I was still a teenager when some of the older leaders in my church included me in a meeting I’ll never forget. As they debated the profound and the mundane, pouring out their love for God and his church together, I remember having an unsettling sense that if my generation didn’t do something, if I didn’t do something, the real possibility existed that the church – the hope of the world, as Bill Hybels says – could literally disappear.
That thought so disturbed and overwhelmed me that I refused a ride home and walked five kilometres down a dark country road. There were no street lights, just a bright, clear moon. God and I talked, and I knew my life needed to start making a difference. I told the Lord, my Lord, that I would do whatever I could with my life for his purposes in the world, not mine. It was a watershed experience for me.
The kingdom advances
There’s a sliver of arrogance in what I just shared, and it’s only a couple decades later that I see it. The future of the church does not depend on me. God invites me to know him first and join his mission, but the mission does not rest with me, or anyone else for that matter. The kingdom advances; it cannot be stopped. The gates of hell are constantly on the defensive as the King marches onward. So, it was a little presumptuous and naïve of me in my youthful exuberance to think that somehow the church would fade into memory like a TV drama that had run its course if I didn’t wake up and shape up.
And, yet, there’s that strangely inspiring self-confession of Isaiah. He meets the Holy One, he is disgusted by his own filth, and he overhears the self-conversing of God about the mess his people are in, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). It’s as if God is asking who cares. It’s as if the whole enterprise does hinge on someone.
Isaiah rises. Like a child in class who stretches his arm while “oh-oh-ing” for the teacher to see, the one in need of atonement volunteers his life to serve and becomes the prophet. Isaiah needs God, and God sees that his people need Isaiah. In the mystery of all things holy, God does need us. He needs us to see him for who he is, and he needs us to care.
Stoke the fire
So now I wonder, who cares? Is there any observable passion in me that pokes and stokes the fire in those who come after me? I pray this is so.
And, as I observe a texting, distracted, over-stimulated, pleasure-seeking, shoulder-shrugging generation emerging two decades after my awakening on a darkened side road, I confess I am wondering who cares. I know they are out there – I have seen them; they spur me on – and I suppose in writing this I hope even one will hear the invitation of the same One who called Isaiah, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
Who really cares about the church and her mission? Who can’t sleep because of what might happen to her if someone doesn’t do something? My generation and those above me have lots to offer, but we live in a world we often don’t understand. Where are the next caring ones who see what can and must be, and will serve with the whole of life, in a diversity of vocations and locations for as long as it takes for a new awakening to become reality, even if it takes a lifetime? Even if, as the Lord challenged Isaiah, only a stump of what is now remains (Isaiah 6:13)?
Those who respond to that invitation, must truly, deeply, unavoidably, care.