God Gives us Strength
Our scripture reading today is from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah. We're going to be in the 40th chapter, beginning with the 27th verse. Let's read with joy and with the consciousness that God is with us.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
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,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 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.
Will you pray with me? Gracious God, open our minds to these words and open our hearts to the living word of Christ. That we may be changed today and forever, amen.
So have you ever felt trapped between a rock and a hard place, like our little friend Ziggy there. Between a troubled past and an uncertain future? Confused? Tired? Wondering where God is in the midst of all the trouble? Sure, you have, we all have, maybe even as late as this morning, and if so, we're in really good company.
Hundreds of years before Christ, the people of God were there too, between a rock and a hard place. Years of personal moral failure and years of immoral leadership had left their nation in ruins and their religion on the ropes. The people needed a word of hope. They were weak and unable to save themselves. So God sends us a message through the prophet Isaiah. He sends a message of renewal and a promise of hope.
Isaiah begins by reminding the people what they should already know: God is, well, God. We've heard that before. Verse 28,. "Do you not know? Have you not heard?" Well, of course they know. Of course they've heard. Those are rhetorical questions. They've heard it before. Isaiah is calling them to remember, and they should all know this story, because it is the story of the people of God, the Hebrew people, whom God rescued out of slavery in Egypt and brought them into a new, fresh, promised land.
Listen to the attributes of God, which Isaiah chooses to highlight here. The Lord is the relenting, everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. God is unchanging, he is eternal. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And remembering that the way God has acted in the past, well, that gives us strength for the present and it gives us hope for the future. God is the creator of all that was, all that is, and all that is yet to come. And better yet, He continues to rule over His creation.
God is sovereign, god is in control, and not only that, but God's power is inexhaustible. The power which he showed in creation is still present and available for us in re-creation, to be made new, individually and collectively. In addition, the prophet tells us that God's understanding is something that none of us can fathom. His knowledge and His wisdom are far beyond us, and God knows what is going on far better than we do.
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty glad that my God is smarter and wiser than I am.
Isaiah isn't just bragging on God here, though. He says all these things in order to make a point, and that is that this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-eternal, present God... wait for it... that God cares about us and wants to be with us and share His strength with us.
Verse 29,. "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength."Isaiah is telling us that even the best and the strongest among us will wear out, but God will never wear out. Now, how awesome is that? That that's our God.
Now, if you do any sort of study at all about the book of Isaiah, you will quickly discover that one of the major themes of this book is strength, God's strength and the strength that he imparts to us. Time and time again, the prophet proclaims the strength of Almighty God and how God strengthens us when we are in need. We receive this amazing gift by connecting with God.
Verse 31,. "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 faint."
A majestic flight of an eagle.
Waiting is a prerequisite in order to receive the strength which God will provide.
Now by waiting, we're not talking about sitting tight and just toughing things out, nor are we just talking about merely showing extended patience. Waiting in this case is active. It involves trust and expectation. It is an inner assurance that God will come through in the end. It's a hope filled with confidence that rest in the knowledge of our God, who is and can do what we need when we need it most and when we wait like that, we will be rewarded with renewed strength, our emotional and spiritual batteries will be charged and, like an eagle, we will soar with vigor and strength and rise above all our challenges and our troubles.
We will run and we will run and we will run and we will walk continually and we will never faint. Or, as here in the South we might say, we won't fall out. We're going to keep going, all because we are relying on God's strength, not our own.
Now, jesus himself knew the importance of receiving this sort of strength and the importance of waiting.
Throughout the Gospels we find the Son breaking away from the press of ministry to go and be alone. He would go up to the mountains to pray and retreat, to find a quiet place to spend time with the Father. Even the night before He gave up His life for us, with all the stress and all the emotion that surrounded that, He was in the Garden of Gethsemane and He broke away for a time of prayer and sought time alone with His heavenly Father. But you know it isn't always easy to wait.
We're an impatient people, americans in particular. I'm a good example. If there are more than three or four persons in line ahead of me at a restaurant, I am moving on. You can ask Margaret, she will vouch for that. Now, regular restaurants weren't fast enough for us, so we invented fast food. Well, fast food wasn't quick enough, so we created drive-thru windows. And when that backed up, some genius at Chick-fil-A decided we could build an efficient two-lane drive-thru window to be even faster.
One of the problems we face in our world today is burnout. Take a look at this picture. This is just a few miles east of Red Bay, alabama, on Highway 24, headed to Decator my favorite church sign: Burnout Church. But even better is the sign next door, the Burnout Cemetery. What a great visual metaphor for our day and time.
In our drive for success, we push ourselves harder and harder, trying to jam a few more things in to an already overloaded schedule until we simply have no more to give. Then we run out of energy and crash. We burn out, and when that happens, we are often destroyed. Our dreams are shattered, we get angry at everyone and everything, including God, and we forget that it was our own business that put us in that situation to begin with.
God wants us to slow down, spend more time with Him. You know, even in the church we can get so busy doing things for Jesus that we forget to do things with Jesus.
Waiting on God is a discipline.
When I was a new Christian, I thought that waiting on the Lord meant rising before dawn, doing intense personal Bible study, pencil and paper in hand, kneeling by my bed, praying through a long list of prayer concerns. Now, there is, of course, nothing wrong with doing those things, and you might do good by practicing that, but somehow I felt still that I was missing out on something. Well, as I'm matured in my faith a little, I learned that I needed to stop and be still and listen for God's voice. Rest the mind a little more and open the heart a little more.
Realize that God meets us in many different ways.
In our Methodist tradition, we talk about what we call means of grace. Those are the ordinary ways, the means of grace, by which God extends His extraordinary love to us. Things like prayer, reading the Scriptures, meditating on God's Word, Holy Communion, baptism; these are the sorts of activities by which God reveals Himself to us and by which we find ourselves spiritually strengthened. If you pay close attention, you might also find God speaking to us through worship, through music, maybe even occasionally through a sermon.
In 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, paul offers this prayer of blessing: "May our Lord, Jesus Christ Himself, and God, our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and Word."
But we have to be spiritually still and quiet long enough to be able to truly connect our Spirit with God's Spirit, and it has to be intentional. Remember, a few weeks ago we talked about the Sabbath day and about how it's God's intention for us not to merely rest our bodies on the Sabbath but to renew our souls, to spend time with the Lord.
In her book Running on Empty, Jill Briscoe shares these thoughts. She writes:
"If I'm running on empty in my Christian life,
if I yell at my kids, if I put down my wife,
if my home is a mess and I'm down in the dumps,
if I've got a good case of the spiritual mumps
if I'm running on empty, burnt out and sad,
if I'm feeling rejected, frustrated and mad.
If I'm angry that God hasn't answered my prayers,
that he's left me to carry my problems and cares,
then I need to stay still and stop running away
from His cool Word of peace in the heat of the day.
If I'd opened my heart to the Spirit's control,
it wouldn't take long till the Lord filled my soul."
We all have times when we get discouraged and frustrated by life. Maybe we feel lonely and abandoned by others. Times were simply weary of the struggle, maybe. Maybe we feel that way this morning. If so, I've got good news. It's when we are at our weakest that God is at his strongest.
Remember God hasn't abandoned you. You just need to sit still long enough to feel His presence. That is the promise of Isaiah that God will strengthen us. Listen again as we hear that promise in a different voice. As I read from the paraphrase we call the message.
“Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “GOD has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? GOD doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon GOD get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind."
That's God's promise for each of us, and it is my joy to share it with you.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, will you pray with me?
Holy God, you are incredible. You've created a universe that knows no bounds, and yet you created us and placed us in the center of it and, more importantly, in the center of your heart. God, we come to you confessing that we often ignore that and we choose to run our lives on our own, and when we do, we fail and we fall. So we come to you seeking your grace that by your forgiveness you will clean us up from our past and by your Holy Spirit you will give us strength in the present.
God, renews us, remake us, strengthen us, help us to persevere so that in all things, at all times, in all places, we may know that you are our God, and we may boldly proclaim that to a world that needs to hear it as well. We pray this in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, who lives and works in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.