With a face that must have burned crimson from shame, Isaiah burst into a startled confession, "'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'" (Is. 6:5, NIV).
In other words, "I'm no better than the people at whom I've been pointing my finger!" That wasn't just a humbling admission; it was a humiliating confession.
As I studied the first five chapters of Isaiah's book, his sins were not readily obvious to me. If he set his standards by looking around at others, then, in comparison, he might have felt quite confident. But when his life was measured by standards of perfect holiness, the revelation of sin was devastating!
Again and again, as I stand to publicly proclaim God's Word, in my spirit I'm on my face before God with a dreadful fear. I'm acutely aware that I'm a sinner—no better than those who look back at me with attentive, upturned faces. But when I began my ministry, I lacked a Spirit-sensitized awareness of my own sinfulness.
I remember being so spiritually superficial that when a speaker challenged those in the audience, including myself, to spend a few moments in confession of sin, I couldn't think of even one sin in my life to confess! But then I came across James 2:10, which issues this indictment: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." All of it? All of it!
I thought of all the moments of all the days of all the weeks of all the months of all the years in my life when I'd broken the greatest commandment—the one that directs me to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Since I was easily guilty of this sin, I was guilty of all sin. In my life, just one moment of not loving God with all my heart is enough to clinch the verdict that I'm a sinner.
As I meditate on what sin is—asking God to give me eyes to see myself in the light of who He is—the sin in my life becomes a nightmare of guilt that tears my heart, leaving me totally helpless and hopeless. And I'm in ministry! The thought is appalling!
How can I instruct others when I'm responsible for—and ruined by—sin? The turmoil in my heart and mind, brought on by repeated failure, wrenches from my lips an echo of Isaiah's outburst, "Woe to me!" The pain is unbearable. The grief is all-consuming.
When my heart is rent and I acknowledge what I've done, I can so easily dissolve into utter self-pity and absolute despair. But praise God! Praise God! The very same thing that God used to save Isaiah, He's used to save me—and He can use it to save you from emotional, spiritual and eternal misery.
From Pain to Purity Just when Isaiah was spiraling into the dark night of despair…just when he surely thought he'd plummeted as far into the pit of abandonment as anyone could go…things got even worse: "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" (Is. 6:6-7).
As the live coal was pressed to Isaiah's lips, the searing pain must have been agonizing. But painful blisters would lead to the joy of sins forgiven. For even as his lips were seared, the angel's words must have felt like a soothing balm to Isaiah's tortured soul: "'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for'" (Is. 6:7).
From that moment on, Isaiah's life was never the same. I expect that with his lips, now purified by holy fire, he never again talked, thought, or lived the same way. Praise God! There's hope for ruined sinners like Isaiah! For me! And for you! The hope is found, not in a burning coal of fire, but in what it represents—the blood of Jesus, shed on the altar of the cross and applied to every area of our lives—mind, spirit, soul and body.
My own searing conviction and confession of sin have left me feeling desperate for cleansing. I've longed to hear the same words of reassurance Isaiah heard. And I have: "Anne, the blood of Jesus, My Son, purifies you from every sin—past, present and even future sin. Because you have confessed your sin, I will be faithful and just to forgive you and purify you from all unrighteousness. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed your transgressions from you." Thank God for the blood of Jesus that hasn't lost its power to cleanse us of our sin. All of it!
As Isaiah bowed in the flickering light of the burning coals, having repented of his sin and returned to the cross, his heart must have started to beat in sync with that same divine rhythm. His entire being also must have been wholly captivated by the compelling desire to serve the One whose grace and mercy had been extended to him at the altar. And in that moment, Isaiah knew his life would never be the same. A genuine experience of personal revival that results from a fresh encounter with Jesus is not a fleeting thing. It's not just educational—or inspirational—or motivational—or emotional. It's life-changing.
It truly is like waking up in our personal relationship with God so that now our lives entirely revolve around our passionate love for Jesus. You'll know your heart's been set aflame by the fire of revival when nothing else matters to you as much as your love for Him.
Anne Graham Lotz is the second daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham, founder of Angel Ministries, and the author of several books.
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