Good morning, Friends!
I hope you’re all doing really well this week. Here in this part of North Carolina we had a lot of rain this week – four or five inches of it in some places. It was such a blessing to see the sun come out again!
We’re a couple of months into this coronavirus lockdown, and I have to say that I miss seeing you all.
I walk out every day into the empty worship room, and I can picture in my mind all the people sitting there. I miss the hymns. I miss the noise of the children. I miss the big smiles of the greeters at the front door. I miss just visiting with people.
It hurts not to see people every week, but we all know it’s for our own safety, and it’s also for the safety of people who are most vulnerable, and for the safety of the people in the hospitals who have to care for everyone who gets sick.
So, even though it’s hard on everyone, I beg you to please be patient. If you’re working again this week, don’t let your guard down. It isn’t worth anyone’s life, or anyone’s health, to rush things. Let’s be thankful for our homes, for our families, for the food on our table each day. It’s a time to count our blessings, and trust in God.
Our Scripture today is one you may have heard before. It’s a passage from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah can be kind of difficult reading, if you start at the beginning of the book and read straight through to the end. Isaiah was writing about 750 years before the birth of Jesus. And if you asked Isaiah how things were doing then, he’d say things were really bad.
The country of Israel was divided. Instead of one country, there were two countries. The north was the kingdom of Israel, the south was the kingdom of Judah. They used to be one, under King David and King Solomon, but now they were torn apart.
They’d fought with each other. They’d fought with their neighbors. Israel, the north kingdom, had fallen and been defeated, and now Judah, the south kingdom, was under attack.
Both countries had made disastrous alliances with the wrong people. Both countries suffered from corrupt leaders. Ordinary people were suffering terribly. The worship of God, that had kept the country together, was failing.
Things were a real mess. And Isaiah saw all these things clearly. God gave him a vision of the country’s present and its future, and the picture didn’t look good. That’s the background.
But Isaiah also had visions of the greatness and goodness of God. That’s important to remember. No matter how bad things are, remember that God is strong, that God has plans for a great future.
Let’s read together now, from Isaiah chapter 40.
See, the Lord Almighty comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
To give to each person what they deserve.
The Lord tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young ones.
Who among you has measured the waters of the earth in the hollow of his hand,
or with your hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
Who among you did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught the Lord the right way?
Who was it that taught the Lord knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they’re like dust on the scales;
the Lord weighs the islands as though they were sand.
Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Hasn’t it been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the world was founded?
The Lord sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are the rulers planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“To whom will you compare me?
Who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
Who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name?
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
his understanding no one can measure.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,Isaiah 40:10-31
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
That is a magnificent portrait of God. That’s what God is really like. More powerful than we can ever imagine. God’s understanding is so much greater than ours.
The first thing this reading for Isaiah opens up for me is when we pray, we re-discover the glory of God.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. . .”
This is what prayer and worship are all about. If we forget how great God is, it’s like we need to go back to kindergarten again. One of the Proverbs says, “Being in awe of God is the beginning of wisdom. . .” (Proverbs 9:10)
When we feel that the world is just us and our little problems, we need to remember how enormous the world is. And the amazing thing is that God holds both the vastness of the universe, and our own smallest thoughts together in his hand.
To wait on God is to re-discover God’s glory. I get so sick of sermons and people who forget this. When we pray, when we wait on God, when we lift up our eyes, we get glimpses of the God who made the heavens and the earth, the seas and everything that fills them.
Being in awe is one of the most basic moments of spiritual truth there is. If you haven’t been awe-struck recently, you need to go back and re-discover who God is.
The second thing I get from reading from Isaiah, is the line, which says that God “doesn’t faint or grow weary; his understanding no one can measure. . .”
Some of you have heard me say before that God’s plans don’t change. God’s plan has been the same from the very beginning. God’s plan is truth, and justice, and mercy, and peace. God’s plan is always love, and healing, and redeeming the whole world.
And God is waiting on us for the fulfillment of that plan, even as we wait on God for direction and leading.
God doesn’t get tired – God doesn’t “faint or grow weary”. And God understands what’s going on. To wait on God is to wait on God’s understanding, instead of our own.
Everyone knows that prayer isn’t just asking for things. Prayer is also waiting on God, to learn what God thinks about the whole situation, to see what God is trying to do. God is always looking for new doors to break open and reach us through.
The third point I get from this reading from Isaiah, is that there’s a relationship between waiting on God and spiritual strength.
You see it, of course, in that line, “. . .they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. . .”
That’s a great line to have handy at all times. It encourages us always to keep turning back to God.
We all get tired at times. We all lose our temper, or lose our sense of vision. We forget what it is that we’re supposed to be doing, and we forget why it was that we began in the first place.
Running dry is something which happens to all of us. The greatest people, the greatest spirits, in their autobiographies and journals, they all report dry spells and dark times, during which they doubted everything they knew about God.
“. . .but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. . .” Waiting on God is the only way to be strong. The more we hope to accomplish, the more we have to wait for God’s strength to be given to us.
I’ve known too many people who had important concerns, who didn’t take the time to let those concerns be strengthened by prayer.
I’ve known too many people who were overwhelmed by their responsibilities, because they never took time to listen to God.
They never became strong, because they never let God make them strong. They never accepted the strength of heart and mind which God wanted so much to give to them.
In this morning’s reading, when it talks about strength, it almost feels as if there’s a kind of a reverse order of things going on.
You’d think that it would start out by talking about God giving strength first of all to people who are tired out and ready to drop. Then, you’d think it would talk first about walking, then about running, and last, about flying.
But as I’ve thought about this point, it seems to me that maybe Isaiah had it right after all.
Sometimes the greatest gift is the strength that feels like an eagle’s flight. “. . .they shall mount up with wings like eagles. . .” I’ve felt that way a time or two, when it seemed as though nothing were impossible, that barriers were there only to be overcome and soared over. Waiting for God can be like that.
There’s a feeling of release and unlimited empowerment which prayer can give, and sometimes that’s what God gives us. “If God is for us, who can be against us?. . .” But that’s not the only way we feel while waiting on God, and sometimes that’s not the best gift which God can give us.
Sometimes, instead of soaring, God gives the gift of being able to “run and not be weary. . .”
That’s more earthbound, but sometimes it’s what we need. To run the race, to finish the good fight, to keep the faith, is sometimes more important than flying. To finish the race with joy can be more meaningful than all of the mystical or ecstatic flights of prayer.
And sometimes even that isn’t what we need most. It’s nice to be able to run and not be weary, it’s nice to come in first or come out ahead and hear all the congratulations, but sometimes what we need is just to get there at all. Sometimes the strength God gives is the strength simply to “walk and not faint. . .”
I hear people always talk about how they need to live “one day at a time”. And what they’re usually saying is that all they hope for, is the strength just to make it to the end of the day in one piece.
They don’t care if they don’t come in first any more. They’re not looking too far into the future. They’re just counting on God to help them to take one more step, to make it through just one more day.
If you’ve ever been in that situation, then you know what I mean. The greatest gift isn’t the strength to go fly like an eagle, or win a marathon. The greatest gift is to walk, and not faint.
I spend a lot of time talking with people who feel worthless, or powerless, or unloved. And to someone like that, the greatest gift of all is to feel the strength just to pick up your head and take one more step. “. . .Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. . .” (Psalm 23:4)
It’s the gift of someone holding your hand while you move, one inch at a time, through darkness, or loneliness, or pain. It’s the strength to do just one thing, when you don’t think you can do anything anymore.
It’s the strength to walk past temptation, when you know that you’re weak. It’s the strength to open your hand and turn it upward in thanks, when it’s clenched with pain and fear.
And all that strength, whether it’s the strength to soar, or to run, or just to take one more step, comes from waiting on God. Waiting on God in prayer is the beginning, and the end, of all wisdom.
“. . .they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. . .” To me, that means that prayer is more than just something we do every now and then, when the going gets tough.
Waiting on God isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a way of life. It’s learning to trust, it’s learning to listen, and it’s learning to walk with God.
Thank you for listening to today’s message. I hope it’s helped you, or that it will help you to help someone else.
Please pray for everyone you know who needs help.
Please pray for healing for all the people who need it.
We appreciate your support. Please call Springfield Friends, or send me an e-mail, if you have any questions, and I’ll try to answer them if I can.
May God bless you, and keep you safe and healthy.
Until we meet again, in Jesus’ name. Amen.