Isaiah was greatly blessed in that he had a straight-forward, positive call to his prophetic ministry. He had no reason to wonder if the Lord had called him.
Sometimes we moderns wonder if the Lord is calling us. “Master, hast Thou work for me?” is the title of an old hymn we used to sing when I was a child. It’s a great encouragement to a youth if he is told by a respected elder that God is calling him to some place in His work. I remember! From 75 years ago.
But the call of the Lord to Isaiah was not what you would want to tell everybody about, so they could have a party celebrating in your honor. “Hooray! Isaiah has a job working for the Lord!”
No, the young prophet (by the way, the little picture in our lesson showing him as a very old man is not correct), was overwhelmed with a sense of his own unworthiness—painfully so. Before he could appreciate his prophetic ministry he had to realize his pastoral ministry. His first concern was his tongue—his lips were “unclean.” How could he minister the word of God, with unclean lips?
He realized that by nature he was generating some unsanctified, worldly messages unconsciously, spreading unbelief and worldliness among God’s people. “Unclean lips”! He felt deeply convicted of his basic sin of heart.
Oh that Isaiah’s vision maybe shared by us all, today! No sermon should be proclaimed from a sacred desk through “unclean lips.” No Sabbath School lesson should be taught by “unclean lips.” If we trust our education in college or at the Theological Seminary, we are very likely to be talking with “unclean lips”—not that the education itself was faulty, but that pride has unconsciously gotten mingled in with our “education,” which has now been transformed into a works program. In this way our Laodicean condition of spiritual pride can develop. Unknown to ourselves, this is always unconscious until we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit through His gift of repentance.
Let no one think that if we are convicted deeply of our own inward sin that we are thereby disqualified from serving the Lord; Isaiah’s experience in chapter 6 encourages us to realize that at last we are students in the real “theological seminary” of the Holy Spirit’s tuition: His conviction of sin is going down deep to where conviction matters. That’s good news!
Isaiah’s experience will be that of the 144,000 of Revelation 14:1-5. A deep conviction of sin is good news because it means that the victory over the sin is taking place; these who stand before the throne of God “without guile” have been deep sinners, convicted by the same Holy Spirit who convicted young Isaiah. He felt in himself that “woe is me!” These 144,000 received the same conviction of sin with thankfulness of heart; that’s why they found their honored place in Revelation 14!
Those words “Woe is me for I am undone!” are to be spoken only to the Lord in the deep privacy of secret prayer. They are not to be spoken hastily while we jump up to go watch TV. And you don’t earn any “brownie points” if you wait and wait on your knees while this conviction of sin soaks in to your consciousness; the Lord is working on your heart! The Psalmist says, “I waited and waited and waited for the Lord, and He inclined unto me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1; the Hebrew doesn’t have an adverb “patiently”—it merely repeats the verb again and again).
You are not “waiting” as you do in a doctor’s office because he is too busy right now to see you; you are waiting and waiting in the Lord’s “office” because your heart needs to be weaned away from your natural love of self and of the world.
Dear sinner, you need to learn to “know the Lord,” and that takes time. Don’t begrudge it.
It’s time well spent!
—Robert J. Wieland