DANGEROUS PRAYERS – SIGN ME UP!
September 30, 2018
Very few people who enter the gates of Bridgeforth Stadium to cheer on the highly successful JMU Dukes juggernaut have any idea of the humble roots of this football program.
It was the end of August, 1972. My good friend and colleague, Steve Proctor, was in line registering for fall classes. Madison College had only gone coed five years prior, so Steve was still in the vast minority as a male student. He was approached by a young P.E. professor named Challace McMillin. Coach McMIllin stuck out his hand, introduced himself, and told tall, lanky Steve that he thought he would make an excellent tight end. And then McMillin went on to explain that President Ronald Carrier had decided Madison College should have a football team, so McMillin was making the rounds of the class registration lines, recruiting any abled-body young men that he could find.
Steve thought to himself, “Well, why not? I’m going to sign up! This ought to be quite the adventure!” Practice commenced the next day on a cowpasture-like field next to Godwin Hall. And sure enough, Steve was in the starting lineup of the inaugural game played on October 7, 1972 against the JV squad of Shepherd College at Harrisonburg High School’s football field. And Steve had the proud notoriety of being the first casualty in Madison’s football history when he blew out the ligaments in his knee on the opening kickoff of that game! But, nonetheless, Steve was a part of that initial ragtag outfit that was the forerunner of JMU football today! He said he was always glad he took that leap of faith and signed up for the team!
Our prayers often revolve around praying it safe, begging God to protect us and bless us. We never take a risk, a leap, a chance, beseeching God to mold us and make us into more of what he would have us to be.
Yet, when we begin to pray dangerously, that faith becomes kindled and dynamic and real to us! Such dangerous prayers might include the petitions asking, pestering, perhaps demanding that God Clean Me Up, Shut Me Up, Fill Me Up, Sign Me Up, Coach Me Up, Use Me Up…. and today – Sign Me Up!
This morning we are going to meet a pivotal figure from religious history who prays the prayer, Sign Me Up, Lord!
His name is Isaiah.
Isaiah serves as an adviser in the king’s court. His calling as a prophet comes around 740 BC. He is a very distinguished, very educated, very privileged man. His rich command of language leads him to be known as the “Shakespeare of the Bible.” He also is revered as the “Prince of the Prophets.”
Isaiah is a deeply spiritual man. He prophesies…he preaches…to the leaders and people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reign of several weak kings. His popularity soon wanes as he pronounces God’s message of judgment upon the corruption of the times. And yet, he also proclaims God’s message of salvation, comfort and hope.
Tradition has it Isaiah dies a martyr’s death ordered by King Manessah as he is placed in the hollow of a tree trunk and sawn in half.
What might we learn from Isaiah’s calling?
WHEN GOD SIGNS US UP, IT MAY BE…
TO A LIFETIME VOCATION
Isaiah feels compelled to spend the majority of his life as a prophet—some 55-60 years.
And so it is with many folks today. Some of us are called to specific vocations through which we spend our entire lives serving God in that one avenue.
Until health issues slowed him down in the last few years, my good friend Curtis lived out his calling as a mechanic from his teens to late 70’s. From a Lincoln Continental to a lawn mower, if it had a motor, Curtis could fix it. The man had an uncanny aptitude and patience for machines and people. And he often interspersed his conversations with words of faith and encouragement.
I could always call upon him all hours of the day, and night, in all extremes of weather….and he would pack up his toolbox and come to help someone stranded along a roadway.
Yes, there are many folks today who experience God’s call to a specific, lifetime vocation….and they carry out that calling with great devotion.
When God signs us up, it may also be…
TO SPECIFIC TASKS
There are many references in the Bible to persons who, in the course of their routine living, carry out defined work for God on the side and/or for a season—then move on to other ventures.
In Acts 16 we read of a high-powered businesswoman named Lydia—a merchant who trades in purple textiles. She offers hospitality to Paul, Timothy and Silas. She is the first Christian convert in Europe. She opens her home as a house church to a fledgling missionary congregation being planted by Paul, and I assume she provides a good bit of its financial resources for mission.
Jerry John is a man I deeply respect as a mentor and friend. God has called Jerry to many specific tasks over the course of his life. He was a gifted preacher who pastored churches in our conference, including Asbury in the late 1970’s when he helped guide me in my call to ministry. He established and led the Industrial &Commercial Ministries outreach for several years, providing lay chaplains for all types of workplaces.
As a former disc jockey, Jerry lent his talents to doing voiceovers for many of our denomination’s TV and radio ads. He served as a missionary and Bible teacher to churches in Stavripol and Pyatigorsk in the former Soviet Union. And now, in his 80’s, he has answered yet another calling of God to write children’s books—and you will find him at various booksignings around the Roanoke Valley.
Jerry told me not long ago, “I am blessed with never being bored—God always finds something great for me to do!”
Friends, whether it is to a lifetime vocation or a specific task, God wants to sign you up! The question is how to you hear his beckoning?
GOD’S CALLING COMES IN THE….
AWARENESS OF GOD’S PRESENCE
Hear again the experience of Isaiah:
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
What is Isaiah doing at the time of his call? He is worshiping God.
I’ve often wondered what the other folks in the temple are doing while Isaiah is seeing this dramatic vision of God’s messengers…are they fidgeting, looking at their sundials, thinking about the lambchops they left over the fire back home for Sabbath lunch?
Isaiah is tuned into God, though. As the 17th century monk Brother Lawrence would say, Isaiah is practicing the presence of God. And Brother Lawrence would maintain that you can find God’s presence anywhere, anytime—even doing something mundane as washing dishes.
However, you must open your eyes, your ears, your heart to God’s presence around you and within you. His Spirit yearns to encounter you in every moment of every day. Dare to pray, “God, sign me up!”
Just as there are Xfinity WiFi hotspots all over Harrisonburg that your phone or laptop can tap into to communicate with the internet, so God’s Spirit surrounds us nonstop, and we can experience God’s calling at any time.
We must make time to be aware and to focus on our Maker. Psalm 46 compels us to “Be still, and know that God is God!”
You see, we often are putting so many irons in the fire that we put the fire out…we leave no room for God’s presence.
Make time to to practice the presence of God….and in these moments you will experience your calling.
God’s calling also comes in the…
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF OUR SINFULNESS
It’s fascinating that Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord does not produce some glorified, warm-fuzzy, but rather it evokes a deep sense of unworthiness. It’s as if God holds up a mirror to Isaiah’s soul. Listen to his response:
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Now this is hard thing for us 21st century I’m OK, You’re OK, Purveyors of Super-sized Self-Esteem to get our minds around. But for us to receive any sense of God’s purpose for our lives, we have to come to terms that God is God and we are not. And God is holy, and we are not. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
The three hardest words in the English language for us to utter are “I was wrong.” We struggle to say them to each other…and it’s even harder for us to say them to God. And yet such acknowledgement, such admission, such humility, such contrition is a foundational part of hearing his voice in our lives.
Thirdly, God’s calling comes in the ….
ACCEPTANCE OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. ”
As a kid it seemed I was perpetually getting splinters in my fingers, knees, feet. And my mom could never seem to locate the tweezers. But she was the master of improvisation. She’d simply hunt around in her sewing basket for a sewing needle. Then she would light a match and hold it to the needle for several seconds. The flame, she told me, would serve to sterilize, to sanitize, to purify, the needle, that she would use to dig out the splinter.
I, though, having looked upon the blackened point of that needle with abject terror, was long gone before she could proceed with the surgery!
The flaming coal in Isaiah’s vision is symbolic of the sterilizing, sanitizing, purifying forgiveness of God, cleansing us of our sin and removing the guilt that cripples us from responding to God’s call. As the psalmist reminds us, God drops our sins in the sea of forgetfulness and remembers them no more. We need not live shackled by the chains of our past. We can make a new beginning, embracing a different road to travel upon.
Have you asked God to touch your life with the live coals of forgiveness?
Finally, God’s calling involves….
ACTING UPON GOD’S PROMPTING
Yes, having become aware of God’s presence, having acknowledged his sinfulness, having accepted God’s forgiveness, Isaiah is ready to respond.
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? ”
And Isaiah thinks, “that’s obvious,” “that’s a no-brainer,”
“Here am I. Send me!”
Now, Isaiah doesn’t know the job description. He’s not sure of the salary and benefits. He doesn’t really know much of anything. He is simply willing to go. “Here am I, Lord! Send me!”
And God signs him up….to be a prophet. And his life is forever changed and filled with purpose.
Spiritual renewal always leads to faithful action.
How many times have you felt an inner impulse, an inner compulsion….it may have been something as drastic as changing a career to something as innocuous as saying a kind word to someone who seemed hurt…..and you ignored that impulse, that compulsion. You dismissed it as a bout of gas.
What would our lives be like if we answered God’s call, if we placed our name and commitment on the sign-up sheet?
I ran into Jason the other week at the hospital when I had stopped by to visit an old neighbor. Jason was Lawrence’s nurse that morning. Jason is one of the most dedicated, Christian caregivers I have ever met.
As I left Richard’s room that morning I thought back to another morning several years ago on that same floor.
It had been a long night. Robert, a nominal member of my church, a curmudgeonly fellow, was dying of chronic lung disease. A very proud, stubborn, prideful man, he often told me he had no use for preachers.
And my prayer that evening had little or no effect upon the troubled state of his soul as he lay frightened of his impending demise.
The next morning, when I arrived back at the hospital, Robert was in the final hours. But there was a profound difference. He was at peace. There was no ranting at the nursing staff nor his wife and his kids. I saw no fear in his eyes. He spoke to me with a calm, relaxed countenance. He died gently a short while later.
I asked his wife what had happened to change his demeanor. And she told me about how Jason had come into the room at 4 am, when Robert was so very agitated and angry. And Jason had felt called to pray with Robert….and with Robert’s permission, Jason knelt by his bedside and prayed with him fervently for nearly an hour.
And when Jason finished praying, Robert was at peace with God. He had experienced God’s saving and assuring grace. He was ready to meet his Maker. And he did.
All because one young man, when he heard God’s voice calling “Whom shall I send….who will go to this troubled dying man’s bedside and intercede for him?”…that young man did not waver. He answered the Lord, “Here am I…send me!”
Yes, Jason prayed, “Sign me up, Lord!” Do you dare to do likewise?