Reading this (Isaiah 50:10-51:1) struck a sudden chord…
“Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;”
The first thing that the Lord seemed to be saying was this: that the good intentions of people, Christians included, is never enough. Our own power is not good enough. Not only that, but it is clearly a sin, as those who “walk in the light of [their own] fires and… torches” are destined to “lie down in torment.” If it was not sin, then God would not judge it. These verses are clearly a warning: relying on ourselves, even to do good, to make our own light by fires or “provid[ing] [our]selves with flaming torches” is a terrible mistake. We can not, indeed must not, be self reliant. Instead we should “trust in the name of the Lord and rely on [our] God”. The image here is of a dangerous journey undertaken at night. God asks us if we really trust Him and takes our hand to lead us on. We may say yes, but then if eventually we listen to that little voice that says “you can’t see the next step” and ask the Lord to wait a moment while we make our own light, then we do not really trust Him so well, do we? The good news is that He is entirely (100%) reliable and trusting His plan rather than our own schemes, ideas and intelligence is many thousands of times better. He is good to us and His Spirit is with us, even to the end of the age.
A secondary thought is some have told me that the answer in the Christian life is never “try harder” which seems to fit with the first idea. However, looking into Isaiah 51, verse 1, we can see that we are to “pursue righteousness” and “seek the Lord” (indeed comfort and the Lord’s compassion are promised to those in these circumstances, later on in the chapter). Our efforts then, can not possibly win us salvation. But it really is not a sin to give it all you have got, in terms of seeking righteousness and the Lord! Christians really are called to try hard! Or was it easy for Christ to be crucified, or to withstand His temptation in the desert? Should we not struggle as our Master did? Especially since in Him we have assurance of victory! For on the cross the war was won. Surely we can be expected to fight on in battles, but in His strength and not our own!