Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Morning by morning he wakens me

In one of the Servant passages in Isaiah, we find the following words:

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens -- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught (Isa 50.4).

Of course we know that the Suffering Servant figure in Isaiah is fulfilled by Christ; he is a chosen messenger of God's word to a wayward and afflicted Hebrew people. These descriptions, though certainly they found fulfillment in the experience of their author, were nevertheless more fully fulfilled and applied to Christ, as understood by his apostles. In some ways it is impossible not to see Christ in the figure of the Suffering Servant; certainly they provided Christ with a way of understanding his own mission and call by God, as the reading in the Nazareth synagogue shows (Luke 4.14-21).

In this particular passage, we find something that is very critical. God awakens the servant in the morning to teach him; he speaks into his ear, and thereby gives him words by which he can sustain the weary. He arises early in the morning, as if God were nudging him out of bed, so that he can provide him with strength and wisdom for the coming day.

This is something we see in Christ, too. We read that Jesus would get up very early in the morning, while it was still dark out, so that he could go out and pray alone on a mountain (Mark 1.35). Other times he would go up on the mountainside during the day time or towards evening (Mt 14.23; Mark 6.46). Luke says that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5.16). John's gospel relates numerous statements of Jesus to the effect that he teaches what he learned in the presence of the Father (e.g., John 8.40).

In all these ways, we see how Jesus would pray, would withdraw from the crowds and the hustle and bustle, and would be taught by the Father. These moments of solitude and private prayer in the late or early hours of the night would be moments of revelation and insight. In moments such as these, he received the teaching with which he would approach the coming day.

Insofar as our own ministry as pastors and ministers of various sorts are but a participation in the ministry of Christ, we should understand ourselves at least to need the same things Christ did. If Christ would get away and spend time by himself to be taught by the Father and to "recharge," then certainly we need these things too. If Christ had to set time apart to spend in the presence of God the Father in order to receive the insight needed for the coming day, then certainly we need to do the same things. We can hardly consider ourselves to be spiritual supermen, able to get along without the things that provided strength for Christ in his own ministry.

This is a point my seminary professors have repeated many times; the burnout so many pastors experience comes at least in part because they do not spend time in the presence of God, seeking spiritual strength in a posture of prayerful vulnerability and openness. For someone such as myself, who want to live a life of ministry when I finish my schooling, this is a very important lesson to learn!