And I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
~ Isaiah 6:8

We all know that verse, right? There are songs about it. It’s a key verse for missionaries around the world. It encapsulates the eagerness that we as followers of the One True God ought to feel. I’m here, Lord! Right here! Send me!

But have you read (or do you remember) the passage leading up to that eager response from the prophet? In a vision, he’s brought into the very throne room of God, where he sees the Lord sitting on a throne, His robes taking up the whole chamber. He was surrounded by seraphim, who were singing of His glory. Seraphim who used wings to cover their own faces and feet as well as to fly, knowing they were unworthy to look upon the face of the Almighty.

And Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets of all time, literally quaked in his shoes. Isaiah, whose calling was to give the words of the Lord to the people, knew he was doomed. He wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t worthy to be in God’s presence. Here is his response:

“Woe is me! For I am lost;
for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In the face of the perfection and majesty of the Lord, this man–set apart by Him for holy work already–knew that basic truth that we all must face. He wasn’t good enough. His lips, the things used to give those words of the Lord to the people, weren’t good enough. Weren’t righteous enough. He knew he was in that throne room for a purpose, to receive some instruction from the Lord, and he wasn’t worthy. More, the people weren’t worthy to receive such a word.

The perfection and majesty of the Lord demand we recognize our own failings. That we become so struck by them that we cry out and weep and perhaps even give all up for lost. We see a similar reaction in Simon Peter when he’s called to follow Christ, when he hauls up those nets bursting with fish and falls at the feet of Jesus.

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
~ Luke 5:8b

Sin cannot stand before God. The unworthy cannot survive in the face of the Worthiest of Our Praise. But notice that neither of these two men ran away–because while infinitely aware of their own unworthy natures, they were also infinitely drawn to that perfection. They wanted to be able to stand before Him. They wanted to be made worthy.

In the passage in Isaiah 6, one of the seraphim takes a live coal and touches it to Isaiah’s lips. Just reading the words, maybe we skim right over it to get to the good part, where he says, “Here I am!” But take a second to let that sink in. When Isaiah declares himself unclean, God’s reaction is not to say, “Oh, you’re fine. All’s forgiven. Go on, now.”

No. God’s response is not just to cleanse him, but to cauterize. To sear. To brand. He cleanses with fire, the kind that makes a man scream in pain. But the impurities are gone, then. Not just washed away, burned away. Only then does the Lord ask who He shall send. Only then can Isaiah replace his hesitancy and fear with joy and eagerness and offer himself up.

In the Gospel account, Jesus certainly doesn’t take a live coal to Peter’s lips. He doesn’t even say his sins are forgiven. But he says something just as hard: “Follow me.” He’d just helped Peter pull in the biggest catch of his career, the sort that is made for fish stories, right? And what does He demand? Leave it. Walk away. Don’t look back. Follow me.

And they did. That’s why we know who Peter and Andrew, James and John, Isaiah are. We know because they obeyed. The underwent the trial by fire. They offered their lives and efforts and possessions to God, accepted His painful cleansing, and followed.

I talk a lot about callings, about walking worthy of that ultimate call to follow Christ. I talk a lot about it, because it’s the most important thing any of us can ever do. I talk a lot about it, because it’s hard. And these two passages sum up why: because it’s never just a matter of hearing His call and saying, “Yeah, sure, okay. I can do that. Easy peasy.”

Nope. It’s a matter–always a matter–of first recognizing how impossible this thing is that He’s calling us to. How unworthy we are. How sinful we are. How unclean. It’s a matter of seeing ourselves in perfect contrast to the One who commissions us. It’s a matter of craving Him, craving His goodness so much that we’ll do anything, anything to dwell in His presence. We’ll wash, we’ll scrub, we’ll walk the fire. We’ll turn away from all the things we thought we were working for. We’ll abandon security and wealth and all the things of this world. All for a glimpse, a taste, a sip of the eternal that He offers.

That is the first step toward becoming worthy. Recognizing where we’re not, and offering that to God. Falling at His feet and just admitting it. “I’m not good enough, God. I’m not worthy to do this thing You ask.” And then accepting what He offers to cleanse us, to make us worthy. Accepting the pain and the hardship and the uncertainty. Accepting it because we know there’s something better standing just before us, because we know that the King is there, and He has a task for us to carry out for His kingdom.

Peter shows us all through the Gospels that sometimes eagerness gets in our way; sometimes pride will trip us up. Sometimes we prove over and over again that we really aren’t worthy. But he proves, too, that consistently offering ourselves up for God’s loving chastisement and guiding hand is all that it takes to be made useful and worthy once again. He shows us that living the faith wholeheartedly may not mean we never stumble, but it means we bounce back up to go and feed His sheep.

I don’t know where you are in your calling, in your faith, in your walk. Do you feel unworthy of this thing that’s looming before you? Not good enough? Or maybe you’ve been on this path for so long, and the storm is raging, and you’re crying out, “Why, Lord? Why did you send me here?” Maybe you’re in a period of peace and joy, ready to build three tabernacles to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, because you’re so in awe of how He’s been transfigured before your very eyes. Or maybe you’re hiding away in an upper room, just willing the world to leave you alone, because it feels like your Lord is gone.

Wherever you are, know this: God is on His throne, and the seraphim are flying about Him, singing of His glory. He is on His throne, and that holy fire is burning in the throne room. Not to keep Him warm–why would He need that? It’s there for one purpose and one purpose only: to cleanse those who ask for it. To seal them. To prepare them for the mission He has prepared for them.

Will you shake your head and walk away sorrowful, like the rich young ruler? Or will you offer those unclean lips of your to God and say, “Here I am, Lord! Send ME!”

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