Monday, February 4, 2008

Ear-Opening Pain

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying,“Whom shall I send, and who will go for me?’

Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah 6:8

Isaiah had been given a glimpse of the Lord of Hosts. As anyone who has stood in the presence of God, Isaiah had been devastated by his own unworthiness and sin. He had confessed and been forgiven. Now he stood ready to bring God’s message to his people.

So far, so good. Yet the message God gives Isaiah is a bit perplexing. “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their hearts dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.”

Wait a minute, Lord. Do you want the people to repent or not?

The nation of Israel had a long history of being unfaithful to their God. Following “the greatest generation” of Joshua’s day, who conquered the land, the nation quickly spiraled downward into idolatry and wickedness. The Lord got their attention with oppression from neighboring peoples, and when Israel repented and cried out to Him, he sent judges to lead them to victory and peace. But again and again the same cycle repeated, each time worse than the last, until the time of Samson, when even the judge was of dubious character. Then came the rule of the kings. While there are glimmers of glory throughout that period of Israel’s history, the overall theme of the three hundred plus years of human dynasties continued to be disobedience and unfaithfulness. This was a people set in their ways.

It was a nation of hardened hearts. They were not ready to receive the message. God knew what it would take. They would need to experience complete devastation before they could be spiritually awakened. “Until . . . the land is utterly desolate,” God told Isaiah. They would be wisked away by the conquering nation of Babylon and held in captivity for 70 years before they would be ready to really hear what God had to say.

Any repentance before that experience would have been shallow and temporary.

As God faithfully worked in the hearts of His chosen nation, He works in you and I. There is spiritual truth that we need to be made ready to hear. So He brings circumstances into our lives to prepare our hearts. Those kinds of circumstances are rarely welcome. Our first response is to pray for them to be removed.

But God has the big picture in mind for us. Like the artist who begins with a hard lump of clay, who bangs it on the table and kneads it with strong hands, God is at work in us, using our circumstances to soften our hearts, so that we might be ready to be molded into the image of Christ.

Peter wrote, “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” We need to face the pain in our lives with the realization that God will use it to change us for the good. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

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