Isaiah 61: Spirit-Empowered Ministry

View from part way up the steps to a high place at Petra, Jordan

A while back, I led a large Christian ministry in a contemplative planning retreat. We used Isaiah 61 as our core text. During the three hours of solitude in that day, I wrote the following reflections on the passage:

  • In the context of this passage, each of us has been a “they” needing grace before we have been a “me” extending grace.
  • It is a “they” who have experienced favor, comfort, blessing, honor, new perspectives, and deepening roots who are then called oaks of righteousness and do the rebuilding, restoring, renewing work in places, structures and persons who have long been ruined.
  • An oak of righteousness, planted by the Lord, puts His splendor on display. This is a different display that merely human excitement, enthusiasm, and thrills. Splendor is quieter, stronger, less hurried and more deeply rooted than these.

Five “instead of”s

  • 3a Crown of beauty                              ashes
  • 3b Oil of gladness                          mourning
  • 3c Garment of praise            spirit of despair
  • 7a Double portion                              shame
  • 7b Joyful inheritance                        disgrace
  • How many Christian leaders, after a number of years in ministry, look more like the “before” than the “after” above? How might we continue to be divinely attractive, glad, vigorous, overflowing and hopeful in the midst of meeting so many profound human needs?
  • In terms of the kingdom, a redeemed “they” so rebuild, restore and renew the land that even aliens and foreigners come under our influence and leadership.
  • An outcome of this anointed ministry is that everyone who sees this work of God can’t help but acknowledge the obvious blessing of God in the whole of their lives (9b). This speaks especially of offspring/descendants. Those who grow up and go out from us become men and women of enormous and godly influence.
  • In the midst of all of these fruitful, anointed ministries, we do not lose touch with a deep, abiding delight in the Lord that saturates our souls (10a). We continue to grow in salvation righteousness, wearing it like a beautiful garment (10b).
  • All of this is organic, like seeds sprouting in a garden (11). It continues to grow into something life-giving around the world.
  • The crown, oil and garment images of verse 3 describe their appearance and the aroma. They would be attractive to sense of sight and smell. (Anointing oil would definitely have a pleasing aroma. I think of the ‘recipe’ for temple anointing oil that was to be holy for that use alone).
  • It’s one thing to rebuild recent ruins and devastation (those of a generation or perhaps two). But what about rebuilding ruins that are ancient. What about the ruins caused by the separation of devotion and worship from intellect and scholarship that is centuries old. Might we rebuild those ruins? (4)

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5 thoughts on “Isaiah 61: Spirit-Empowered Ministry

  1. inspiring post, once again, Alan. thanks for that.
    the title alone caught my attention right away. i was invited to preach this past Sunday–Pentecost. i was excited about all the thoughts i had to share about Acts 2 and so forth, but when i started reading and preparing, my sermon went in a new direction. i started to come across all the passages that had this 1-2 formula–the Holy Spirit fills, then people speak. or, the Holy Spirit fills, then people prophesy. or, the Holy Spirit fills, then people go on mission. then, i turned back to the Gospel of Luke looking for the same pattern since the author is usually assumed to be the same. the same thing happens–Holy Spirit filling, then people speaking. Jesus’ himself, even, is filled with the HS before temptation, reading scripture, preaching, praying, etc, etc.
    my reflections–and therefore my sermon–was about the Spirit filling not just ministers, but all God’s people, about how after Pentecost and the Spirit’s being “poured out” a la Joel’s prophecy, that’s how we are to live. it was the most “fun” sermon i’ve ever preached (still kinda new to that experience) and it was the least anxious/nervous i’ve ever been when preaching.
    my years of participation in TLI of course helped prepare me to be sensitive to the idea of the filling of the Spirit, as well as talk about my own experiences of it.
    i could go on and on, but really i want to say that this is the most crucial and likely, in my denomination, the least-discussed issue. not just for ministers, but for all God’s people–Spirit-empowered ministry. it’s very convicting to see the “Christians” who make the news whose lives bear no evidence of being empowered or inspired or filled by the Holy Spirit. what they do and say would be much different if that indeed were the case.
    thanks for the encouraging words today! best wishes on the book process. hope to talk to you soon.
    jason

    • Jason – What a great comment. A post in its own right! This last week, the same simple insight came home to us in the Dominican Republic as we had our third Journey retreat together there. So easy to think that being filled with the Holy Spirit is just for a particular denomination or tradition.

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  3. And it is marvelous in our eyes, Hallelujah! Your sage writing continues to draw me into a deeper, wonderful appreciation of His work not only in my life, but also those around me. Blessings my dear brother.

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