Most of us in Christian service remember a time or several times of renewed dedication and offering of ourselves to the Lord for whatever he wants to do with us. For me, the first such event I remember was in middle school at church camp throwing my little stick in the fire and volunteering to be a missionary to some African nation I had never heard of. Another time was in seminary when I sat in on a class taught by a famous Christian counselor and changed my whole philosophy of ministry.  For those of us who believe in a missional God, there is constant desire to offer ourselves to cooperate with whatever God is doing in the world today. However, following God’s mission can quickly become difficult and when the cost of working for a missional God becomes high, we can wonder how long we have to keep going.

It is comforting to know that we are not the first to experience this struggle. Isaiah volunteered “in the year of Uzziah’s death” (Isaiah 6:1). For the last four decades, Uzziah’s reign had been relatively prosperous and safe. Isaiah had probably been born and raised during this time. The Scripture says that that although he struggled with following God’s law late in life, Uzziah, for the most part, was a ruler who “did right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3a) as did his son Jotham (2 Kings 15:34). Being a prophet in this regime would no doubt be a position of respect and Isaiah could look forward to a ministry with quite a visible impact. Maybe he even had visions of some of the miraculous acts of Elijah and Elisha. And so when God throws out the offer for someone to work with him on his mission, Isaiah seems to jump at the chance. “Look over here! Choose me!” he enthusiastically pleads (Isaiah 6:8).  

But this was the year of Uzziah’s death (6:1) and soon the nation would be subjected to the absolute disaster that would be the reign of Ahaz. In contrast to Uzziah and his son Jotham, the Bible says of Ahaz that he “walked in the way of the kings of Israel and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel” (2 Kings16: 3-4). Being a prophet in this environment would dangerous if not lethal. God warns Isaiah of what he has just signed up for. He says that the people will be blind and deaf to the message of God (Is. 6: 9). Furthermore Isaiah’s prophetic words would not lead to a great revival but would rather just harden their hearts even more (6:10).  

One can almost hear the deflation in Isaiah’s voice when he asks, “Ummm, just how long do I have to endure THAT?” (6:11) Notice the shift in Isaiah’s emphasis. He has gone from a posture of unconditional availability to one of almost negotiation. God’s answer is not very reassuring (11b-12). While it may be unclear exactly which events God is referring to in his answer, what is clear that that conditions (especially for prophets of God) were about to get a whole lot worse and they would stay bad for a very long time. The only hope is a veiled reference to a stump that can still re-grow (13).

When we first recognize that God is a missional God and that he invites us to join him in his mission for our day, it can be heady stuff. But when circumstances change and conditions get worse, God still calls us to work with and for him wherever He is. The stump will one day grow a new branch, the Branch of David. May we continue to be missional and faithful while we wait.   

Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D. is Associate professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Seminary.

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