When we respond to God’s call, we often have dreams and expectations of how things will turn out. Instead of allowing those expectations to distract us, we need to leave it in God’s hands!
Isaiah, chapters 46-49; 1 Peter, chapter 5
Isaiah 49:1-7 (NLT):
Listen to me, all you in distant lands! Pay attention, you who are far away! The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. He made my words of judgment as sharp as a sword. He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand. I am like a sharp arrow in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.”
I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” And now the Lord speaks – the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him. The Lord has honored me, and my God has given me strength. He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
The Lord, the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel, says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations, to the one who is the servant of rulers: “Kings will stand at attention when you pass by. Princes will also bow low because of the Lord, the faithful one, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Called By God
A couple of days ago, my reflection (“Don’t Retaliate with Insults”) looked at Isaiah 42:1-4, the first of the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah. Today’s passage is the second Servant Song. While Christians focus on these passages primarily as prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, we need to recognize that we are all God’s servants. As followers of Jesus, we’re called to model his example. So these passages also tell us how God wants us to live!
The first thing we see is that the Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. God has a plan for each one of us, from before our birth! I don’t believe that God has “hard-wired” us, but he certainly has dreams for us. The details of our lives are different, but some things are common to us all. God created us to be in relationship with him. The only way to find peace is through a right relationship with him. And a right relationship is the product of daily obedience and attention to his path. God has not called each of us to the same path. After all, there’s only one Messiah! But God calls each of us to something – a ministry role in his Kingdom.
“My Work Seems So Useless!”
The second thing that we see is that obedience in responding to God’s call is not a guarantee of “success.” Our dreams are not always the same as God’s dream for us! He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” But what sort of “glory” do we bring him? In John 17:4 Jesus says, “I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” We have to remember, also, that in John’s Gospel Jesus is “glorified” by going to the Cross!
In verse 4 of our passage, the servant says, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.” I suppose that everyone who has worked in any ministry role has felt that way at some point! The problem comes when we measure our “success” by worldly standards. If I think that “success” means fame, popularity, power, or wealth, I will come to a time when my work seems so useless. God judges our “success” based on one thing: our obedience.
Leave It in God’s Hands
The servant responds to his own statement in the second part of verse 4: Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward. That’s easy to say, but much harder to do. I have found that I need to keep my focus on today – doing what God puts before me today. If I do what God tells me to do today, I can leave it in God’s hands. I can trust that today’s work fits into his long-range plan. And he is much better at long-range planning that I am!
In verse 6, God answers. “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” That’s specifically directed to the Messiah, of course, but the principle applies to all of us. We tend to focus on the sorts of results that we can see or understand. God’s plans are far bigger than that! He is the one “who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, NASB).
“What Are You Doing Here?”
Verse 7 reminds us that the Lord, the faithful one, the Holy One of Israel…has chosen you. It takes faith to hear God’s call and respond in obedience. It takes even more faith to trust God with the results! Satan is always ready to feed us expectations of what our “success” will look like. If we listen to him, we will be disappointed – or we will chase those expectations rather than pursuing God.
In the early years of my ministry at this church, we looked “successful” from a human point of view. The church was close to capacity each week. People told me how much they “enjoyed” my ministry. But God helped me to recognize that we weren’t reaching lost people, and we weren’t seeing people really grow spiritually very much. So we changed some things – and a lot of people left. I struggled with that, because of the expectations that I had developed.
At one point, I was at the church one evening, all alone. I was at the altar, praying – really, complaining to God about how I perceived things. God said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (See 1 Kings 19). After a great victory, Elijah fled to the “mountain of God” because of Jezebel’s threats against him. God asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And after Elijah explained, God said, “Go back the same way you came…”
Leave It in God’s Hands
I understood that God was telling me to forget those expectations that I had developed, and focus on doing what he called me to do. That’s been almost 20 years ago, and I still try to focus on what God is calling me to do today. Several years ago, God led me to this practice of reading and reflecting on Scripture. Each day as I open the Bible, I pray, “God, show me what you want to say to me from these passages today.”
Over the last six years, I’ve read through the Bible each year. I’ve read and reflected on some passages on several occasions. But God always has something to show me for “today” – even from passages that I’ve read hundreds of times! That’s the “application” part of my reflection each day.
And today, God is reminding me to leave it in his hands!
Father, thank you for reminding us that you are faithful. You called us before we were born, and you have a plan for each of us. Lead in your way today. Help us to do what you call us to do today, and then to leave it in your hands! Amen.