And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me— the very people I have created. I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways. I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord . “And I will heal them.” But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:14-21
Well the last week or so has felt very much like a tossing sea. It is the end of the term and projects and papers pile up for professors as well as students. I have been hanging on by my fingernails trying to keep up with the pace, but alas I have had insufficient bandwidth to get on the water. I have been pondering this passage as I have been running from task to task.
God is addressing the people of Israel (and I believe all God followers). The message distilled into a single nugget would be something like “stick to the road I have prepared for you or it will be a rough ride”; and “if you see someone off struggling through the weeds help them to find the road I have prepared”.
The passage starts with God saying ““Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” Although in this specific passage God may be speaking to the people of Israel I think God is actually speaking to all of His people, including all modern followers of the Way. This is a call to encourage on another, and lead while following God.
We are supposed to be removing obstacles and building roads to God rather than placing them in people’s paths so that finding Him is difficult. Both the people of Israel, and many modern God followers, are pretty good at obscuring the road and placing obstacles. Some of the obstacles we place are subtle like the traditions and forms that we all find comfort in during worship or gatherings. All of these “altar decorations” are not in themselves bad. They are an important part of our life together, but that they can make a curious God-seeker feel lost and alone.
So how can we “build the road” and “remove obstacles” while still providing a spiritually rich experience for those who are already “on the road”. This is a very important question that gets to the core of our identity as God-followers. I wish I had a good answer. The passage does provide some help. The answer is God in us and with us: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite”
God wants to us be contrite and lowly in spirit. I had to look up the word contrite to try to understand what God is getting at here. One of the most interesting definitions I found was that contrite means a “crushed heart”. So apparently we have to allow our souls to be “broken” by God, almost as if we were a wild stallion that was being trained and “broken”. Being the rebellious sheep that we are we tend to chafe at this idea that our spirit or soul could be “trained”, but that is exactly what God seems to be saying.
God does not leave us to struggle alone with our “broken heart”, He says He “will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near”. So God needs, as AW Tozer puts it, “children of the burning heart”, but all of these working together to build roads and remove obstacles must first be broken to work correctly. This is one of the many paradoxes in the bible. We must acknowledge we are broken to work correctly, admit we are lost to be found, and see the bars of our jail cell to be set free.
Those who refuse to be broken, what God refers to as the “wicked”, they “are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud….There is no peace…for the wicked.” So it is our choice, we can run free and choose our own will over God’s will, but we will eventually grow tired and weary of treading water in a tossing sea full of mire and mud.
Prayer: God help us to allow our hearts to be broken for You so that we can be effective road builders and obstacle removers for those seeking to find You.