God Accepts Volunteers
Volunteerism is a big deal. Many organizations try to attract volunteer workers: political parties, nonprofit organization—even for-profit businesses. Volunteers, we are told, are the gold of the work force. If you can find someone to work for your organization for free, with only passion for the work as a reward, you have found a blessing.
Almost everyone who works for a church is a volunteer, even if they don’t call themselves by that name. We pay our pastors and assistant pastors, our office staff, and usually our music staff, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Members of the church board (whatever it’s called in your denomination) are unpaid, as are Sunday school teachers, choir members, those who take up the offering—the list is almost endless. Without these volunteers the church couldn’t exist. It would be as if someone gave a party and no one came.
When you read the call stories for the Old Testament prophets you will find few volunteers—and that’s understandable. Who in their right mind would volunteer for that kind of work? Prophets weren’t promised top-quality living quarters, or free transportation, or a great salary. Working conditions weren’t the best, and there were no health or retirement benefits. Above all, prophets proclaimed messages that few people wanted to hear. They were definitely unpopular. It wasn’t unusual for them to be mistreated, or thrown in prison, or kicked out of town—or even killed. Who would want a job like that?
Most resisted God’s call. Moses claimed a speech impediment, and said he wasn’t sure what name to call God. Jeremiah said he didn’t meet the age requirement—much too young for that kind of work. Others tried to cite lack of experience. One—Jonah—was so upset by God’s call that he skipped town—tried to leave the country. None of these attempts worked. God met every objection, answered every complaint, provided help for every deficiency, even chased poor old Jonah down and made him pay heavily for his escape attempt, all to make sure God got his man.
At first, Isaiah tried to back away from his call. Overwhelmed with God’s holiness in the temple, he spoke the truth: “I’m unclean, unfit for the work, even in the way I speak. How can this mouth which has uttered so much vileness be fit to speak your words, O God?”
We can’t deny either the truth of Isaiah’s reply or the humility with which he spoke it. I don’t believe he was trying to escape God’s call as others had done. I think he knew his inadequacy—an inadequacy not of ability but of lifestyle. He knew that both he and the people around him had let God down in ways that were inexcusable. And now God wanted to use him?
We know what happened. God touched him and took away his uncleanness, purified his mouth and his speech. When God issued the call again: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah practically jumped at the chance to volunteer. You can see him, like a schoolboy waving his hand in the teacher’s face, and saying, “Here I am! Here I am! Send me!”
God still takes volunteers. We’re not promised a great salary, or a wonderful benefits package (although some say the retirement plan is out of this world). Instead we’re offered a chance to get our hands dirty for God. The work may not always be wonderful, and we’ll probably take a lot of heat for the way we do it—sometimes even from those we expect should support us the most—but we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing we have pleased the God who gave us life, and the joy of hearing, at the end of our time on earth, “Well done, you good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”