again. Amidst the voices you hear constant and rapid claps of thunder. And, occasionally, you feel a gust of wind that almost blows you over. With every gust the thunder sounds as if it is right above where you are standing. You realize that the gusts of wind and the thunder are united in their timing. Since the sounds are so repetitive, you figure, without looking, that the sounds and gusts must be coming from a large school of giant birds flying overhead. But you have never heard wings so loud before. These wings give the sound of a clap of thunder every time they thrust. While still trying to catch yourself, you smell a fragrance that makes your senses soar. It smells more beautiful than anything you have every smelt before. It smells so good that even the air seems to taste like the fragrance. You also feel the air on your skin. Aside from the gusts of wind, the air feels like nothing at all - as if you are floating on nothing even though you know you are not floating. Your eyes start to adjust. Everything seems white. The wonder of everything you have felt so far leaves you afraid to look up. But, you gather all of your courage and force your head up to gaze upon the throne. You are immediately lost in wonder. The beauty of all you see is so great that you forget who you are or that you even exist. You are lost in all your senses. You are completely hypnotized by the wonder and beauty that you are sensing. At first you can’t even see the throne for all of the glory. So, you make yourself focus on what you think are giant birds flying around and speaking. As you focus on them, you realize these are not birds at all, but angels. They are like men that are larger than giants with muscles larger than you have ever seen before. Power exudes from their stature and their flaming swords. A vision of them gives you a whole new definition of the word, “power.” You never dreamed that a created being could be so mighty and magnificent. The angels don’t seem to even notice you are there. They are so fixated on the throne and on who is sitting there awaiting His next command as if nothing else mattered. They are flying around and above the throne. You notice they have six wings, the largest of which spans the size of a small airplane. You now see that you were correct in assuming the sounds of thunder were from the beating of such wings. There are too many angels to count and they are moving too fast. You also notice that it is their voices that are making everything quake. Their bodies and wings are whiter than snow. They are so white that they glow - not glow in the dark, but glow in the light. Their hair is long, similarly glowing and light streams from their white eyes like spotlights that would pierce through and past your soul. When you match their voices with the quaking, and their wings with the wind gusts and thunder, coupled with their stature and radiance, you begin to tremble in great fear. You are afraid to move for fear of them noticing you. Your mind is empty of ideas. You can’t even think straight. You don’t know what to do. You try to focus on the throne, but it is too bright. It is so bright that you refrain from staring at it in fear that you may go blind. So you reduce you stare to short peeps. The throne is bigger than a house and brighter than the sun. You can’t fully make it out over the brightness, but you see a figure like a man seated on the throne and He is majestic. You can see the train of His robe streaming down from the throne and it looks softer and more brilliant than any piece of cloth you have ever seen. You can’t see Him clearly, but you know His radiant silhouette and piercing gaze are focused on you, which makes you tremble even more. For the first time in your life you truly sense what pure goodness and righteousness looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes like. Everything you are sensing is by nature good and you can’t sense any evil in anything … except you. Your selfish pride makes you feel like such a hideous alien in this place. You start to put all of the pieces of the picture together of where and why you are here. Individually, each piece of the picture is enough to permanently paralyze you with fear. Seeing it, hearing it, feeling it, smelling it, tasting it and thinking about it all together at the same time drives you to lie flat on the ground face down. You want to run and hide, but you can’t bring yourself to move. Instead, you do the next best thing and you bury your face. You now for the first time fully realize that He is holy! And, you are not. You sense how utterly destroyed you are. You can’t move or speak. You start to cry like a baby. You know you are ruined.
And, even that more detailed description does not begin to describe the awesomeness of what Isaiah saw. Isaiah saw the truest definition of the word awesome. What he saw drew Isaiah to the deepest depths of awe of the only One that is awesome. It was this awe of God that fueled and motivated the lonely ministry of Isaiah for over 60 years ending in his martyrdom – being sawed in half by King Manasseh. It is that awe that should motivate and can motivate the most difficult ministry that we could ever face on this side of eternity. Isaiah was faithful, which makes him a hero of faith. He may have not seen fleshly success before death, but today he bears no regrets. Do you? Meditate on God on His throne daily. Allow that to motivate you to bring others to Him. As you do, don’t take your focus off of God in awe.
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