“Woe is me! For I am lost…”
I had a very embarrassing “date” one time. I went with a group of friends to a bowling alley. No, the fact that I went to a bowling alley wasn’t the embarrassing part. What shamed me was the presence of black lights.
When I left my dorm room I looked pretty fly in my black shirt and Levi’s. However, by the time that I got to the bowling alley and found myself under the hateful glare of those black lights I had somehow developed a horrible case of psoriasis, spilled bleach on my pants, and had a stain on my shirt that looked like Gary Coleman leg wrestling an ostrich.
Black lights have a way of exposing flaws that are hidden in regular lights. Every blemish on my clothes screamed out at the crowd to laugh at me. Now I know that only idiots wear black clothes to an event featuring a black light.
Isaiah the prophet had a similar experience (though intensely magnified) in Isaiah 6. Upon his vision of the “King, the LORD of hosts” Isaiah says “Woe is me! For I am lost”. Before this vision Isaiah probably felt himself to be a pretty good chap with a pretty wholesome tongue. But when he finds himself in the penetrating holiness of Yahweh his sinfulness and inadequacy to be in the presence of the Lord is glaringly obvious. Isaiah feels as if he is being ripped asunder. He cannot get low enough. It seems as if everything within him wants to hide but there is no place to go and so he does the only fitting thing—he pronounces a curse upon himself.
When a sinner, like Isaiah, has a true vision of the splendor and majesty of Yahweh his only one fitting response is brokenness and contrition at the ugliness of his sin.
Thankfully, for Isaiah and us, the story does not end there. The Lord in His grace touches Isaiah’s mouth and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for”. Isaiah is clean. Somehow this sinful prophet is able to now stand in the presence of Yahweh. Isaiah is not only confronted with God’s majesty and splendor and terrifying holiness. He is also confronted with God’s life-changing grace.
“Here am I! Send me”
One verse after Isaiah’s cleansing is his commissioning. Notice that in verse 5 when confronted by the Lord’s holiness Isaiah is groveling upon the floor trying to find some portal to escape. He is undone. He does not want to be seen. He wants to be come nothing, to be annihilated if that is possible.
Now notice Isaiah in verse 8. It seems as if he is like the kid in fourth grade that kept raising her hand saying, “pick me, pick me, pick me”! He wants to be noticed. He wants to be used. That is what grace does. It turns brokenness into bold missional fervor.
Yet, I wonder how many of us act as if we are still living in Isaiah 6:5, “woe is me”. There are at least two reasons why we would not have scores of people in our churches saying “here am I! send me”. One is that our God is not big enough. Missional fervor comes after brokenness before the Lord’s presence. It seems to me that God seldom uses people in mighty ways until people become utterly convinced that there is no way that God could possibly use someone as vile and dirty as them.
The second reason why people aren’t shouting out “Here am I! send me” is because we see sin where God sees grace. Some people are convinced that they are vile and dirty and there is no way that God can use them. And so they sit there saying “woe is me”. But if God has taken away your guilt and your sin has been atoned for, you had better not be saying “woe is me”. You aren’t vile and dirty and unable to be used by God. You are redeemed. Therefore, our only fitting response is “Here am I! Send me”.
God’s powerful grace turns woe into go.