This is part three in my Called?! series of blog posts.
Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.”
But I said, “I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
And now the LORD says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honoured in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength— he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:1-6.
The Song of the Arrow
Kublai Khan never managed to invade Japan. He tried. He asked his Korean shipbuilders to build him 4,500 ships. They said no. He forced them to produce his ships in a short period of time. And when they set out for Japan, the ships sank, because they had been too hastily built.
God is not invading countries, but there is a war between spiritual light and spiritual darkness. God doesn’t need ships, but He is calling for arrows. Habakkuk 3:9 declares, “You uncovered your bow. You called for many arrows.” One of the metaphors for God is as an archer, and He is calling for many arrows.
I like to think of Isaiah 49.1-6 as “The Song of the Arrow.” It speaks to those who are in the season of preparation, the years between beginning to feel stirred to go as a gospel witness, and actually being let fly in the sovereign timing of the Lord. This is often a period of many years.
If you want to jump a long way, you need to take a long run-up. If you are in that season, how are you to wait, how are you to prepare? What should your disposition be?
1.Arrows have a sense of destiny. Before I was born the Lord called me. From my birth he has made mention of my name (v1).
God has a plan to redeem the nations and somehow it involves me! But how do you get a sense of destiny? When Isaiah was born, the midwife didn’t say “It’s an arrow!” (painful for his mother!). He responded to an appeal, “Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” “Here I am, send me!” But from chapter 6 to chapter 49 he has grown from “This is my idea,” to “This is God’s idea.”
If you’re not convinced, you won’t sustain. If you are waiting, develop your call, hear from God, He wants deeply to convince you before you go, that your going is His idea before it is yours. That his sovereign grace underwrites your journey. That the Archer, in choosing branches to fashion into arrows, chose you, and is fashioning you.
2.Arrows are prepared in the quiver. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword. In the shadow of his hand he hid me; He made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver (v2).
The quiver is close to God, between His very shoulder-blades. And the Lord prepares his own arrows, he is personally involved.
Sharpening speaks of effectiveness, of skills. Imagine being fired, flying all that way, and then not being able to penetrate enemy armour! Yet unfortunately I meet many who have been fired out by their local church with no skill, no sharpness. If you weren’t skilled in your home country, a plane trip won’t suddenly turn you into a church-planter!
Use this time to develop skills. Add professional skills that you can use in a future location, gain evangelistic experience, intern with a church-planter. Learn how to pray, how to win things in prayer. And God will sharpen you (particularly Isaiah speaks of a sharp mouth, of gaining experience in preaching and prophesying).
Polishing speaks of character, of personal holiness. A polished arrow is rubbed free from any roughness or unevenness which might deflect its flight, hence its accuracy. Alec Motyer.
Amy Carmichael used to say that it is best to sort out character issues before you go, as they will be amplified by the stresses of cross-cultural living. Allow the Lord to polish you, so that when he fires you, you will fly straight and true and hit the target.
The quiver is shared with others. Arrows are never alone in the quiver. You are not God’s only solution for a fallen world, be humble. Deal with envy as he reaches into the quiver for others, and not you. Deal with competition as you bump into one another and jostle for space. Deal with low self esteem as others seem so much more qualified than you. Forge friendships that will last a lifetime – beyond this quiver. Your time in the quiver is intense, God is doing a lot in you, that in due course he might do a lot through you.
3.Arrows live with frustration. But I said, “I have laboured to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing (v.4a).
Do you get frustrated sometimes? Frustration is good, because it keeps us on edge. If we stop getting frustrated, we get comfortable. Then when God reaches for us in the quiver, we won’t want to get out – the quiver is so warm, so cosy.
If you are from the West, believe me when I tell you there are so many branches who never become arrows. The narratives of security and prosperity are so loud, they can drown out the cry of the poor. The busyness of soul that comes with career, or children, or just life can create so much static that the still, small voice ceases to penetrate.
And so Bill Hybels asks the question “What is your angst?” Is it the extreme poor? Is it cities with no gospel witness? Is it anger at your own comfort while millions are sliding into hell? Feed your angst. Read, travel, pray. Keep feeding it, even if it threatens to consume you! Keep your horizons broad. Frustration is par for the course, and its presence is a sign that you are on course.
Find ways to keep remembering that “it is too small a thing.” Stay tuned to the great purpose of God, who intends for his “salvation to reach to the ends of the earth” (v6).
4.Arrows submit to God’s perfect timing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God (v4b).
The tension is to live with the frustration of your call whilst making the most of the present. “A man that is young in years may be old in hours if he has lost no time,” wrote Francis Bacon.
Waiting well involves walking closely with God, serving in your local church, developing skills and character, discovering a sense of destiny, and keeping your inner fire burning.
Because at the right time, your Heavenly Father will reach for you, find an arrow sharp and polished, ready, willing and able. He will fit you to His bowstring and fire you into the target of His choice.