Connections 05.26.2024: One Step Forward

Isaiah 6

There’s an old comedy gag where a group of people are standing in a line; the boss comes along and says something like, “Whoever is willing to take this job,” naming a deeply undesirable task, “step forward.” The hapless hero stands still, while without missing a beat, everyone else in line takes a giant step backward, leaving the hero standing alone in front. Oops.

The calling of the prophet Isaiah reminds me of this golden oldie. Actually—we may think of it as God calling Isaiah, but it’s really just God calling, full stop. This call isn’t specifically addressed to the prophet; we might imagine Isaiah standing in a long line of potential prophets when God decides to summon an assistant. But in this version of the old setup, when the Boss says, “Whoever is willing, take a step forward,” Isaiah doesn’t just stand still and get stuck with the job. This enthusiastic prophet seems to know he’s the one, and he does not hesitate to step up.

There are a lot of ways we can end up doing a job, whether in our secular work or in our faith life. A task might land on our plate by default, when every other possible worker “takes a step back.” Sometimes we might not have a choice (ask any military spouse how willing they are to move every couple years!). We might have a strong sense that God is calling us, personally, and has already gifted us or will certainly supply us what we need to do the job.

Or we may be like Isaiah, paying close attention to God’s voice and powerfully aware of God’s presence; when God muses to Godself “Whom shall I send?” we may be willing and ready to respond without even waiting to hear the job description. I can’t help but wonder if Isaiah second-guesses his initial willingness when he hears how difficult and “how long” (v. 11) God’s assignment is going to be. But the faith that allowed him to say “Send me!” in the beginning will keep his steps focused and committed for as long as it takes.

Discussion

  • Consider your ideas and beliefs about how God calls. Do you think it takes a particular kind of faith to “step up” even when the call seems to be broad and general, not personal and specific?
  • Why is it important that Isaiah was not coerced, or cornered, or guilt-tripped into this ministry? How do you think it affects our mindset when we freely choose to answer “yes” to God?
  • Why do you think Isaiah felt confident to respond to God’s open-ended call, even when he didn’t know the job description? What do you think gave Isaiah confidence to stay committed even when he found out how difficult this task would be?
  • Have you ever accepted a role in ministry or service, only to discover it was much harder than you expected it to be, or that people did not respond in the way you hoped? What did you do? Did it make you second-guess your original call to that work?
  • What is the role of discernment in responding to God? How do we know when to step up? Do you think stepping back is ever the faithful response?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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