August 22, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Isaiah 20:2 (NIV)
[A]t that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.
Sometimes God asks us to do things that are difficult, even embarrassing. In those times, we remember God’s sovereignty and choose to obey. But also we remember God’s presence and grace. God will help us to do things that, by ourselves, we could never accomplish.
Isaiah 20 narrates a startling incident in the life of Isaiah. The Lord commanded him to take off his clothes and walk around naked. His nakedness was a sign to the Egyptians, the Ethiopians, and the Philistines of what would soon happen to them. The King of Assyria would triumph over them, taking them as prisoners. In the Ancient Near East, it was common for prisoners to be paraded without clothing in front of their captors as a sign of their shame. Such was in store for several of Israel’s neighbors.
For us, the unsettling part of this story is not the message Isaiah brings, but the way he brings it. We would be horrified if we had to walk around naked for three years. Our shame would be like that of Isaiah in his day. We wonder why God asked Isaiah to do such an embarrassing thing. If I were Isaiah, I would have said, “God, are you kidding me?”
I’m not sure we can fully figure out God’s motivations here. But this much is clear: sometimes the Lord asks us to do hard things, things we find awkward, even embarrassing. For you it probably won’t be three years of public nakedness. But it might be speaking of your faith with your colleagues, or admitting that you attend church regularly in a group of non-Christians, or confronting racial injustice in your workplace, or admitting that you need more sleep than you’re getting, or being honest about your shortcomings in a relationship.
For me, I think of times when, as a preacher, I’ve felt that God wanted me to be open about my failures in life. I remember, for example, when I was a fairly new senior pastor of a church in Irvine, California. I was preaching on spiritual disciplines, having just finished an exhausting week in which I spent little time in prayer. I admitted my recent struggles in my sermon, something that was not easy for me to do, but seemed like the right thing. After the service, a woman in my congregation said to me, “We don’t want to hear about your failures. You’re our pastor. You need to get this stuff right and set the example for us.” You can imagine how I felt hearing this. Yet, I still believed that I had done the right thing. Later, I heard from others that my openness about my spiritual struggles encouraged them. Whew!
Sometimes God asks us to do even harder things than be honest about our shortcomings. When this happens, we rely on God’s grace and strength to help us. We would never do it alone.
Have you ever known that God wanted you to do something that was scary to you, or embarrassing or vulnerable? How did you respond?
Where in your life, right now, do you find obedience to the Lord to be difficult?
Where might you be resisting him?
Talk with your small group or a wise friend about times when God has asked you to do hard, even embarrassing things.
Gracious Lord, I must admit that this story in Isaiah makes me most uncomfortable. If you were to ask me what you asked of Isaiah, I don’t know what I’d do, honestly. Thank you, at any rate, for not asking me to walk around naked!
But I do think of times when you have led me to do something that I dread. Your call isn’t always easy, even though, in the end, I know that your yoke is the light and easy one. But sometimes what you ask of me is hard. It stretches me, challenges me, unsettles me.
And there are times, Lord, when I back away from your call. You know that. So forgive me, Lord, when I fail in my obedience. Help me to give all that I am to you, trusting you fully even when you ask me to do something that I really don’t want to do. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. A worship prayer on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Closing Prayers About Work
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.