A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it.”
Indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:6-8 (modified NIV).
Cry out? Proclaim Your Word?
What’s the use, Lord? I preach, but nothing of lasting value takes place. Even when at times I have seen people respond so positively – they come forward at altar calls. Their faithfulness looks so beautiful and inspiring … but it never seems to last. The beauty and the glory of their faithfulness – it’s just like beautiful flowers that fade; grass that withers.
You tell me to cry out? To preach? Preach what? What’s the point? It doesn’t bring any lasting change. Grass withers and flowers fade. Just like human faithfulness.
The Lord’s breath just blows them away.
I wonder if the eight of you have ever felt like this in your two or four years of ministry thus far?
The people you pastor – your friends, your fellow church leaders – their faithfulness and support which seemed so beautiful and glorious for a while – the work you do, the programmes you start – they seem to fade and wither – like flowers and grass when a hot wind blows.
If such despair, doubt and futility does come upon you one day, I hope you will remember the message of Isaiah 40, and I pray you will not let despair develop into cynicism.
Thank God that the despair of the great prophet here in Isaiah 40 did not turn into cynicism. If it had, we might never have received the wonderful words of life in this book called Isaiah.
How did God save this prophet from cynicism? God reminded the prophet that even if he was right about the faithfulness of people being temporary, his calling was about the Word of God which endures forever.
This means our calling is not primarily about pulpit.
We are called to proclaim God’s Word, and this is not to be restricted or even equated with the pulpit. We can be faithful proclaimers of God’s Word without ever stepping into a pulpit.
In his poem, Edgar Guest wrote:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear, Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear; And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds, For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
Nor is it a call to produce results. Isaiah was called to proclaim God’s word to those who will not hear, even though they have ears. Isaiah was called to show them God’s love, but was warned that the people will not see, even though they have eyes.
Isaiah was not called to produce human success and results. He was called to proclaim faithfully the Word of God.
For human results and increasing numbers of human faithfulness – as glorious and beautiful as it may be – is still often like grass that withers, or flowers that fade. So do not be motivated or discouraged by how much of a lasting difference you make, or do not make, in the lives of your people and parish.
What is this Word of the Lord in Isaiah 40 which we are called to proclaim?
The Word is summed up in the first and last verses of Isaiah 40. It is a call to proclaim God’s “comfort” and forgiveness to people (Isaiah 40:1-2), and a call to fix our hope in the Lord (Isaiah 40:31).
The Word of God we proclaim is to tell people to keep their hope fixed on God. That is how the weary can find new strength; how despair can be saved from becoming cynicism.
Hope in the Lord. Not in your Pastor-in-Charge or pastors. Certainly not in a President. Not in your Lay Leaders or Local Church Executive Committee Chairs. All of us are like grass – here today, and gone tomorrow. But keep your hope in the Lord, and His word of comfort which endures forever.
Picture by Vitaly Korovin/Bigstock.com
The Rev Dr Gordon Wong was elected President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. In the Closing and Ordination Service of TRAC’s 38th Annual Conference, he offered encouragement and assurance to the eight ordinands and other pastors in his sermon. Below is a summary of the sermon entitled “God’s Word will stand forever”, which we believe is also applicable to every person who serves the Lord in different capacities.