God, I Don’t Want To Be Isaiah (is that OK?)

I recently got a call from a young pastor who was trying to decide if his attitude was wrong concerning his desire to see his church experience serious growth. The answer, of course, is...it depends. There is no doubt that it is possible to "do ministry" from improper motives. In his letter to the Philippians Paul says that he is aware that some are preaching the gospel out of a sense of selfish ambition (1:15-17). If a pastor desires for his ministry to grow so that he will be recognized as a great leader, and so that his latest book will sell more copies, yes, that is a problem. I don't think we need to spend much time arguing that point. It is legitimate, however, to consider whether it is wrong to desire ardently to see one's ministry opportunities grow and expand.

One passage that is instructive is Isaiah 6. This portion of Scripture is often quoted and referenced, but we normally stop too early. The first few verses (1-7) describe Isaiah's vision of the glorious, pre-Incarnate Christ. Isaiah saw the glory of God and was overwhelmed. He was made uncomfortably aware of his sin and unworthiness in stark contrast to God's beauty and perfection. These points are usually well-explained. In verse 8 the LORD then asks for a volunteer for a mission. Isaiah jumps at the opportunity. This is also explained with some frequency. The problem is that this is where we tend to stop. This is understandable because the rest of this chapter takes an unexpected and uncomfortable twist. After Isaiah volunteers to be God's spokesman, God tells him to go preach so that the people will be hardened and completely turned away from God. When Isaiah asks how long he must deliver this message, God says, "Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people, and the land is utterly desolate." I could be wrong, but I don't think many guys go to seminary with that as their goal. Now the question is, am I wrong to think "God, please don't make me be Isaiah"?

Before we go any further, a very important guideline for every believer to remember -whether in vocational ministry or not-is that God does not require his followers to change anyone on their own. Apart from the work of God's Word through His Spirit we cannot effect any spiritual change. Thus, the pressure is not on us as God's messengers to administer God's Word so perfectly that people will be changed and our ministries will be "successful." God promises (Isaiah 55:11) that His Word will be effective. The Word of God will accomplish His purpose in a given situation. It is not the duty of God's messenger to determine God's plan. It is the messenger's duty to deliver the message faithfully.

Now, since we are clear about the duty of the messenger of God, we return to his desire for his ministry. It seems clear that, though God does sometimes call on His messengers to deliver a message of hardening and judgment, it should not be the desire or goal of the believer to deliver such a message. Jonah is a good example of a messenger who had bad motives. Though he delivered God's message to Nineveh and saw a great revival, his desire was for that great city to experience God's wrath. In chapter 4 of the book of Jonah, God clearly shows his displeasure at Jonah's attitude.

The Apostle Paul gives another example for believers-this time a positive one. Paul clearly demonstrates throughout his writings a burning desire to reach and influence as many people as possible. A good example of this is in Romans 1:9-13. Paul says that he constantly prayed for an opportunity, he had longings, and he had made plans to go to them. What was his motivation? Paul wanted to "obtain some fruit" among them. Paul had spiritual ambitions which were viewed positively. If you are not convinced by this example, perhaps an examination of Jesus' own ministry would be helpful. In one of the most poignant statements in all of Scripture, Jesus laments his inability to realize a successful ministry among the people of Jerusalem."O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." (Matthew 23:37)

Not only is it not improper to desire to see God work in your ministry, but based on Jesus' example it is the correct attitude to have. The key point to remember is that we must not attempt to achieve results through force of personality, programs, or any other manipulations. God's Word will achieve results. We must trust the sovereignty of God as He furthers His kingdom as He thinks best.


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