iCLT News: Isaiah, Talk to me

May 17, 2024
by Duane Beck
Consultant to Pastors on Leadership and Local Ministry

Isaiah, Talk to me

The Holy Spirit urged me to pray with the prophet Isaiah during Lent. It wasn't the first time the Spirit nudged me to meditate with Isaiah. It happened 20 years ago when I was in Ethiopia. My ears were more fine-tuned to listen within that culture so foreign to me. I feel I am again in an unfamiliar place. I have been alarmed by the ecological disasters, eruptions of violence, and persistent hatred. Millions of people are displaced. Famine, wars and rumors of wars, greed, and corruption, violence in our communities and our homes, and along with lust, and drugs destroy lives.  But this is normal news, so much so, that empathy fatigue easily sets in and we can’t hear the prophets.

Talk to me, Isaiah! Isaiah told me about God’s judgment. He encouraged a lifestyle of repentance and spoke of living hope in the sovereign God who fills the whole earth with his glory.


Isaiah son of Amoz “saw a vision” (1:1) and “saw the word” (2:1) in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. It was a word of impending destruction of everything they held dear: the temple, the government, the economy, and homes. The military power of pagan nations and natural disasters were God’s primary tools for judging his people’s sins. Judgment was initially a strong warning to jolt people and leaders to repent and return to faithful living so that God would save them. If they do not turn to God’s ways, they will face destruction.

However, Judah and Jerusalem persistently walk in darkness and not the light of the Lord. They worshiped God, but their priorities and daily lives were shaped by other gods. They were “full of silver and gold” (wealth), and “full of horses and chariots” (military power).” They “worship the things they have made with their own hands.” When people are full of these things, they have no room for God.  Sitting in my room in Ethiopia twenty years ago, I almost shouted, “That describes us (the US).” We are full of all these things. Twenty years later, I hear God’s word that political loyalties and opinions contribute to the distractions from the life of Jesus.

All empires are built on the twin pillars of wealth and power. The god, Baal is the god of fertility and war; think the economy and military. It was the god that most persistently tempted God’s people through the years. Our fixation on economic and military power reflects Judah’s Baal worship. On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Towers were destroyed, and the Pentagon was damaged. It was a destructive blow to our grand symbols of wealth and power. Did we turn from our “Baal worship” to genuine repentance? No. Instead, 9/11 triggered a massive and expensive military offense. Did we defeat the terrorists? No. Will we defeat them? Violence breeds more violence. Thousands of American soldiers have died in the enduring Middle Eastern wars. Several hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians from other nations have died, and many displaced. The gods of war and economy have proven to be false promises of security and prosperity!

Isaiah’s message was not popular. It was a critique of those things the people held dear.  Again and again, the prophet called for an abrupt change. Repent. Trust. Obey. God will save them. His message was flat-out rejected. Pagan armies overran their land, destroyed their homes and crops, obliterated their temple, confiscated their wealth, killed their leaders, and exiled the people.

The first thirty-nine chapters are about God’s judgment. But there are many glimmers of hope embedded among strong prophetic words. For instance, “In the days to come,” (2:1-5) all nations will seek God's ways and walk in his paths. They will learn war no more, and shift production from armaments to food.  “Come,” Isaiah pleads, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

A Lifestyle of Repentance.

How can we hear Isaiah's message, especially amid ecological disasters, wars, and political turmoil, and live faithfully in this time of God's active judgment?

Isaiah modeled a lifestyle of repentance.  When he met God in the temple (Is. 6), he recognized that his thoughts, beliefs, and actions were shaped by the world he lived in. "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" This humble self-awareness led him to seek forgiveness and cleansing, opening his heart, lips, and ears to God’s word. A lifestyle of repentance begins with an encounter with God and clarity about the ways we are influenced by our culture. As has been said, "Like the air we breathe, our cultural priorities and values influence our perspectives and choices in ways we may not consciously recognize." Isaiah humbly admitted his sins.

Daniel prayed with the same level of awareness as Isaiah. (Dan. 9:20), “As I was confessing my sins and the sins of my people.” Confessing one’s sins and confessing on behalf of others opens the world for the Spirit of God to penetrate the barriers of “the cosmic forces and spiritual powers in the heavenly places.” As someone asked, “Are there some things God will not do unless his people pray?”

Isaiah and Daniel would have agreed with Leslie Newbigin: “The minister’s leadership of the congregation in its mission to the world will be first and foremost in the area of his or her own discipleship, in that life of prayer and daily consecration which remains hidden from the world, but which is the place where the essential battles are either won or lost.”

Become a Living Hope.

Isaiah was a messenger of hope.  In the days to come, all nations will stream to the mountain of God to learn of his ways and walk in his paths. They will not learn war anymore and will be taught lessons in peacemaking. (Isaiah 2:1-5). “With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day: “Give thanks to the Lord; call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.” (Is 12:3).

Our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in the Meserete Christos Church are living Isaiah’s vision of hope amid intertribal violence and war. Sadly, more than 1,200 of our Meserete Kristos brothers and sisters have been killed, including more than 30 pastors. And yet, our Ethiopian brothers and sisters joyfully walk in the light of the Lord. They do not learn war but preach peace and live peace. They have welcomed displaced people into their homes regardless of tribal loyalties. Our sisters and brothers “take up the cross and follow Jesus daily.” They are beacons of hope in the darkness.

Cultivate a Living Hope.

What steps can we take to cultivate a lifestyle of repentance and reflect a living hope? Below are simple suggestions I have heard while praying with Isaiah.

  • Worship like Isaiah. Expect to meet God whose glory fills the whole earth.
  • Become aware, like Isaiah, of how thoroughly we are enmeshed in our culture.
  • Confess your sins and the sins of your people, like Daniel.
  • Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ask, seek, and knock. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Luke 11 and concluded by saying, "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
  • "Pray for mercy," urged Mulegeta, an Ethiopian church leader.
  • Put on the armor of God. Memorize Ephesians 6:10-18.
  • Engage the classic prayers of Exorcism against evil and “the cosmic powers of this present darkness” that impact so many people and nations.
  • Be Generous. The spirit of generosity produces hope.  Be generous with money, time, and especially with forgiveness. Share joy. Be cheerful givers.
  • Build friendships with people poorer than yourself. Laugh with them. Share stories. Cry together. Watch how they enjoy God’s love, and join them in praise.

“Come,” Isaiah invites, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (2:5).

Duane Beck,
Virginia Mennonite Conference
Interim Leadership Team

Posted in ,