...at 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. Then the Lord said, "Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles..."
It's passages like these, when I first started reading through the entire Bible in middle school, that contributed to my forming a notion in the back of my mind that God might ask me to do something weird.
Maybe not as weird as the prophet Isaiah going around naked for three years to illustrate God's point. But weird in some way that would be mighty uncomfortable for my middle-school self.
I continued on in this way for a few years, reading Scripture but collecting a narrative in my mind of what seemed a bit excessive in the Christian faith. Ultimately, by mid- high school, I made an active decision of exactly how far I intended to go in my faith so as to avoid being a weird, extremist kind of Christian. I made this decision all the while loving and singing along to the megastar Christian group DC Talk's album, JesusFreak. I knew every line of the title song and sang along to the chorus,
What will people think when they hear that I'm a Jesus freak? What will people do when they find that it's true? I don't really care if they label me a Jesus freak. There ain't no disguisin' the truth.
Truth be told, however, I was no Jesus Freak. I was a middle-class suburban Christian girl living a typical middle-class suburban life, albeit one that did involve a daily morning devotional and Sunday church attendance--just the right amount of Jesus in my life.
I might have stayed that way except that Christ had a hold on my life. I started to spend increasingly longer times in prayer and study, having spent the majority of my 20s in graduate school, where sitting, reading, and engaging in monotonous research was my everyday experience. These habits translated well to a certain type of perseverance in Biblical study.
Somewhere along the way, I became aware of the block that I had set in my mind. I realized that it wasn't God's lack of interest in me that prevented my spiritual growth, but my own willful limit that I had set---"this further I will go, and no more"--to ensure that He couldn't ask me to do something really crazy that would blow up my life in some unacceptable way. I like control and wanted to retain it where I could.
I don't remember the exact year, but I remember the moment of sitting out on my back porch after hours of prayer and meditation and simply surrendering. This is maybe 30 years after my initial "asking God into my heart."
I simply released it all to Him, and told Him that whatever He wanted to make of my life, He could do. I asked for His help in releasing that barrier further and invited His Spirit to help me to knock down that wall that I had erected. I told Him that I understood that He was my loving Father and that any plan that He had would be good for me and for the world, even if it didn't initially look that way. I told Him that I trusted Him and that I trusted Him enough to give Him the reigns of my life.
Since that point, I re-surrender at various intervals each year, usually out loud, and actively re-commit to live as He would have me do, regardless of the consequences.
Happily, He has never asked me to walk around naked for three years, as He did for Isaiah.
I have recently made a life move that others in my profession would find to be ludicrous, since it involved giving up job security, an immense amount of money in terms of my children's free college attendance, and a world that I knew and understood and thrived in. It fit me like a hand in a perfectly fitted glove.
Like others who have made similar moves, however, I understood this shift both as a response to a call that God had on my life as well as a rescue that He was undertaking on my behalf. It looked ludicrous from a worldly standpoint, but He was also rescuing me from a difficult situation as well as rescuing me from myself and the continued pursuit of power and influence. Many others have done much more drastic shifts, giving up wealth, power, and influence...and they claim that they were themselves saved in the process. Not just spiritually but mentally and emotionally.
And because He had let me struggle for a number of years through a series of fires, I have come to my current place mightily trained and prepared. Things that you cannot learn in the span of time that I learned them without having struggled.
He knew all this, knew what I needed, and knew what I needed to experience so that I could be helpful to others.
I don't know why God asked Isaiah to illustrate a prophesy about captivity in such a stark (and stark naked!) way. It wasn't even for Judah exactly--it was an illustration for Egypt and Cush--although there is an implicit warning in it to Judah to (again) avoid trusting in Egypt. See a previous post on this here: https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/christians-in-cush.
Older commentaries I've found for this chapter show a disappointingly low level of Biblical and historical scholarship and get hung up on this embarrassing act; many of them claim that God would never have asked a holy person to do something like this.
I love Calvin's take, however:
A question arises, Was this actually done, or was it merely and simply a vision which he told to the people? The general opinion is, that the Prophet never went naked, but that this was exhibited to him in a vision, and only once. They allege as a reason, that on account of heat and cold, and other inconveniences of the weather, he could not have walked naked during the whole period of three years...
I pay little attention to the argument, that he was unable to endure heat and cold; for God, who commanded him to do this, could easily strengthen and protect him. But they assign another reason, that nakedness would have been unbecoming in a Prophet. I answer, this nakedness was not more unbecoming than circumcision, which irreligious men might consider to be the most absurd of all sights, because it made an exposure of the uncomely parts... It was enough that the people understood what the Lord was doing, and were affected by it as something extraordinary.
Sometimes the most embarrassing moments of our lives, when enacted in faithfulness to the Lord, are our times of most extraordinary activity. Ridicule is perhaps inevitable, but adults should perhaps take solace in the very advice we give our teenagers: If others avoid or belittle you constantly, then perhaps they're not really your friends anyway. If we avoid making necessary changes in our life or deepening our spiritual walk out of fear of peer reaction, we're no wiser than the middle school kid submerging his true self to fit in with an unhealthy peer group.
Isaiah's embarrassing three years didn't change the fact that he spoke and wrote with incredible power and beauty, and could stand before kings and peasants with aplomb and power. Likely, these three years enhanced his ability to do this.
I'll conclude with a quote from Francois Fenelon, who served in the dazzling court of French king Louis "the Sun King" XIV. His religious devotion and participation in a contemplative church movement led to him being banished from the uber-hedonistic court, and he became a pastor who notably opened his home to refugees fleeing during the War of Spanish Succession.
He wrote about completely surrendering to the Lord, setting forth a number of arguments as to why such surrender is ultimately better for us in every way:
What folly to fear to be too entirely God's! It is to fear to be too happy. It is to fear to love God's will in all things. It is to fear to have too much courage in the crosses which are inevitable, too much comfort in God's love, and too much detachment from the passions which make us miserable.
So let us scorn earthly things, to be wholly God's. I am not saying that we should leave them absolutely, because when we are already living an honest and regulated life, we only need to change our heart's depth in loving, and we shall do nearly the same things which we were doing. For God does not reverse the conditions of his people, nor the responsibilities which he himself has given them, but we, to serve God, do what we were doing to serve and please the world and to satisfy ourselves.
There would be only this difference, that instead of being devoured by our pride, by our overbearing passions, and by the malicious criticism of the world, we shall act instead with liberty, courage, and hope in God...The love of God, which will make us conscious of God's love for us, will give us wings to fly on his way and to raise us above all our troubles. If we have a hard time believing this, experience will convince us. "Come, see and taste," said David, "how sweet is the Lord."