Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Face Set Like Flint

In Isaiah 50, the prophet gives a tremendous example of what it means to obey God in complete trust. He says that he has been obedient even though it has caused him to beaten and humiliated. This is an interesting statement in itself because to be beaten or shamed in the ancient world was often thought to be a sign of one's god abandoning them, In spite of this, the prophet remains confident that God has not only not abandoned him but will, in fact, vindicate him in the end. He believes, even as he is being oppressed and abused, that ultimately no one can stand against him because God is on his side. Those who oppose him will slowly wear out like a moth eaten garment. As a result, the prophet says that he has set his face like flint. He is so rigid in his determination to be obedient and faithful that there is an enduring, stone-like quality to his countenance. In v.10, the prophet calls upon his fellow Israelites to have this same trust in God, hoping that his own obedience will stir them to faithfulness as well.

Why does the prophet have such unfailing confidence that God is by his side? In v.4, he says that God awakens him every morning and speaks to him. It sounds as if God has been preparing the prophet for this moment for a very long time. He was not simply born ready to endure this suffering in obedience to God. Instead, it was the regular discipline of listening to God every morning day after day that has prepared him for this moment and empowered him to set his face like flint in the midst of persecution.

I imagine that Jesus read passages like this one and saw himself in them. I imagine that he knew that his radical proclamation of the kingdom of God would eventually land him in serious trouble and that he too would be beaten and humiliated. And I imagine that this is at least part of the reason that he constantly sought those lonely moments of solitude with his Father; he knew that when the time came he had to be prepared for that moment which would test his trust in his Father. It was only by this radical demonstration of faithfulness that the rest of Israel could be stirred to the same trust in God.

If this is true, then there is a crucial lesson for our own spiritual formation here. It is unlikely that many who read this will suffer physically for our faith in the way that the prophet or Jesus did. Nevertheless, we all face times of tragedy that challenge our faith in God. We lose a loved one to death, face difficult circumstances in our own lives, or even witness the suffering of others and wonder where God is in all of this. I think instances like these are at least part of the reason that we need a regular habit of listening to God in our lives; through prayer, meditation, scripture, worship, and any of the other means of grace by which God speaks to us. Those practices can sometimes feel mundane at the time but it is only by regularly seeking God's grace through them that we can endure in those challenging times in which we must be filled with a rock solid trust and faithfulness. To come to those difficult situations in life without any preparation would be like stepping up to the plate against a major league pitcher without ever having taken batting practice. However, if we continually seek to hear God's voice morning by morning then when the time comes we will not only be able to be faithful in our own struggles but we may even stir others to greater faithfulness as well.

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