Sometimes you read or hear a statement or a short sentence that strikes hard at your soul. Recently I was reading a sermon by Andy Stanley on the difference between confessing being a "sinner" and a "mistaker." What a powerful point that most, if not all of us, are willing to confess our mistakes and missteps but not our sin. Churches are now full of people who will not openly confess sin because we are "mistakers" not "sinners." A mistake does not require anything more than a better opportunity to take another stab at whatever "it" might be. A "sinner," on the other hand, needs something more profound and painful. A sinner needs a savior.
Confessing sin is one thing, but dealing with our sin is another. The prophet Isaiah had an amazing encounter with God that we often hold up as a model of great worship. It was great worship, but it was first a great encounter with Holy God and his grace to deal with sin. If you will allow me to give you a play by play runthrough, there might be some beneficial things for us to acknowledge about God, sin and ourselves.
First, there was crisis.
(vv.1-4) In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
Our sin infected nature never wants to run to the Lord unless it is being chased. We all seek many things in life, but not the Lord unless or until we’re in obvious need. This was true for the prophet, and it is true for us all. Whatever the impact of the crisis of the death of King Uzziah, it made Isaiah seek the Lord. How often I have been in the place of prayer only to realize that I was praying like a card dealer in a casino. I toss prayers to the Lord like a card and then step aside for another dealer. Crisis has proven to be a devastatingly powerful tool in my life, causing me to fall upon the carpet in utter, helpless abandon before the Lord. I tend to crave comfort at such moments. I tend to fill his ear with my pleas, and I know his faithful presence.
Second, there is confession.
(v.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."
In the presence of holiness, we can see our sins in high definition contrast. If Isaiah was devastated by the loss of one king, he finds his true King in God's presence. In crisis, things appear clearer than we normally see them, and in fact we wonder how we could’ve been in such a fog.
Isaiah instantly becomes convicted that his sin is centered in one place. I dare not suggest that sin only impacts one place, but I will confess that my sin experience, which is vast, is that there is often a Beaver Dam of sins at one place. That dam didn’t suddenly appear. It took a while, and it took effort for a few things to dam up the flow. For Isaiah it was at the point of his lips. God's Spirit strives with us to help us see our sin "bunched up" in some area of our lives. We become keenly aware of our sin first and then how others have so blindly lived in sin.
Third, there is cleansing and cure.
(vv.6-7) Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
We all long for cleansing and freedom. We often desire cleansing first and foremost and sometimes alone. However, freedom from a particular sin is significant to the Lord. He not only wants to forgive our sins by His grace, He wants us to go from this place and sin no more. I take it from Isaiah's encounter with the living God that this is exactly what took place. The burning of conviction, the stinging of the holy fire of God touched the very point of his sin and changed the makeup of that part of Isaiah's life.
I’m not suggesting that Isaiah never struggled with the temptation to say things that are sinful. There was now a lingering reminder of the power of God's grace. Oh that we should ask the Lord to remove our sin and to place within us a holy hatred for our sin—not rendering our lips incapable of sin but incapable of forgetting the burning price of sin. There are certain very hot things I won’t touch, like the red coil of a stove. Why? Experience that left a lasting forty-year memory of pain, so dramatic I don’t want to experience it again.
What if our sins were so graphically burned into our memories? It’s a work of grace to help us know the burning and cleansing power of the atonement of Christ. Seldom do "mistakers" find such burning memories.
Fourth, there is the call.
(v.8) Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
Prayer can begin in a self-focused motivation, but an encounter with the living God always leads us to selflessly go to others to tell of the truth and grace of God.
Maybe we’re seeing few who go because there are fewer still who draw near to the Lord and seek His face. Crisis doesn’t automatically lead us into His presence. Being in His presence doesn’t automatically give us His perspective; however, when we choose to seek Him, allow His conviction into our lives, refuse to rationalize our sin but confess clearly, we’ll know the forgiving and delivering grace of God. Then we will see with clarity that we’re not alone in our sin, and others need His liberating grace also.