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When God Says "Here I Am"
Scripture: Isaiah 58:9
Track 2 of 7 in the Transforming Story: As We Tell It series
Running time: 36 minutes, 48 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Here I Am"

It was the year that Judah's king, Uzziah, died. Isaiah was apparently worshiping and saw God. In the midst of that encounter God asked, "Who will go for me?" Isaiah responded, "Hineni" or "Here I am." I've always marveled at Isaiah's willing spirit.

"Hineni" occurs again in Isaiah's writings. Only this time it isn't Isaiah speaking, it's God. Yahweh, "I AM," replies to Israel's cries. "I AM" says, "Here I Am." I marvel even more at God's willingness to hear us.

The context of this promise is clear. Isaiah 58:1-5 describes Israel's false (ill-conceived) worship. They were going through the motions--fasting; but their hearts and minds were not in it. They were correct in the outward action . . . but far from right in their motives. They believed that doing the right thing produced favor with God.

In verses 6-8 God describes the true worship He desires. It reflects not certain "religious acts" but rather righteous, just actions. It means acting like God might act in any given situation. When men decide to do that, then God says . . . "Here I Am." It is not merely outward acts that God desires . . . He wants our hearts.

The remainder of the chapter highlights the positive actions God would perform. If we reflect His heart, then our worship is pleasing to Him, then we are in a position for His promise, "Here I Am."

Do you ever wonder where God is? Do you ever wonder why your prayers seem ineffectual? Could it be that you are depending on outward actions . . . religious rites? Could it be that your actions are not reflective of God's heart? Could it be that when you begin to seek the hurting of the world and providing justness for all men that God will more frequently say, "Here I Am?"

It was September the first, 1983. I was driving down Woodlawn in Lincoln, right next to Lowdan County fairgrounds. I was driving an old beat-up Toyota station wagon. I remember this like it was happening to me right now. The news was on, and the announcement came that flight KAL007 had been shot down over Southern Russia. A Korean airliner. I remember it getting my attention and I remember hearing the announcer say, "There were two-hundred and sixty-nine people on board, all of whom died." And then he said, "There were only sixty-one who were Americans." And I heard myself audibly go, "Whewww." And then it was as if God Himself spoke in my heart and said, "Why did you do that? Do you think that Korean mothers who just lost a child or Korean wives who just lost a husband don't hurt like Americans hurt? Do you think that the other people on that airline are not just as devastated in their families as you are, as American?" It was my first encounter with being ethnocentric and knowing it, believing that my particular culture was the most valuable culture in the world. It was the first time I really recognized, looked at square in the face, my own self-centeredness. And I started on a journey of making this my prayer: God would you help me become a world-Christian? Would you help me become more sensitive to the rest of world? In December of this year at the University of Illinois there will be the tri-annual conference that is simply called "Urbana" this year it will be "Urbana 2006." It is the largest college-age missions conference in the world. Regularly they have John Stott, the great Anglican from Great Britain. He made this comment at one of those Urbana conferences; it is indelibly etched in my mind. He says, "We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God." I'm gonna ask you to do something several times this morning, so I might as well forewarn you now, I'm gonna ask you to pray. I'm gonna give you a multitude of options. You can pray just silently, I would say "to yourself," but obviously you're not praying to yourself, you're praying to God. Or you could turn to the person next to you and you could pray together. Maybe you want to pray quietly together. Maybe you want to pray out loud just where you are. Please feel free to pray any way you choose. But several times this morning, I'm gonna ask you to make this the focus of what we do this morning. To simply ask God if He will not do what He promises to do, and that is to open our eyes to the rest of the world. So would you join me for just a moment, it will not be a long pause, but I would like to ask you to join me in praying that God would make us world-Christians. That we would become sensitive to the people around us, and a whole lot less self-centered. Particularly to those outside of our immediate realm, the U.S. Would you pray with me?

(Time of prayer)

One of my favorite texts, one of the most influential texts that I have ever come across is the sixth chapter of Isaiah. You may remember that particular text, it's the year that King Uzziah died and Isaiah said "I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, exalted in the temple." There was this magnificent experience of being in the throne room of God. There were seraphim that were flying around, two of them flying, two with six wings. Two with which they flew, two with which they covered their eyes and two with which they covered their feet. In the midst of that, they heard a voice that said, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory." And Isaiah said, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." In that context, God sends one of the seraphim over to the altar where he takes a coal with a pair of tongs and he brings it over and he touches Isaiah's lips and he says, "With this you have been cleansed. Your sins have been forgiven." And then God asks this profound question, "Who will go for Me?" Many of you know the answer to that question, Hi there, by the way. I'm not used to having people behind me. (Referencing the choir sitting on stage.) You know the answer to that question, right? When God said, "Who will go for Me?" Isaiah, maybe naively, says, "Here I am, send me." It's really a remarkable little word that you're gonna get to learn this morning. You may have heard it, I think I may have even told it to you before. It's the Hebrew word, heh-nay-nee. Are you ready? On the count of three, we're all going to say that, heh-nay-nee. One, two, three, heh-nay-nee. It means "here I am." That's a dangerous kind of word when you put it in your mouth, because what you're saying to God is, "Heh-nay-nee, here I am." But I want you to come to Isaiah 58 where this word occurs again in Isaiah's account of his prophecy. Isaiah 58 We'll get to the bulk of the chapter here in a few minutes, but I want you to come to the middle of verse number nine, because we're gonna run into this word again in this really incredible context where Isaiah says, speaking for God, verse number nine: "You will call, and the Lord will answer. You will cry for help and He will say, ‘Heh-nay-nee.'" Here I am. Same word, only instead of us saying it to God out of submission to Him, here God says, "You call to me, you ask me, you seek me, and I will say to you, ‘Here I am.'" It's a word that implies literally being present with you. I am here with you. So my question is, is it really true? Does God really hear the voice of His people? Do we genuinely believe it when we pray that God hears our cry? And Isaiah would say a profound and strikingly loud "YES!" Heh-nay-nee, I'm here.

I wanna bring that to our context as we start what we're doing now, talking about the Great Commission, talking about the church telling the story. And I'm gonna pursue this a great deal more next Sunday, but for now, let me just tell you that one of the things that has to happen in the life of the church is a keen awareness that God hears the voice of His people as they call on behalf of those who don't yet know Him. I'll tell you this story in more detail next week, I'll just tell you this now; I was prayed into the Kingdom. I had no Christian influence in my life. I didn't grow up in family that knew Jesus. But I did have two people who prayed for me every single day for twelve years, that I would become a Christian. Does God hear and answer the prayers of His people? I would say a profound "YES!" Some of you have heard of George Meuller. A man probably most famous because of his orphanage and his prayers, and how he would simply pray for provision, never once asked anybody for help, and God would simply continue daily to provide for him. He makes this comment in one of his writings, it's quoted by John Piper. Meuller says, "I am now in eighteen sixty-four waiting upon God for certain blessings for which I have daily besought Him for nineteen years and six months without one day's intermission. Since the full answer is not yet given concerning the conversion of certain individuals. In the meantime, I've received many thousands of answers to prayer, I have also prayed daily without intermission for the conversion of other individuals about ten years, for others six or seven years, for others four, three, and two, for others about eighteen months, and still the answer has not yet been granted concerning these persons whom I have prayed for for nineteen-and-a-half years. Yet I daily continue in prayer and expect the answer. Be encouraged, dear Christian, with fresh earnestness to give yourself to prayer if you can only be sure that you ask for things which are for the glory of God." Here's the question that I want to raise, do you have someone that you're willing to pray for nineteen-and-a-half years for? Is there somebody out there that you want to know Jesus deeply enough that you would commit them to prayer every day, in Meuller's words, "without intermission." And I'm gonna ask you to take a minute right now and pray for that person. And if God has not laid on your heart one of those people, then just simply pray that that's what God does. That He brings for you to mind a person that you need to pray for. Let's pray for those folk who need Jesus.

(Time of prayer)

So is it really true? Does God really listen to His people? Does He really answer our prayers? Does He really pay attention, and again I would tell you Isaiah says this profound "YES," and He makes this promise, that God will say, when His people cry, "Heh-nay-nee, here I am." I think I've told you this story before, I'll just remind it of you briefly. Back in nineteen eighty-six and eighty-seven we invited Doug Glucus, president of Team Expansion to come teach on our campus. And he introduced us to the concept of the ten-forty window. The ten-forty window is the tenth and fortieth parallels. It runs all the way from Africa across the Middle East and Asia around over China. It's the most least-reached people in the entire world. Out of the six billion people in the world, by the way, over half of them live in that little window. Most of them are poverty-stricken. Very, very few of the know Jesus. Most of them are of some other animistic, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim religion. And the question is how in the world do you reach them? How do you get to them? When you and I can't go? I mean, Kazakhstan isn't exactly on our map. I was standing at the table drying dishes in Vienna at TCM when Nehai, the president of the Bible college in Moldova, was talking about the fact that Moldavians, while they cannot often get out of Moldova to the west, have absolutely no trouble going from Moldova to the east. Moldova is on the borderline between what we know as Eastern Europe and what they call Central Asia. They are right in the heart of the ten-forty window, and they are preparing forty people who already know the language, who already know the culture, who don't even need a Visa to cross into all of those countries. And I'm gonna ask you, do you really think that God answers our prayer for the ten-forty window which we have now been praying for twenty years? Yes, He does. Heh-nay-nee, here I am. You ask, and I'll do it.

That is the heart of this particular text, to realize that God is this One who says if you will call to me, if you will pay attention to me, if you will seek out what is best, I will answer your prayer. But you don't have to just pray for people in the ten-forty window. It's not like they're the only people in the world, though that is certainly the vast majority of the people. There are, in our community, people untouched by the Gospel of Jesus. That's hard to imagine, given that sixty Protestant churches exist in this town, and I don't know how many Catholic churches. The Gospel is not exactly hidden in our community. And yet we have people right here in our own county who don't know who Jesus is, who never have an experience of faith, of church, of the grace that God gives to the rest of us. The question is, are we really willing to be the people who will go to the unreachable in our own town? In our own community? And again, I'm gonna ask you to pray. Pray that God makes us sensitive to the very people around us who, like those in Central Asia, don't hear the Gospel. Not because it isn't available, just because nobody's saying it in their hearing. Would you pray for the un-reached people of our own community, that the Gospel might touch them?

(Time of prayer)

So, does God really listen to His people? If you don't believe that He does, then what you've just been doing probably is not a particularly important thing to do. Come to Isaiah 58, we're gonna quickly look at this text, and then we're gonna take a break and I'll come back and finish up later. Look at the first part of Isaiah fifty-eight with me. He says, "Shout it loud. Don't hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to My people their rebellion, and to the house of Jacob their sin. For day after day, they seek Me out, they seem eager to know My ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask Me for just decisions and they seem eager for God to come near them. "Why, why have we fasted," they say, "and You don't see it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?" Do you hear what they're saying? We're doing all the right things, we're going through all the right motions, we're in the right place at the right time, doing the right stuff, why is it that You're not paying attention to us? Why is it that it seems that God isn't hearing them when they seem to be doing all the right things? In the middle of verse three, he says, "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please. You exploit your workers. You're fasting ends with quarrels and strife and striking each other with wicked fists. You can't fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast that I've chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for the bowing of one's head like a reed or lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast? A day acceptable to the Lord?" And you hear him saying, what it is that you're doing isn't what is right. Because there's something wrong inside. It isn't that the external action is bad; it's the fact that the heart is not engaged in the act. You're going through the right motion, you're skipping a meal, you're not doing the stuff that's supposed to be done, you're not eating, that's fasting, but instead of that producing something good in your life, instead you still…quarrel with one another and you're still not acting like My people. You have not engaged the heart. And so He says, in verse number six, "Is not this the kind of fasting I've chosen? To loose the chains of injustice, to untie the chords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, to break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, when you see him naked, clothe him, to not turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then, then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear, then your righteousness will go before you, and glory of the Lord will be your rear guard, then you will call, and the Lord will answer. Then," he says, "you will cry for help and He will say, heh-nay-nee." He will answer us when we begin to live like we're supposed to live, when our heart is engaged with the thing that God is calling us to be engaged with, when we have given ourselves fully to concern over people. See, the difficulty that you and I face, in all honesty, the difficulty that you and I face, is that it's easy to be externally a Christian, to go through the right motions. Why, you can come to church every Sunday, and if we gave out attendance pins, you could drag them on the floor, because you never missed a day. You can get up in the morning and have your devotional time or in the evening, and you can pray before all of your meals, and you can bow your head in a restaurant, you can tithe of your check every week, you can pour yourself into all the external actions, not one of which is wrong. But if you can't see the injustice, if you can't sense the difficulty of people, if it doesn't haunt you to know that somebody went to bed hungry last night, or slept on one of our streets, then your heart is not where God's heart is. It's not that He's unconcerned about those other things, it's just that He can't quite figure out how the people who claim to be His, to live like Him, to see like Him, to think like Him, to love like Him, can't see the world the way He sees the world. Yet you know, and I know, that it's distinctly possible to never see or smell poverty, just to drive right by it, to never be hurt by injustice that happens to somebody else, to never shed a tear over the child who cries himself to sleep because of the family issues that they're facing, to just be comfortable in our own little world. Now, I'm gonna ask you if you have the courage to pray with me that God will begin to break our heart over the things that break His heart. The guys that are gonna take up the offering, the men and women who serve us in that way will start getting ready now while we do this prayer we'll be able, then, to take up our offering this morning. Father, I have absolutely no doubt that there are people all around me that I miss every day. I just have no doubt that I have walked past people who were hurting and I didn't sense it in their eyes. That I've been in the company of people who had a story to tell and I didn't have the time to listen, and I'm praying, God, that somehow, You help us to become sensitive to the world in the way that you're sensitive to it, that we begin to see with Your eyes. Father, help us to hurt with Your heart, so that our fasting, whatever form that takes, whether it's skipping a meal, or going to church, or doing our devotions, is never just an external act. But that it, in fact, becomes a matter of the heart. And then we'll claim Your promise, to be heard by You. Amen.

There's a lot of ways that you can give, this is just one of them. Our men and women are gonna come and take up the offering, and you're certainly encouraged to give as a statement of your generosity and your concern, go ahead and start guys, it's fine to begin coming. I just want to share a story with you, I don't have permission to share this story, so just forget that I ever said it, okay? I should've asked, but I didn't. But one of our families, the other day, was in the store, and they happened to be following a mother with several children and…and something, blame this on God, or something, they just sensed that they should do something to help. And so when they got to the checkout stand, they walked up and said, "Would you be offended if we bought your groceries today?" And this woman smiled and thanked them and they were able to help a family in need. I don't know if I ever sense that kind of thing in God, in me, but I'm praying that maybe I can be more sensitive to that kind of generosity.

So is it really true? Does God answer when His people call? Do you really believe that? That if His people will call on His name from the heart and a life that is right, that God will actually do anything, that He'll make a difference? Somebody around here believes that. Because we believe that this congregation can take at least a hundred sacks of groceries or more this coming Wednesday night, on October the fourth. Not…not, this coming; the fourth. Well, we're gonna have to have some more people help us do that, who recognize that God, because of His faithfulness, has blessed us. And that part of that blessing has been because we've chosen to be faithful to Him. Come back to Isaiah 58, we're not done yet, with the chapter. Isaiah 58 We just got done reading that if…if Israel would pay attention, if they would do the things that God called them to do, if they would be faithful, then God would somehow recognize that as a legitimate statement of their faithfulness. And as a result, He says, you call on Me, and I will be there. The other half of verse nine, he says, "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noon day. The Lord will guide you always. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land. He will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations. You will be called "repairer of broken walls," "restorer of streets with dwellings." If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as your please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable, if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please, speaking idle words, then you will find joy in the Lord. And I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the Lord has spoken." Do you hear what Isaiah is trying to communicate? That if our heart is right with God, not merely the external action, not merely the keeping of a particular day, but if our heart is right, if we're sensitive to our oppressed world, if we do that which meets the needs of our fellow human beings, then God says, I will bless you. I will pour it out in your life so that you, too, can be a blessing even more. See, that's the theology about which this is built. All of Scripture seems to follow this basic trend that was announced clear back in Genesis chapter twelve. When God called that first person to start following Him faithfully, when He said to Abram, "Leave your land and go where I tell you to go," He said, "I will bless you, so that you can be a blessing to others. Through you," He says, "I'll bless the whole world." When you live your life right before God, when you say "yes" to God, when you say "yes" to the needs of people around you, when you become that generous person, who pours themselves into other people, God says, "Then…then I will bless you." And you'll just have that much more to pour into somebody else. Now I know that there are some people in this room who are not feeling blessed. I understand that. And what I'm about to tell you is not to make you feel guilty for not feeling blessed, it's just to try to put you in perspective with the rest of the world. There is this interesting calculator out on the internet, which means, of course, that it works, where you can compare yourself with the rest of the world. So I just decided to arbitrarily throw some numbers in there and see. I made us all wealthy, by Quincy standards, since the average income in Quincy is $38,000 a year, I decided to make us all wealthy and put us down at $50,000 income. If you make $50,000 a year, you are wealthier than 99% of the people in the world. I'm just gonna sit on that a minute, and you stop and think what, you've got to be kidding…no, I'm not. In fact, I decided that zero's don't count for much, so I just tossed a zero off the end of that and said, well, let's just assume that we all make $5,000 a year. You are still wealthier than 86% of the people in the world. And so I thought, well, let's see, let's just toss another zero, those don't matter much. I decided that if we all made $500 a year, we would still be wealthier than 20% of the people in the world. Every fifth person in the row that you're sitting in makes less than $500 a year. Now I realize that some places it costs more than it does some others to live, I'm not arguing that kind of random relativity. What I'm telling you is, that as a rule, for the most part, as a general rule of thumb, the people who come into our world are people that can afford to give to somebody else, most of the time. And if I can't speak for you, then I'll only speak for me. I can afford to give something away. I don't need everything I have. I can afford a bag of groceries. In fact, I could afford to take one of the bags of groceries that I normally eat and give it to somebody else and I'd still be okay. Here's what God, I think, is trying to communicate to us through Isaiah, is that He wants to come join us. He wants to hear us, He wants to be a part of us, He wants to listen...love Him really, put not just our outward external actions but our hearts on the line for Him. And allow Him to have it all, our attitude, our spirit, as well as that which we possess. Now, I want…I wanna ask you one more time to join me in praying. That God will help all of us be more generous people that we will just be more willing to allow the things that God has given to us to pass through us rather than to get put in one of our storage closets somewhere. Would you pray that with me?

(Time of prayer)

I have absolutely no doubt that God has in mind great and marvelous things through His people. It's why He works in us, it's why He does for us what He does. Because He greatly desires that we would be channels through which He can work in His world. Whether it's coming on a Wednesday and giving away a bag of groceries, or it's seeing somebody in a line that looks like they need help and you offering to help, or it's offering something to a person on a street and you know that you're getting taken advantage of. It doesn't make any difference. God is in the process of trying to say, listen, I want to work through you, I want to bless your life by making you a blessing to other people. I want for you to have the experiences that I desire for you. I know, like you do, that that's what God wants. Knowing what He wants isn't the question. It's knowing what we want that sometimes makes it hard. Do we really want what God wants? I mean, down inside, when you get right down to it, is what God wants what you want? The psalmist says that God will give us the desires of our heart. You know, sometimes I think He literally gives us that which we desire. But there have been times in my life when my prayer has had to be, don't give me what I desire; make my desires what You want to give me. Give me the right desires in my heart. I want for you to know that through the next several weeks, as we talk about what it means to give away our faith in Jesus, to tell this great Story, that we're gonna come back again and again and remind you that the story is the story of Jesus that He wants your heart. He wants all of you. And once you've given it to Him, He wants you to give it away. Give the Story to somebody else.

I want you to meet somebody this morning who is taking another step in her journey along the way. I want you to meet B. Miller. B., where are you? Right back over here. B. came to us as an immersed believer in Jesus and found Madison Park to be one of those places where she thought she could both grow and serve and we wanna welcome her this morning. (Clapping) If there are others of you who are somewhere in that journey between I just heard about Jesus, to boy I need a place to serve, you should come and talk to us. Give us a chance to help you take that next step. We're gonna stand and we're gonna sing together, and this song is really a song of deep commitment on your part. I trust that you'll sing it with a heart that is open to what God is trying to do in you today.

[Tr: Around 19 minutes there's a cut out in the audio, and then again three paragraphs from the end.]
[Transcribed by MM15]