For the past few weeks I’ve been swimming in the book of Isaiah – a meaty undertaking. In it, the prophet Isaiah pours out 66 chapters of rebuke, promise and poetry to Judah and God’s people across the nations. One of the passages that I frequently return to is Isaiah 6, where the prophet is commissioned by the Lord after a frankly terrifying exchange with His holiness.
The story reads like this:
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:1–8
The pattern of Isaiah’s exchange with the Lord is one that translates well into how I have experienced God’s movement in my life. It all starts when Isaiah sees God –really sees Him. When he beholds God’s holiness, Isaiah’s sin becomes immediately clear to him because the contrast between he and the living God is shocking. When we truly gaze upon the Lord in His other-ness, His holiness, it makes the ways in which we need his grace clear.
Then something beautiful happens. Isaiah falls to his knees saying “Woe is me!… I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips…” Then God, in an act of mercy, takes the initiative, sending a seraph to touch Isaiah’s “unclean lips” with a coal of purification. Before Isaiah asks for it God is already at work to cleanse him. The story comes to its conclusion with God calling Isaiah to his service. I love that Isaiah is so eager to serve that he accepts the mission before he has any idea what it is. What I love more is that the mission is using his formerly unclean and freshly purified mouth. Isaiah collides with the living God, grows convicted of his unclean lips, gets seared by God’s mercy, then is sent into the world by God as a mouthpiece – producing fruit with the very part of him that he wept over moments before.
This is our God.
I share this story because it has become a backdrop of hope for me recently. I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time lately in these scriptures, and I’m starting to suspect why that is.
You might not share this experience, but I’ve recognized in recent years that I have been in need of some intentional healing. I took the scary step of going to see a good therapist a number of years ago, and I have seen the Lord use that step in my life mightily. I won’t delve too much into my personal opinion about the benefits of a good Jesus-loving therapist, but know that I believe in the practice when it is done right and it points to our true Healer.
Emotional healing for me has been a beautiful ebb and flow containing months of hard work – sifting through wounds and how they effect my relationships, allowing God’s truth in to clean out the infections in my soul – as well as times when things stabilize and I taste deep freedom. It’s my suspicion that this pattern will continue in my life until I am perfected in Christ (Phil 1:6).
While conversing with some sisters about this passage in Isaiah, one said “This made me think about how in need of purifying all of me is. There’s nothing in my life that is perfect, which means that there’s nothing in my life that God doesn’t desire to purify.” It hit a place in me that let me know it was true. When we place our lives in God’s hands, encountering Him in His goodness, we will come to moments and even seasons where God will place hot coals on the parts of us that need to be changed. When Isaiah cried out to God about his unclean lips, God didn’t wave a magic wand and say “There! Now your lips are clean. Just like that!” No, he had to place a searing coal from the altar onto those lips. He had to get in there and clean the dirt by burning it right off.
It is in His mercy that He does this for us, but, my sisters, it is often a painful process. It often feels like a searing coal to the lips. It is important in these moments to remember that conviction is evidence of God’s love, for He is working to free us from bondage and shape us into the likeness of His Son.
I have recently stumbled upon another part of me that needs this cleansing. There are ways that I’m not living into God’s freedom, and in His time He has revealed these new places to me. He has peeled back another layer and said, “There. Let me in there”, and I know that I’m at the start of a freedom-making process that will likely be hard. Facing your stuff is never easy, folks. But, as a friend recently reminded me, “If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it”.
The Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt and given the hope of a promised land where they would be God’s people and He would be their King. But the Promise Land was not right on the border of Egypt. They were called to freedom by way of a desert.
Lately I’ve wondered if the way to every promise land God calls us to will be through a desert.
Sister, you might be in a place where you’ll need to face some painful places head-on. Maybe you’re a veteran of working through your emotions in a healthy way, or maybe the edge of this journey scares the living daylights out of you. I’m scared too. Facing things is scary. But we serve a living God who only reveals brokenness that He fully intends to heal in us. We might be terrified, but we can hold onto the promise that if we take courage and walk forward into the desert, God will never leave our side and we WILL one day walk in the Promise Land as free people.
What’s more, the last bit of Isaiah 6 reminds us that God wants to cleanse us not just for the sake of our cleanliness but for His ministry. Isaiah had his mouth purified for a mighty service to the Lord. The places in you that need the deepest healing will, when set in the hands of the Father, bring the greatest impact for the Kingdom. The messiest parts of you can and will bring glory to God when they are released and surrendered to be healed. Wounds in the light are transformed into sources of hope, because His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). This might sound like a corny Christian solution to problems that feel absolutely impossible for you. I get that. I’m hoping for the Promise Land but looking into a desert, myself.
What keeps me walking is a certain set of truths. The first is that the Lord is worthy of our trust. I say that as a living, breathing testimony of God’s power being made perfect in weakness. I’ve been here before. I have been on the edge of being honest about my pain, terrified by what would happen when I spilled the beans, and I stand before you today on the other side saying, He can and will heal. He has healed me of things I thought were just crusted-over parts of who I was, and showed me that I am so much more in Him.
The second thing that keeps me walking is knowing that the Father is gentle with my pain, not intending to injure or humiliate me. When we let Him into our shame, we might expect Him to react to us the way we react to ourselves. We often project our own feelings or even the way we’ve been treated by others onto God. But, dear ones, He is ever so gentle with our fragile parts. It’s been my experience that the first thing He does when we face our baggage with Him is pull us in close to Him and whisper His love over us. He longs to throw His arms around us, reminding us that we belong to Him and we aren’t those nasty things that our wounds say we are.
The last thing is the hardest at times. The truth is that my life belongs to God, and there is a call on me to be obedient to Him when He brings up my need for healing. If the Lord wants me to go there, He not only goes there with me, but in order to follow Him I must be willing to follow Him into the dark. We were created to receive the love of God and to then reveal that love to the world as His image-bearers. Some of us have had experiences in our childhood or later that have scarred us. These scars often create filters through which all love must pass, and the filters often distort how we receive love. If our wounds prevent us from receiving the love of God as it is, we need to offer those up to be cleansed. Likewise, the ways we’ve been hurt often fracture the way we give love. If our highest calling is to love the Lord and our neighbors as ourselves, then what distorts that love must be dealt with so we can give and receive love the way we were made to.
We all have painful experiences that have kept us from fully living into the truth of God’s Word. When we ask Jesus to be the King in our lives, we invite Him to rule over those areas with His truth, which means the lies have to go. If He’s to rule in us He won’t share authority with our baggage. This is good news, but it often means hard work.
Sisters, Jesus is the great freedom giver, and He is set on giving it to us in every way. If you, like me, are at a crossroads of healing or facing a problem, take heart. When we entrust our hearts to Jesus and do the hard work of letting the light shine into our darkness, we have the promise that one day we’ll be unshackled in those same spots. Because “even the darkness is not dark to him”, and our Father goes before us. I don’t know about you, but I want that.
I want freedom so badly that I’m willing to put in the hours of tough processing and revealing.
I write to you as a child of God who is both broken and healed, learning how to receive and give love like I’m made to. I write to you as a sister who sees a therapist a couple times a month to sort through some of the more complex areas of my personal wounding. I write to you to let you know that there’s an endless sea of grace for you and for me, if we would just let it in. God reveals the hurt and twisty places inside of us so that He can deliver us. Won’t you join me in allowing Him to do just that? I dream of the day when we all have nothing to hide anymore because we’ve given every busted piece of our souls over to Jesus and have no shame or fear around them because we’re too busy enjoying our freedom. I want to be part of that coming true.
Woe is me, a woman of an unclean heart. Thanks be to God for the mercy to make it clean and use it for the good of the world.
*Note: If you are looking for a professional to help you begin or continue your healing journey, we encourage you to ask some trustworthy Christian sisters and brothers who live in your city for recommendations, and consider finding a church that can connect you to Christian counselors. Not every counselor is great, and you might need to do some research to find the right person, but it is worth it. We also encourage you to reach out to us for prayer. We’d love to pray for you! DM us on our instagram (@thesimplybeloved), and you will be prayed for.