Yesterday I began a 3-part post about how to respond when you are not seeing any fruit in your ministry, small group, or just about anything else you are involved in. Read Part 1 here. In reading Isaiah and considering other Biblical leaders, I see two reasons why we face failure and what to do about each one. Today I’ll address the first one.
The prophet Isaiah faced certain failure. (In Isaiah 6:9-10, God actually told Isaiah that his ministry would cause people to harden their hearts and that they would be unable to understand or perceive God’s Word.) Isaiah was wildly successful in his failure, and we can see the main reasons in Isaiah 6:1-8. Pay careful attention to the progression:
First, Isaiah spent time with God, taking in his majesty (vv. 1-4). It’s significant that Isaiah saw the Lord in the Temple. If we want to meet with God, we must create the space for him. Before we can understand God’s purposes and plans for us, we must come into his presence and experience his power.
Second, Isaiah came before God in complete humility (v. 5). He understood God’s holiness compared to his unholiness. To respond to God properly, we must know that he is God and we are not. He is transcendent.
Third, Isaiah was made holy by God’s touch (vv. 6-7). When we come before God in confession and repentence, he can and will purify our hearts and make us righteous. (See Ps. 51:10). Of course, the only way we can be purified and made holy for good is by faith in Jesus’ death for us on the cross. Because of that, we can come before God as new creatures in Christ. Now we can approach the throne of the Lord with boldness and confidence (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19), because now God sees the righteousness of Jesus in us.
Like Isaiah, before we are called to minister to others, the Lord Jesus and his angels must first minister to us. They must first forgive us and cleanse us and make us righteous in his sight. Notice that here again, solitude with God comes before ministry (see my blogs on solitude here). Once again, we minister only out of the overflow of what God pours into us!
Finally, Isaiah was ready to respond to God’s call (v. 8). Note that God did not command Isaiah to go (although it may be implied); he asked him, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” God left room for Isaiah to make a choice. Isaiah responded, “Me! I’ll do it! I’ll go for you!” Isaiah did not go out of his own initiative, but only through the calling of Almighty God.
This last point is vital for anyone who wants to be a leader after God’s own heart. If you lead from your own initiative, do not expect success in God’s eyes. You may obtain a certain amount of worldly success by ministering out of your own ideas and your own power, but in the grander scheme of things, what does that really matter?
This morning I was reading Chapter 6 of John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead. He talks about counterintuitive direction from God, something Isaiah surely received.
The particular foolishness of the church in the past century was Reason above all else. The result has been a faith stripped of the supernatural, the Christianity of tips and techniques. . . . Many of the churches and ministries I’ve known made their decisions by principles and expedience. We have our morals and we have our precepts, but where is the living God?
I think Isaiah would agree with this assessment.
If we want to be bear fruit, fruit that will last, we must be connected to the Vine. Apart from Christ’s presence, power, and purposes, we fail.
What do you think? How important is God’s initiative in your leadership?