Isaiah 61 is powerful encouragement for any of us who would seek to do God's work in the world. This passage struck me last week as I read it in my morning Bible study, and they are words that I cannot get out of my head. Or my heart. In fact, I'd kind of like to plaster them all over my walls so that I never forget what the Lord speaks here through the prophet.
I've underlined, at some point over the years, the first three verses of this chapter. They read as follows:
The Spirit of the Almighty Lord is with me because the Lord has anointed me to deliver good news to humble people. He has sent me to heal those who are brokenhearted, to announce that captives will be set free and prisoners will be released. He has sent me to announce the year of the Lord's good will and the day of our God's vengeance, to comfort all those who grieve. He has sent me to provide for all those who grieve in Zion, to give them crowns instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of tears of grief, and clothes of praise instead of a spirit of weakness.
These words struck me, and continue to strike me, I'm sure because of the powerful anointing that is written within them. This is what we think of ministry, isn't it? This is what we do, right? I read passages like this, and I want to remember them because this is the kind of good, holy work that I want to do. This is the sacred ground that I want to walk on.
But if I want to be faithful to these words (and I do), then I have to keep reading. Because the next verse is humbling in an entirely different way.
They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, the Plantings of the Lord, so that he might display his glory. They will rebuild the ancient ruins. They will restore the places destroyed long ago. They will renew the ruined cities, the places destroyed generations ago.
See, I thought that the first part of this prophecy was the holy work, and it is, but there's other holy work going on here, and it's not done by the one who has the Spirit of the Lord. It's not done by the one who has been anointed and sent; it's done by those that the anointed one has been sent to.
Let that sink in for a minute. Read these passages again.
There is one who is sent, and that one is doing a certain sacred work. And that's where most of us stop - with our own sacred work. But look at the work that the recipients of the first ministry are doing. They are the ones who are called Oaks of Righteousness - not the ministers, but the ministered. They are the ones who display God's glory. They are the ones who rebuild, restore, and renew.
That's why I need to have these words plastered on my walls, scribbled on my dashboard, tattooed on my hands. Not the first three verses, not the ones that make me feel like I'm doing some special thing or anything, but the fourth one - the one that reminds me of the work that's being done by those who receive my work. The sacred things that are being done, and will be done, by those who are on the receiving end of my sacred thing.
Because I...maybe I'm anointed. Maybe I've been sent. Maybe I deliver good news and heal the brokenhearted; I certainly have ample opportunity to ache with them. Maybe I declare freedom, shout Freedom! from the mountaintops. Maybe I announce good will and vengeance and provide some meager comfort to those who grieve.
But they are the ones who will rebuild the ruins. They are the ones who will restore the rubble. They are the ones who will renew what's been destroyed. They are the ones that do glorious things in the name of the Lord, even though it's far too easy for me to convince myself that I'm the one doing the glorious thing.
I'm not. I'm doing the dirty things. I'm doing the dirty work. I'm sopping up the blood, soaking up the tears, picking up the tissues, and trying to hold a broken world together so that one of these might have the strength to stand again. It's sacred work. It's holy work. But it's hardly glorious. At least, not in the terms in which we look at things like glory. Not in the way in which the world sees glory, even the glory of the Lord.
So I'm struck by these words in Isaiah, by the words that always seem to strike me, sure, but now, by the words that follow. I'm struck not by the words that speak not only of the holy work that I am called to do, but of the glorious work that others will do if I am faithful to love them, to heal them, to hold them the way that God has called me to do. I'm struck by this poignant reminder that no matter what I think I'm doing, others will do things greater still.
That's why I do what I do. So that they can do what they will do. I do the dirty work so that these others can do something glorious. These Oaks of Righteousness, for the glory of God.