Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, 26-31

I hope and pray that all of us have a wonderful, glorious, healthy, and prosperous and happy new year. But the truth is none of us knows what lies ahead.

For sure this year will bring the kind of bittersweet mixture Solomon wrote about in his oft-quoted passage in Ecclesiastes 3: (selected)

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die; a time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance; a time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

My goal as your pastor and friend is to spiritually prepare you for whatever your future may hold in 2018. I want to help you be enabled to face whatever is facing you with the steadfastness that comes from faith and assurance that comes from God.

To assist us in this regard I turn to the words of Isaiah the prophet, who ministered in the 6th century BC.

The Israelites started out the year 587 BC just like you and I do; with high hopes for a prosperous and happy new year. Little did they know that God would allow their land to be invaded by foreigners, that the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple would be destroyed, that many would be killed and that many more would be taken into captivity.

That event that we call ‘The Exile’ created a theological crisis. If God lived in the Temple, and the Temple was destroyed, what does that say about God? Where was God when the Babylonians attacked? More to the point, ‘Where is He now?’ these captives wanted to know.

The questions they were asking are sometimes our questions. And the questions boil down to one: “Can we trust that God is for us?”

Consider Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, 26-31 (key verse 31).

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.” Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, 
“Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!” (Isaiah 40:1-5)

O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!” Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (Isaiah 40:9-11)

Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:26-31).

Who wouldn’t want to rise above the adverse circumstances that might be facing us this year? Who wouldn’t want the strength and stamina to keep going regardless? This is the kind of Christian life we yearn for with all our hearts to live!

But how many of us really experience this kind of victorious Christian living? Is this just some kind of pie in the sky promise that has no basis in reality? Or can we actually learn to live like this?

It depends. It depends on whether or not we are willing to ‘wait’ upon the Lord.

There are four Hebrew words that can be translated as ‘wait.’ Three of those four have to do with passive waiting and have the sense of twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen that I have no control over. To be sure, these words also convey waiting on God in hope and anticipation. But even so, there’s nothing to be done by the person waiting that will have an impact on the outcome.

But the word Isaiah chooses here in verse 31 is not one of those words. He chooses the more interesting word ‘qavah,’ which has both a figurative and literal definition. It is most often translated figuratively as the NLT and my Strong’s has it: ‘to expect, look patiently, tarry, or wait.’ Literally, it means ‘to bind together by twisting’1 and as you can imagine had to do with making a rope.

Well, that’s confusing; what does making a rope have to do with waiting? And the answer comes from the context of the verse which is mainly about ‘strength.’ Strength to rise up, strength to walk and not faint strength to run like Forrest Gump. And Isaiah is talking about strength in terms of making a rope strong. When you make a rope, you take more than one strand of string or thin roping and you twist and intertwine them together. A piece of string cannot lift very much weight because it only has one strand. The more strands you bind together the stronger the rope becomes; the more capable it is to handle heavier and heavier amounts of weight. It is; therefore, stronger.

I ask again: “What does waiting have to do with making a rope?”

A rope’s strength does not diminish when it is not being used. When a rope is not being used, what is it doing? The rope is “waiting.” It “waits” for its owner to put it to use. When the rope is attached to a load, it draws its strength from all the strands and goes to work in lifting or pulling the weight.

Just as a rope’s strength comes from binding together many strands, so our strength comes through binding ourselves in an active way to several strands of God’s grace such that when it comes time to lift the burden caused by adverse life circumstances that we will probably encounter this year we will be enabled to do so without breaking.

And the more “strands” that we weave into our relationship with God, the more strength He gives us to carry those burdens to walk without fainting, to run with renewed energy to rise above the problems that would take us down.

What are some of the strands that make up this rope? First and foremost, establishing a relationship with God through faith in what Christ Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross.

And then once we come to know Jesus, “Keeping our fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

And reading and brooding and studying the scriptures because we know that “All scripture is inspired by God” (I Timothy 3:16); “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105); “We hide His word in our hearts that we might not sin” (Psalm 119:11). “We might not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1).

By praying daily knowing that when we pray the peace that passes understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Philippians 4:6-7).

By worshipping together on a regular basis to proclaim God’s greatness, to seek His word, to grow in the faith. (Hebrews 10:25).

These are just a few of the strands that should be in our rope. Perhaps you can probably think of a few more.

When you twist all of these strands together you get a rope whose strength comes from God.

That being said, try this on as translation: “They who have all aspects of their lives intertwined and bound together with the Lord, like threads that are twisted into a rope, shall exchange their meager strength for the strength of the Lord, they shall rise up to meet challenges as if they had powerful wings like an eagle, they shall run through life and not be weary, they shall walk through problems and not faint.”

I know it’s an old illustration but I can’t think of a better one than the Footprints in the Sand story.

One night a man had a dream where he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, You said that once I decided to follow You, You’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed You most You would leave me.” The Lord replied, “My precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

1 Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; The Hebrew Dictionary. [Nashville, Tennessee: Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., © 1890] page 102.