It’s just a purple spiral notebook, well-worn and nondescript. But it contains my personal history with the book of Isaiah. All I really knew about Isaiah was that it held precious prophecies—a virgin shall conceive, unto us a child is born, despised and rejected, a man of sorrows. And the famous vision of God’s throne room that resulted in Isaiah crying out, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”
I set my sights on becoming more familiar with Isaiah—not the facts and time lines and interpretations; I intended to look for God in the pages. I decided to read one chapter every day. My plan was to select one verse from the reading and copy it into the notebook. I’m a big believer in writing the verse down as a way of implanting its essence into my mind.
I remember feeling presumptuous at the time. It seemed wasteful to write one verse on a sheet of paper and then the next day ignore the remaining blank lines and move onto the next sheet of paper. I added no comments with the verse, just the date in the margin. I have a big phobia about journaling. Nevertheless, I had decided to tackle becoming more familiar with God by becoming more familiar with Isaiah. When I look back on the dates, I guess it must have been my New Year’s resolution for 1996.
I didn’t spend much time chasing cross-references. I didn’t consult any commentaries. At the end of the 66 pages, nothing is written to summarize what I gained from my survey. (Note I didn’t say 66 days. According to the dates in the margin, I needed about 90 days to complete the project.)
About a year later, I decided to repeat the process. I considered choosing a different Bible book, but my experiment with Isaiah seemed unfinished. I took the purple spiral notebook off my shelf. I left it closed while I opened my Bible and read one chapter. I wondered if I would automatically recognize last year’s verse, but I rarely did. I selected a meaningful verse, opened the purple notebook, and compared my choice with last year’s choice. I wrote the date in the margin and copied the chosen verse underneath the previous one. During the daily process I would chat with God about my thoughts and his—compensating for my unwillingness to journal.
The purple notebook stayed on the shelf for a few years. Then in 2000, I decided to revisit Isaiah. I don’t remember why. But I did realize both the method and the content had brought me closer to God. So I met God in Isaiah a third time, reading one chapter a day, selecting one verse from the chapter to ponder and record in the notebook.
Nearly 15 years later, I can be a walking advertisement for Isaiah and his God. Isaiah was a vivid artist: the vineyard in chapter 5, the desert bursting into bloom in chapter 35, the wings of eagles in chapter 40, the well-watered garden in chapter 58, and the mighty warrior coming to avenge his people in 63.
Isaiah poured out the heart of God in his invitations: “Come now, let us reason together. . . . Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:18).
“Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5).
“Come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” (55:1).
“Come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (55:3).
Isaiah didn’t write songs like David. But his words are found in dozens of familiar hymns and choruses. Where would Handel’s Messiah be without these inspired words (all from the King James Version)? “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (40:5); “For unto us a Child is born” (9:6); “All we like sheep have gone astray” (53:6).
If Isaiah were our only hymnbook, we could be more than satisfied and thrilled with the choices available:
“Holy, Holy, Holy”
“It Is Well With My Soul”
“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”
“Mighty to Save”
“No Eye Hath Seen”
“The Redeemed of the Lord Shall Return”
“The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands”
“On Eagle’s Wings”
“Peace Like a River”
“Safe Am I”
“Dwelling in Beulah Land”
When I started my journey with Isaiah, my favorite was chapter 40, with the “Comfort, comfort my people” and “Do you not know? . . . The Lord is the everlasting God. . . . He will not grow tired or weary.” I found encouragement in the grandeur of God.
Then I found an oasis of renewal in chapter 58, “He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden” (v. 11). It took years, however, for me to realize that those lovely promises were conditional. The message of chapter 58 is to have active compassion, “Loose the chains of injustice . . . share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (vv. 6, 7).
I confess how Bible study often works for me. I find a passage that brings comfort, shelter, and encouragement. I memorize and savor it. Then eventually I read the surrounding context and find I have work to do: actions and attitudes to adjust. Chapter 43 is another example of finding a comforting thought and then realizing it is tied to a challenging admonition. For more than a decade I rejoiced over, “You are precious and honored in my sight” (v. 4). That verse came to me at a time when I viewed myself as a soldier in God’s army. I had somehow given up on being personally connected to God as my father and shepherd. It took a long time to reformat my works-based theology and recognize myself as a beloved daughter of the King.
Currently I can’t get away from “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (43:7) along with “The people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (43:21). Because God’s love is lavished upon me, I am able and called to give him glory and proclaim him to those who need that same love I receive. Isaiah has brought me so near to the throne and heart of God. I have found healing for my brokenness and glorious purpose to live beyond myself.
It started with a purple notebook and one verse a day.
Nancy Karpenske is women’s ministry director at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.