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Imagine meeting God. Yes, the One who spoke His word and everything came into being: God!
This is exactly what happened to a man named Isaiah, a prophet who lived more than 2,600 years ago. Isaiah’s ministry was defined by a life-changing encounter with God, as described in the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah. This momentous event in Isaiah’s life provides insights about God-directed, authentic worship.
There are sixty-six chapters in the Book of Isaiah. The sixty chapters that follow this event are a testament to the fact that Isaiah’s life was given to God as an act of worship. This event was one link in a long chain of Isaiah’s lifelong commitment to worshipping and serving God.
God is asking you and me to enter into the same worship experience that Isaiah knew: approach God in worship, surrender ourselves, experience God, and activate a living worship of God every day.
God created worship so that we can know Him and be in a relationship with Him. Authentic worship is about being a person whose life―every thought, word, and action―reflects and points to the ultimate “worth-ship” of God. Isaiah discovered this truth in a most amazing way. In The Isaiah Encounter, learn from Isaiah’s experience about living an everyday life of worship.
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Chris Atkins is a worship leader, pastor, ministry consultant, and songwriter with a passion for helping individuals experience God’s indwelling presence. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in Christian Ministry from Bethel University and has served as an adjunct professor, teaching worship to seminary students. With thirty years experience serving God and His church, Atkins shares spiritual, ministerial, and practical lessons in worship conferences, speaking engagements, videos, and written works. In The Isaiah Encounter, he draws lessons for living a life of worship based on Isaiah’s momentous face-to-face encounter with God.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Have you ever met someone you always dreamed of meeting?
My story begins with the 1980s TV show “Happy Days.” It was one of my favorite programs as a teenager, but more important, it was also one of my wife’s favorite programs. I always dreamed it would be cool to meet a TV actor, especially one from a classic show like “Happy Days.” I reasoned it probably never would happen, and even if it did I might be disappointed by the experience. People rarely live up to their hype, or so I thought.
Let’s fast-forward to St Paul, Minnesota, a few years ago.
I was invited to sing a song at a very large gala charitable event at a posh hotel. It was an upscale gathering, so much so that I had to rent a tuxedo (can we all say ex-PEN-sive?). I was more than a little nervous about singing in front of the huge crowd of business moguls, media, and influential people who populated the event.
When I arrived I discovered that Marion Ross (“Mrs. C” from “Happy Days”) was also there, serving as honorary chair. She was seated in the front row as I ascended the platform to sing.
My nerves went off the chart at that point.
From what I remember of my performance, the song went well. After my song I left the platform and, after a few minutes back stage, tried to find Ms. Ross. But she had already left the hall. A little disappointed, I made my way to the hotel lobby to leave.
And then it happened. Out of the blue this wonderful, gracious actress, along with her real-life husband, approached me. “Are you the young man who just sang that beautiful song?” she asked.
I thanked her for calling me young and told her yes, I was the one.
“You have a marvelous voice,” she said, and thanked me for my part in the night.
At that moment I stirred up enough courage to tell her, “I know you’ve heard this a thousand times, but my wife and I are big fans of “Happy Days,” and we both love your work. Terese will be thrilled when I tell her I met you!”
Then she did something I will never forget. With her husband at her side, Marion Ross, “Mrs. C,” took my hand, leaned over and said, “Thank you... and please give this to your wife from me.” Then she planted a kiss on my cheek.
I drove home on a cloud that night and excitedly told my wife every detail of what had happened. I also gave Terese the kiss Ms. Ross instructed me to share. She was almost as excited as me about the amazing encounter that night. It was a moment I will never forget.
Face-to-Face with God
Now imagine meeting God face to face. Not some movie actor pretending to play God in a Hollywood movie, but the One who spoke His word and everything came into being. God!
Well, this is exactly what happened to a man named Isaiah. He lived about seven hundred years before Jesus Christ was born. Isaiah was born into a difficult and downward-spiraling time in the cultural and spiritual era of the Israelites. . He was an Old Testament prophet whose words are still read and quoted today, thousands of years after his death. The Book of Isaiah in the Bible is filled with visions and words that are both comforting and challenging, beautiful and stark, hopeful and harsh. It is a book that points to what God is about to do for His chosen people through a coming Messiah.
If Isaiah were interviewed today, he would emphatically state that the words He spoke came from God, not himself. He would insist his job was to faithfully listen to God and then accurately speak and do exactly as God instructed. The role of the Old Testament prophet was to be God’s truth-teller to the people of his or her time, both leaders and regular citizens. Many scholars view Isaiah as the quintessential Old Testament prophet because he did just that.
The starting point of Isaiah’s ministry was a spectacular event and vision in which Isaiah encounters God face to face, as described in the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah. It gives us a picture of the beginning of Isaiah’s new life calling, and gives clues about what worship is all about.
It teaches us how to worship for a lifetime.
2. Isaiah’s Vision
History is filled with stories of leaders who began well but, after some success, succumbed to the consequences of poor personal spiritual and moral health. Isaiah lived when the once-great political leader King Uzziah was disqualified by God because of Uzziah’s spiritual and moral failures. When we witness people taken down by their bad behavior, loss of personal integrity, and lack of a spiritual and moral compass, the old saying still rings true: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This was the case as Isaiah vividly described his life-changing encounter with God. He told us it happened in the year King Uzziah died. As king of Judah, Uzziah started off well. His life and reign was highly successful and prosperous, primarily because of his unwavering heart, devotion, and obedience to God. But then Uzziah changed.
In the middle of his political and military successes, Uzziah started believing his own press and gave in to the temptations of pride and arrogance. Eventually he turned away from God and tried ruling Judah in his own way, apart from any reliance on the God of Abraham, Moses, and David that he once loved and served. The results of Uzziah’s choices were disastrous. His legacy as king and the future of God’s chosen people were forever scarred because of his prideful actions. He was afflicted with leprosy and spent his last days in isolation, wasting away from this dreaded and stigmatizing disease. The actions Uzziah took as a rogue king also set the scene for the eventual downfall of Jerusalem and destruction of the majestic temple Solomon had built hundreds of years earlier.
Add to this the growing pressure of external military threats from neighboring countries hell-bent on conquest, and you can understand this was no easy time to be alive. Even harder was being a prophet who had both hopeful and hard words from God to his people. The people of Israel had diluted and abandoned their commitment to their covenant relationship with God, and had adopted religious and cultural practices of the surrounding peoples. This was not just some minor issue. These practices revealed the true state of their hearts. Just like their King Uzziah, they had abandoned God in favor of themselves and the trendy, alluring worldviews that suited their desires.
This was the political and social backdrop for the divine experience Isaiah described when he stated that he saw the Lord.
We don’t know much about the nature of Isaiah’s vision. It could have been a dream-like encounter or a literal transport to a different, heavenly realm. There are many instances in the Bible in which people encountered or heard from God in a dream. This could have been Isaiah’s experience. In our time there are many well-documented cases of near-death experiences that people have described as heaven-like encounters. It is also possible Isaiah had this type of experience in which he was whisked away to the heavenly realm.
Whatever the case, it is clear from Isaiah’s description that this was a real, terrifying, and life-altering encounter with God. Isaiah found himself in a place different from anything he had experienced or imagined on planet earth.
The narration goes on to state that Isaiah saw the Lord God in all His unparalleled glory and majesty. God’s beauty is so immense and pervasive that even the tail of His robe fills the heavenly temple with unimaginable glory. This was no mere deity that Isaiah could manipulate or coerce. Implied in Isaiah’s description is that God sits above all things and all creatures, and is in complete control of everything. He answers to no king, no power, or no one else. He is the beginning and the end. He is God, and Isaiah clearly knows it.
It’s important to note that Isaiah tells us at this point he only sees the Lord (more on this in the next chapter) while seeing and hearing God’s mighty angels, the Seraphim (translated as “burning ones”), who stood before God. Isaiah describes these powerful angels as being so in awe of God’s holiness that they covered their faces and feet with their wings even as they soared on other wings of praise before God. These angels worshipped God and stood ready to move at His every command.
Isaiah describes hearing the angels tell each other about God in a three-fold worship song of God’s holiness. Their voices shook the heavenly temple walls and floors to the foundation. Imagine the chest-pounding, earthquake-like tremor Isaiah must have felt at the sound of these angelic voices. The mighty Seraphim were so enthralled and captivated by God’s beauty that they couldn’t help telling each other about Him, and the heavenly sanctuary shook in resonance with their conversation. It was as if they were saying to each other, “Can you believe how wonderful and awesome God is? The Lord is so beautiful and magnificent that words fail us! Even as we thunder with all our voices there is not enough praise to give Him! He is beyond comprehension!”
This was no forced or obligatory worship service. It was a heartfelt and spontaneous expression of love, awe, and devotion to the Great I Am.
3. Isaiah’s Encounter
After witnessing the perfect beauty of God in His eternal glory, and hearing the angels’ thunderous worship, Isaiah looked at himself and came to a sickening conclusion: He was as good as dead.
Because of the state of his filthy life and heart, Isaiah realized he deserved to be kicked out of God’s beautiful presence. He also deserved death. He saw his pathetic faith, the pitifully lame excuse of his so-called worship of God, and he mourned out loud. He also grieved over the spiritual state of his fellow Israelites, whose worship of God was heartless and stale. He and his fellow humans deserved death because of this state of affairs, and so Isaiah expected an imminent, painful “zap” of spiritual execution from one of God’s angels.
But that isn’t what he got.
A Burning Coal
Instead, one of these powerful angels went to the very altar of God and took a hot coal with a heavenly tong. It must have been extremely hot if even one of God’s “flaming Seraphim” couldn’t pick it up with angelic hands! Immediately the angel approached Isaiah and touched his tongue with the coal, telling him he was cleansed from his sin and guilt. Forgiven!
As I reflect on this passage it strikes me that what is important isn’t only what is written, but what isn’t written. An important clue is implied in this story, but to grasp it we need to understand how the Seraphim operate.
The angel who approached Isaiah with the cleansing coal wasn’t some rogue Seraphim distracted by Isaiah’s presence, who then said to God, “Excuse me from reveling in your glory, but I’m going to take matters into my own hands and take care of this miserable, unclean human being. I’ll get right back to you as soon as I’m finished with this guy.”
Clearly that isn’t what happened. We know from Scriptures such as Psalm 103:20 that God’s angels act only on His direct command. Even in Isaiah’s recounting of the events he remembered the Seraphim referred to God as the “Commander of Heaven’s armies.”
My point is simple. The mighty Seraphim approached the altar of God, took a coal, and cleansed Isaiah because God ordered this heavenly being to do so! The angel, who worshipped God and stood ready to do what He bid him to do, acted only at the order of God Almighty. The incredible reality here is that Isaiah’s cleansing came from God, through an angel who did exactly what God commanded.
God loved Isaiah so much He didn’t want to see him destroyed but cleansed and made new. This says a lot about the character of God. God, who is holy and exists above and apart from everything in the cosmos, is also the same One who loves people beyond comprehension.
God loves us and longs to connect with us.
I believe Isaiah somehow understood this because he didn’t resist the Seraphim coming his way or refuse to open his mouth to let the angel place an extremely hot coal on his tongue.
Isaiah simply surrendered to God.
Seeing and Hearing
But there is still one big, nagging question. If God loved Isaiah so much, why didn’t Isaiah hear God giving the angel this order?
The answer comes in the telling conclusion of this story. Immediately after Isaiah was cleansed by the God’s purifying coal, he recounted the following:
“Then I heard the Lord....”
“Then I heard the Lord” (my emphasis).
It could be that up to this point Isaiah could only see God’s glory, but was able to see and hear the angels talking to each other. He may not have been able to hear God’s voice because he wasn’t clean. Isaiah was so dirty from his sin and the sin of his culture that he couldn’t hear God’s voice. The toxic junk of his life acted like earwax so that Isaiah was spiritually deaf to God until he was cleansed to hear His voice. Now that he was cleansed, his spiritual ears were finally attuned to God’s voice.
And what was the first thing Isaiah heard God say?
Isaiah heard God ask for a willing volunteer. He recalled that God posed the question, “Whom shall I send to the people of Israel, indeed to all people, to tell of my Character, my Glory, my Word, and my kingdom plan?”
I’m convinced this was a rhetorical question. God already knew the answer. Isaiah’s words, “Here I am, send me,” were more than just an impulsive, knee-jerk reaction from a hyper-emotional man. His “yes” response came from the heart of a man made clean and made brand-new because God personally called him into his presence, cleansed him, and set a new life path in front of him. Isaiah’s response was a personal act of worship―one that would span his lifetime.
After what Isaiah saw and heard, and after experiencing God firsthand, he couldn’t help wanting to go and tell people about God. This call was burning in his heart more than the coal that had touched his tongue.
“Please send me, God!” Isaiah cried out. And God said, “Yes.”
Then God let Isaiah in on a troubling secret. Just as Isaiah couldn’t hear God’s voice even after seeing His glory and hearing the mighty Seraphim speak to each other, so the people to whom Isaiah would tell God’s plans wouldn’t be able to hear and see God, no matter what Isaiah said or did.
God told Isaiah in so many words, “You have to be OK with this working arrangement. You simply do what I tell you and let Me take care of the rest.”
By saying “yes” to God, the die was cast for the rest of Isaiah’s life. He knew this and agreed to God’s plan. Why?
Isaiah not only saw and heard God, he met Him personally in a life-altering encounter. His life would never be the same. It couldn’t be after meeting God face to face. His worship of God was purged of stale, lifeless crud, and activated into a vibrant, every-day and every-moment reality.
For Isaiah this was the beginning of a life of worship and service.
4. Lessons from Isaiah
There are sixty-six chapters in the book of Isaiah. It is telling that Isaiah’s vision took place toward the beginning of Isaiah’s book and not the end. I doubt the Book of Is...
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