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Of all the voices in the world calling you to be this or do that with your life, how will you discern God’s call? While God calls persons into full or part time ministry, biblically God’s call has less to do with the job you get paid for and everything to do with the kingdom impact you were born to have on the world. Living in response to God’s call involves trusting the Lord in the midst of the darkness and waiting for the light to dawn. But how are we to discern God’s light, as opposed to the light of our own desires or our need to please others?

Isaiah’s Vision

Consider the prophet Isaiah, whose call story is found in Isaiah Chapter 6. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (v. 1). The mention of King Uzziah’s death tells us something about Isaiah’s state of mind. Israel prospered under Uzziah when he listened to the Lord, but he eventually ignored God’s commands, and died in isolation as a leper. And Isaiah had reason to be discouraged. The king was dead, a new inexperienced ruler was on the throne, the nation was drifting into idolatry (again), and their enemies were growing stronger. Where was God in all of this?

“Above him [the Lord] stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke” (v. 1-4).

God answered Isaiah’s question with a vision of heaven in which it became clear that while weak and sinful earthly rulers may die or be unseated, God reigns eternal. The angels proclaim His holiness, which extends throughout the world. The temple is shaken and filled with the smoke of God’s presence and power, echoing the pillar of cloud at Mt. Sinai, and the cloud of God’s glory that filled the temple (Exodus 13:21-22, 19:18 and I Kings 8:10-12).

Isaiah’s Reaction

In a time of uncertainty, God reveals Himself to Isaiah in His heavenly glory to confirm that He is King and reigns in heaven, regardless of what may be happening on earth. His sovereignty is never in question. This assurance is a prerequisite to hearing God’s call! And what is Isaiah’s reaction? And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5).

Despite his intelligence, privilege, personal integrity and devout faith, Isaiah sees himself for who he really is, a sinful man among a sinful people. In the light of God’s glory, Isaiah’s sins and failings became evident… and damning. He was before God without a mediator, without any covering or sacrifice. And if the priests could only go into the holy of holies once a year, and only after making sacrifices for themselves and the people so they would not fall dead, there was no chance of survival for Isaiah, who was in God’s presence with zero preparation.

God’s Response

In response to this realization, the Lord acts. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 6-7). The altar was the place in the temple where the people’s sins were dealt with through animal sacrifice, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on Calvary as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The angel takes a burning coal to purify Isaiah’s lips, which were the source of his sins and the instrument of his impending ministry. As a result of the angel’s action, Isaiah’s guilt is removed, his sins are forgiven, the source of his fear is gone, and he is fit for service.

The Call to Ministry

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, “Here I am. Send me!” (v. 8). God revealed Himself to Isaiah for the purpose of preparing him for ministry. Prior to his cleansing, Isaiah heard only the angels proclaiming God’s holiness, and of course, the accusing voice of his own conscience. But now he can hear the voice of the Triune God speaking to the council of angels, asking, “Who will be the messenger to my people? Who will go for us?” And this time Isaiah answers without hesitation or reluctance, “Here Am I. Send me.” The assurance of God’s absolution and a clear conscience are evident in Isaiah’s desire to answer the call. And from his experience we can draw three conclusions.

1. Worship precedes service – humbly seeking the Lord in worship is the first step in determining the what, where, when, why, and how of God’s calling in a particular season of your life. In Scripture, God’s call sometimes came through a vision, dream, or some other supernatural phenomenon. But most experience an urging of the Holy Spirit to serve in a particular way or to use a particular gift of the Spirit for the common good.

2. Self-awareness precedes action – understanding one’s current condition and circumstances will clarify what you lack that God must provide before he can use you for his intended purpose.

3. Formation precedes confirmation – formation refers to the process of preparation one undergoes in order to carry out their ministry/calling. But formation is not the same as confirmation. Some think that if you have a Bible college or seminary degree or if you have a special skill in service or leadership, you automatically qualify for a particular ministry. But no one in the church is self-appointed. God always uses the Church to confirm a person to ministry after a time of formational preparation, whether lay or ordained.

I pray that in this season of life, as you seek the Lord, His call to you will become clear, as it did for Isaiah. And that you will respond as he did, “Here am I. send me!”

Pr. Jeff Morlock is on the staff of the North American Lutheran Church and is Director of Vocational Discernment for the North American Lutheran Seminary. He may be reached at
jmorlock@thenals.org