In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to on another:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’
Then one seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said,
‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’
Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying,
‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’
And I said,
‘Here am I. Send me!’
In this extract from the book of Isaiah, we are given a clear picture of God’s holiness, humanity’s sinfulness, God’s mercy and God’s calling in an individual’s life. We see the perfect glory of God, the wonder and terror of being in his presence. By conrast we see our impurity reflected in Isaiah’s cry of despair. And yet in the seraphim’s response, we see God’s mighty power and his willingness to forgive.
Then we are given an example to follow. We are given an instance in which God makes a call, and a man responds in loving obedience to the mercy that God has shown him.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a heartfelt monologue about how I found myself and truly discovered God’s calling to me in a gap year trip to Vietnam. Yes, I happen to be taking a year out of university (for health reasons), and yes I really did learn so much whilst I was there. But this is simply a reflection on how encouraged and inspired I was by some of the people we met on our church’s short-term mission trip to this fascinating country.
As a team, some of the most important experiences we had were simple conversations with local Christians. When asked, on our last day in Vietnam, ‘what was your favourite or most encouraging part of the trip?’ each of our answers would include meeting at least one of the Vietnamese believers that we were introduced to.
One thing that I particularly enjoyed about the nature of short-term mission trips was how the focus as a whole was taken away from the places we visited and the sights we saw, as would be with a holiday, and was instead placed on the people we met and the culture that we were interacting with. This challenged us to be more outward looking and more prayerful in our experience of Vietnam.
So, the question follows, as I began to look more outwardly, what was I expecting to see? In hindsight, I realise that, as I was looking to see God’s work in Vietnam, I was searching for great displats of earthly glory, for vast movements in culture and society. In a way, I think I was selfishly wishing for God to display his glory to me, to give me more proof of his mighty power.
But the truth is that God does not often work in a way that looks extraordinary in the eyes of the world, but instead puts what is truly extraordniary in vey ordinary clothes.
Jesus did not come into the world in great splendour, majesty and glory, but was instead born a baby into poverty, simplicity and struggle. We see in Mark 6 the humility and seemingly oridinary nature of Christ:
Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’
And they took offence at him.
Jesus is the mighty king. And yet, when he lived on this earth, he was also a plain and ordinary carpenter. He grew up as an ordinary boy in an ordinary community. He faced human pain, he faced rejection, grief, betrayal…
As humans we crave what is extraordinary, but God acts to humble proud humanity. Jesus, the son of God, in ordinary human form. Jesus, the king of heaven was willing to be ordinary. He was willing not just to be ordinary, but to be rejected, scorned, betrayed, even to be killed on that cross, for us. Are we willing to abandon our dreams of the extraordinary, to trust in the ‘ordinary son’, and be content with the fact that we ourselves are ordinary?
And guess what? God uses the ordinary.
God used Isaiah. God uses ordinary people throughout the entire narrative of the Bible, the Old and New Testament alike.
God delights to use the ordinary.
There is an often unrecognised beauty in how God works in the lives of ordinary individuals for the furthering of his great plan.
One Christian that we met in Vietnam left a particularly lasting impression on me.
She had decided to give her life to Christ when she was thirteen, after having been welcomed into a Christian community by her sister, who had recently become a Christian herself. Seeing the change that the gospel made in her sister made her want to know God too. She grew closer and closer to God as she understood, more and more, God’s gracious love. When she came to put her trust in Jesus she felt a joy that she had never experienced before, the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
At that point, her parents did not support the faith that their two daughters had found. But over time, whilst the family struggled through her father’s severe illness, through many unwanted trips to the hospital and through the spiritual and social pressure created within her community by a longheld security in ancestor and spirit worship, both her mother and father came to put their trust in Jesus too.
An ordinary Vietnamese woman, an ordinary Vietnamese family, but God is using each one of them for his glory.
Her faith is on fire and her willingness to make sacrifices for the gospel is inspirational. She longs to share the gospel in cross-cultural mission, she wants to show Jesus’ love to people all over Vietnam, perhaps even into the rest of South-East Asia and beyond. Even now she is searching for ways to tell people about Jesus in everything that she does, through her work, her friendships, through her church and her community. She is standing firm in the midst of the many pressures against faith in Jesus that surround her.
Just like Isaiah, she came to recognise the glory of God and his wonderful power when she heard and saw the truth of the gospel. And just like Isaiah she realised the impurity of humanity, repenting of her own sin. She knows God’s great forgiveness too. It was when she truly understood God’s love for her that she chose to entrust her life to him. And as she felt and understood God’s calling to her, she willingly stood up, knowing that she was small and that God was so very big, and she said,
‘Here am I. Send me.’
She has placed her identity in Christ. And this has given her great courage to serve. She is letting Jesus be the central voice of her life, her guide, her shepherd and her king. This challenged me greatly, am I willing to let Jesus be the shaper of my life? If you have put your trust in him, are you?
Her testimony was so inspirational to me because she so vibrantly reflected the call of the bible to allow God to work through us and in our lives. It isn’t easy to be a Christian in Vietnam, but she understands that God hasn’t called her to an easy life, he as called her to follow him.
God calls the ordinary and, through them, does extraordinary things.