Remove the Obstacles!
In our world today, we see nation after nation becoming “dechristianized”—removing all Christian influences or characteristics. Many believers around the globe live in fear for their lives due to persecution. Here in the United States, the spiritual framework that has been a hallmark since our country’s founding erodes with every passing generation.
The condition of our nation could be compared to that of Judah during the time of the prophet Isaiah. He lamented Judah’s spiritual condition in Isaiah 57. In the first verse of that chapter we read, “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart.” That is certainly reflected in society today, where our historically strong Christian traditions are disappearing not only as a result of direct opposition, but also from neglect.
Isaiah went on to decry the wickedness, idolatry, and spiritual adultery of the people of Judah. Their sin was not a failure to be religious; it was that they practiced a form of religion that accommodated their depraved condition. The debauchery with which they worshipped their gods was disgusting and licentious. The sins of Sodom were openly practiced, a problem that also exists in our country today.
Isaiah referred to Judah’s condition as adultery because the people had departed from the true God with whom they had a covenant, and devoted themselves to other gods instead. We can see why Isaiah lamented! As God looks upon this world today, He must lament. He must cry in his heart and weep over what He sees taking place and the general condition of the human race.
Trust in the Lord makes a person secure, while trust in anything else ends in ruin. It was not too late for Judah to trust in God, and it is not too late for people today to cry out to God—to put their trust in Him.
However, Judah’s situation was not without hope. Isaiah went on to speak for God, “He that putteth his trust in me [God] shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain.” Trust in the Lord makes a person secure, while trust in anything else ends in ruin. It was not too late for Judah to trust in God, and it is not too late for people today to cry out to God—to put their trust in Him.
When a person meets God’s conditions, God will provide a remedy. That was the message of hope Isaiah offered the people of Judah. Continuing on in verse 14, we read what they needed to do in order to obtain that remedy: “Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.” God was telling them, “Remove the obstacles; level the hills; take out the obstructions.” Their idols had been stumbling blocks that stood in the way between them and the true God. If they would remove those obstacles, they would find a path to God.
That is what we must do in our lives—remove any hindrances to getting a prayer through. It is not necessary to have obstacles in the way, because God is faithful to reveal to us when hindrances exist. Though those around us may be unaware of what impediments exist in our spiritual lives, the Spirit of God is faithful to reveal them. He tells us, “There is something in the way—a deterrent that needs to be dealt with in your life.” He encourages us, “Cast ye up, cast ye up.” Remove the hindrance! Prepare the way!
When I was a young boy, we lived on a farm where we obtained the water for our house from a well. In time, the Umpqua Water Basin Association made water available to the properties on Quail Lane where our home was located, but the homeowners needed to tap into that source. Dad had four healthy boys, so he gave us the assignment of digging a ditch, eighteen inches deep, from the street to our house. This was a distance of thirty yards or so. Although there were four boys in our family, I do not remember where the other three were! It was the middle of summer, and dad sent me out with a pick and shovel. The ground was quite rocky, and laced with roots from the big oak trees on our property. In short, there were obstacles in those thirty yards—a lot of obstacles! It took hard work to clear them out, but eventually that ditch was dug and pipes laid so water could flow to our house.
We want a clear path for God’s blessing to flow from where He is to where we are. If we do our part, God will do His.
We want a clear path for God’s blessing to flow from where He is to where we are. If we do our part, God will do His. In verse 15, Isaiah continued, “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
The prophet correctly recognized the vast difference between God’s position and ours. God is high; we are low by comparison. He is all-powerful and we are weak. It is no shame to acknowledge our helplessness before God. In fact, in order to obtain an answer from Him, we must acknowledge our helplessness. It is not in our power to do what only God can do. A sinner who is bound and shackled by sin has no means of deliverance apart from looking to the Savior. That is why Jesus is called the Savior! He delivers us. He unshackles us. He sets us free!
Humility is something we accomplish for ourselves. It is to empty ourselves, to relinquish self-governing, to come to a point where we realize we need God.
Let’s look again at Isaiah’s statement that God dwells with the one who is of a “contrite and humble spirit.” It is important to distinguish between the words “contrite” and “humble.” In the original language, contrite implies to be broken, crushed, beaten small, or trodden down. That is what life tends to do to us. We try to avoid being broken by circumstances, but the pressures of life bear down at times on every individual, and breaking happens. In contrast, humility means “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” Humility is something we accomplish for ourselves. It is to empty ourselves, to relinquish self-governing, to come to a point where we realize we need God.
The problem with most people is not a lack of self-esteem, but a lack of yielding to God. We must get to a point of contrition and humility in order to obtain the answer we need from Him. Then when that answer comes, we realize the solution was not of ourselves but from the God of Heaven who enables us and gives us strength for living.
In the New Testament, the Apostle James addressed the need for humility, saying, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). He went on in subsequent verses to describe how to obtain that grace, instructing, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” Verse 9 reads, “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.” He was drawing a picture of the contrition and humility that are needed when we approach God.
When life bears down, some people resist contrition and humility. They think they can pull themselves through and handle challenges on their own. However, life proves that we cannot do it on our own. In fact, attempting to do so is unnecessary! God will provide the grace to help us if we call upon Him. Accessing that help begins with separating ourselves from all that James described earlier in chapter 4—all that is ungodly, and thus is an obstacle to living the kind of life God intends for us to live.
Revival is not the goal. It is not even an indicator of spiritual success! The true measure of success is how one lives between revivals. That is what really matters.
Looking again at Isaiah 57:15, we read that God is willing “to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” That word revive means “to restore to life; to give new strength or energy to.” There certainly is a blessing in seeking spiritual revival. However, revival is not the goal. It is not even an indicator of spiritual success! The true measure of success is how one lives between revivals. That is what really matters.
A number of years ago, there was a knock on the door of our house, and when I opened it, I found six young people who wanted to talk with me. Several years earlier, I had had oversight of our church youth camp for two or three years. These young people had been mischievous during one of those youth camps, and they wanted to apologize.
The fact is, I probably viewed their behavior a little differently than they did. To me, they were pretty much acting their age; what they did was not life-threatening or even youth-camp threatening at all. In fact, I did not even have a strong memory of the actions they apologized for, which tells you how little it affected me when it happened.
However, it affected them. The Lord was telling them, “Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way” and they wanted to prepare the way for the Lord to let the blessings of Heaven flow. Those young people are in our church congregation today and are involved in our church ministries. They wanted to remove the obstacle, God honored that desire in their hearts, and the results have been long-lasting. Let’s take their example to heart. We want to prepare the way and make sure there are no hindrances in our paths to God.
Several hundred years after Isaiah’s admonition, John the Baptist quoted his words: “As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6). John was emphasizing his theme of repentance by referring to how a king’s servants would go before him and prepare the road so the king could pass from one place to the next without hindrance. We are not clearing a path on earth but a path to our hearts for the King of kings and the Lord of lords!
Each one of us has the power to prepare an environment in our personal lives where God can work. We can make a way free of obstructions between ourselves and God. Today, if something comes to your mind that stands between you and the Lord, we encourage you, “Cast ye up, cast ye up! Prepare the way!” When God speaks to you, act upon what He reveals. Do not delay in taking the necessary steps. Do not delay in praying that prayer. Look Heaven’s way and clear out the obstruction, and see what God will do!