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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Completely Relaxed With God

One of the continuing challenges of my spiritual journey is to always begin with God and not with myself. This comes in many sneaky ways. When I pray, I’m coming first to listen, then to speak my heart and mind. When I come to the scriptures, I come to listen. What are You saying to me, Father?

One scripture, for example, that really helped me recently is Isaiah 26:3-4…

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

Perfect. Steadfast. Forever. Eternal. These are solid, lasting words. Is it possible for me to be completely relaxed with God through Christ? I hope to keep growing in my confident reliance on God’s trustworthy love.

The Message blurs the Isaiah 26 lines some:

People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.

There is perfect peace when my attention is steadfastly fixed on You, Lord. When my attention veers from a focus on You to a lingering in my own thoughts, that’s usually not a good path. Anxiety lies there. Fear. Pride. Discouragement. Whatever isn’t from God.

How might you enjoy a more God-focused day today?