Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb He has spoken my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of His hand He hid me; He made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in His quiver. He said to me, “You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will display My splendor.” But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.” Isaiah 49:1-4
The desert can be a beautiful place if you’re a tourist. There is abundant life there if you’re a reptile or insect. There are vast oceans there if you are looking at a mirage. You can die of dehydration or, strangely enough, of hypothermia. That being said, it should come as no surprise that much of Scripture revolves around desert places. The desert, it turns out, is a place of contradictions. Such is ministry.
“When are you going to post again?” “I enjoy your blog. Why haven’t you been writing?” These are the questions that I get from the two people who actually read this blog. Rarely a week goes by that I haven’t thought about it and concluded, “Nah!” Until today. My quiet time had me in Isaiah 49. It was one of those regular moments, spread over 50+ years, when I can honestly say, “I get it. Thanks, Isaiah. Apparently, you knew the feeling, but knowing didn’t change it.”
In a time and place where people would say, “I would give my right arm to know why I am here”, I’ve got news for them. It ain’t as simple as you think. There is no question or doubt in Isaiah’s mind as to who did what for whom and why. He was set apart by God before birth and equipped by God after birth to be used by God to display the splendor of God. “What more could you possibly want Isaiah?” Apparently, a sense of fulfillment that can’t be satisfied by knowledge.
Please let me introduce you to my kindred spirit, Isaiah. “Dude, I feel your pain.” He knew what it was to be human, called to divine responsibility. He had his long stretches of time in the desert when, like a tourist, he couldn’t simply go back to the Hilton and say, “Wasn’t that nice!” It’s not recorded, but I have no problem imagining his flock saying, “What do you have to be discouraged about? You have the best job in the world: working for God!” If I might be indulged to speak on behalf of Isaiah: “Working for God is awesome. Working with the people of God is another story!” (Gently stated)
I am officially on a sabbatical. For the less spiritual among us, that is a time when a really spiritual person gets away from the people they are serving to be personally renewed in the hope of finishing their assignment. It is not to be confused with a vacation. Mine officially began on November 1. The reason that I have not blogged is because I have been in desperate need of a sabbatical. I have been in a desert and still am. When you are not a tourist in the desert, you don’t have anything to write about nor a desire to do so. Because of prior commitments, this is really the first day of being off, and where should my quiet time have me? Isaiah 49.
I waved the white flag of surrender to ministry in 1974. While doing other types of ministry afterwards, I finally began pastoring in 1977 at age 22. It has been anything but a cruise! Regardless of the good times, when the tank runs empty, it’s time to refuel. The objective of refueling isn’t to have full tanks, it’s to continue and ultimately finish the journey. While the temptation existed (and still does) to call it quits, Isaiah had this to say, “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. “Okay, Isaiah, I get that too!”