As a teenager and new believer, I often echoed Isaiah’s words, “Here I am, send me!” Lord, I’ll go anywhere, do anything, sacrifice my all for you. Now I know better.
I’ve grown up so much in over four decades as a Christian. I’ve grown into a more mature faith. Now I can search my Bible for the occasions when someone says to God, “Here I am,” and see the reality of where that leads. When five different people dare to use that phrase in the Old Testament, the Lord asks them to do something scary, something painful, and/or something hard nearly every time.
The Five “Here I Am” Statements
Abraham is the first to utter the words, “Here I am.” He’s been following God faithfully for many years, and God has miraculously provided a son for him in his old age. One day, the Lord calls to him. Abraham says, “Here I am.” God tells him to kill his only son to prove his devotion and trust. Maybe Abraham should have asked God what he wanted before using those three dangerous words. Wouldn’t that be the mature thing to do? The Lord makes up for it, though, when his angel calls to Abraham as Issac lies bound on the altar, gets the “Here I am” response, and tells him not to follow through with his sacrifice after all.
A couple of generations later, Jacob says, “Here I am” when God speaks to him (Genesis 31:11). His father-in-law, Laban, has been taking advantage of Jacob’s agreement to work for him. The Lord has decided that it’s time to put an end to the abuse. But does he change Laban’s heart, bring peace between the two of them, and grant Jacob an easy life? No. He tells him to go back to his native land. The place where Jacob believes his angry brother Esau is likely to be waiting to attack Jacob for swindling him out of his inheritance. Scary.
Toward the end of his life, Jacob, renamed Israel, has a second “Here I am” encounter with God in Genesis 46:2. This time the purpose of the conversation is reassurance. He’s on his way to Egypt with his children and their families, heading for security in a time of famine, but afraid of what he might find. Is that man who sent for him really his long-lost son, Joseph? Will he really forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery? Or will he avenge himself on them, destroying most of Israel’s family? God comes to him in his need and encourages him not to be afraid to go to Egypt. He repeats his promise to make him into a great nation and assures him that he will indeed see Joseph.
One of the most famous “Here I am” moments is when God calls to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3:4. He has chosen Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land. As God explains the assignment, Moses’s eagerness quickly fades. He’s so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that he responds with, “Who am I . . . If . . . If . . . I am not . . .” and finally, “Please send anyone else whom you wish to send.” He gets a companion for the task at hand, but he doesn’t manage to evade the task in total.
Samuel is a child who doesn’t yet know the Lord when God calls to him in 1 Samuel 3. He says, “Here I am,” to his boss, Eli the priest, assuming that’s whose voice he heard. Three times God calls. Three times Samuel goes to Eli. Eventually Eli realizes what’s happening. Following his instructions, Samuel receives the word of the Lord. He’s just a child. Yet God reveals to him that he’s about to judge Eli and his family severely for their failure to serve him faithfully. What’s poor Samuel to do? He ends up telling Eli everything. Tough position for one so young.
Last of all is Isaiah. He has an incredible vision of the Lord on his throne. This time, God doesn’t specifically call him—Isaiah actually volunteers. Once the words are out, then God sends him to give Israel a message of judgment, condemnation, and destruction. Not likely to make him popular among his friends and family.
As a baby Christian full of idealism it was so easy for me to muster the words of Isaiah and volunteer an empassioned, “Here I am. Send me.” Like waving my hand frantically in school when I wanted the teacher to call on me. It’s harder now. With more sorrow, more failures, more deaths under my belt, it’s more difficult to intentionally walk into a fearful situation.
Yes, I have more experience with the Lord’s kindness and strength and grace and goodness. Yes, I’ve grown in my faith and trust in God. But I’ve also grown in my awareness of the hurts and how very deep inside me they can reach. I’ve had more encounters with the stress of change and loss. With every step I take, I cringe a little bit, knowing that more suffering lies ahead.
If I say, “Here I am. Send me,” will God put me in another painful situation? Can I say it in all honesty? Or have I grown up to the point where I know better now? The world measures my growth in terms of learning to look out for myself. It applauds me for indulging in more self-care, for seeking more comfort and less suffering. It tells me that I’ve given enough. At my age, it’s my turn to sit back and let others do the hard work.
In contrast, God measures my growth in terms of becoming more like Jesus. Jesus loves deeply, he gives generously, he has compassion for his creation, he embodies the fruit of the Spirit. That’s the Jesus I want to be like. The feel-good side of following him.
But he also voluntarily suffered more than I will ever understand. He took on human flesh with all its hurts and needs. He died an agonizing death as he hung on the cross bearing the sins of the world. He gave sacrificially. This is what God wants to see in me: both the good fruit and the willingness to sacrifice.
When I think of the potential loss involved in saying, “Here I am,” and meaning it, I have to ask which is more precious to me: buying into the world’s comfortable definition of maturity, or growing in my likeness to Jesus? The answer is both easy and difficult. Difficult because I honestly want a life free from trouble and sorrow, and I know that God’s way may lead to greater suffering. Easy because I know that, as I’ve followed him for more than forty years, I have no regrets about where he’s led me. He’s grown me in the most valuable way—in the depth and the power and the peace and the joy of my relationship with him.
Here I am, Lord. Send me.
Cover image by Jamie Templeton.