I’m a typical guy, so I know all about “selective hearing.” Just ask my wife. We (especially men) have ways of tuning certain things out and tuning in others; I don’t always know why and its not always intentional. Please forgive us, wives!
Just as “selective hearing” can put a strain on a marriage, so I think something called “selective memory” is often working against our relationship with God. Much of the Old Testament is God working over time to help His people to remember His faithful deeds in the past in order to trust Him for the future. Please forgive us, God!
Perhaps, we see this at work in the lectionary text this week from Isaiah 40:21-31. I hear in God’s repeated questions the tone of an exasperated wife or parent:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?…
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Do you hear it? “What do you mean you forgot to take out the garbage? Didn’t I remind you last night? Isn’t it written on the calendar? Don’t you have a reminder in your phone? Doesn’t the garbage come every week at this time?”
Okay, that’s a trivial example, but God is working overtime in this text through the prophet Isaiah to jog their memory and shake them out of their forgetfulness on a much more important matter: Does God even care about me and my problems?
Isaiah says, “Why do you think your plight is hidden from God? Why do you think God has disregarded your situation?” Perhaps they were lamenting the common injustice that evil, greedy and powerful people who don’t give a rip about God seem to be flourishing and enjoying “the good life”, while God’s own people are being trampled on by other nations. Has God fallen asleep at the controls? Have the other nations’ gods had their way with Him at last? No, you can be sure of this:
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
In other words, don’t tell God how to do His job. He’s still sovereign and working in the mess, even if its hard to see how our current sufferings can be reconciled with the existence of an all-loving and all-powerful God. God’s will is not the only will being done. He has not gone to sleep at the controls, His ways are not our ways, and the Creator indeed cares for His creation.
Now here comes the good news according to Isaiah, a preview of the same good news Jesus would announce 500 or so years later:
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Jesus would say it this way in his beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor…the meek…those who mourn…those who hunger for justice…they’ll receive the kingdom, be comforted, inherit the land, be satisfied” (Matt 5). Jesus also addressed the “weary” and “exhausted” mentioned next by Isaiah:
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
In this world that doesn’t play fair, even the most “youthful” and vibrant among us gets knocked down, disheartened and weary in the war. But the Lord says, “Come to me, all who are weary…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). Isaiah’s version focuses on the need to wait patiently for the Lord:
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Can we rescue this beautiful promise from hollow cliches and bumpersticker jargon? Can we pause today just for a moment and imagine that this is actually true for us?
Have you been wallowing around in the mud too long? Have you been burned by this or that person one too many times? Does your current valley existence feel an infinite distance from the mountain vista of the eagle’s perch? Are you tired of crawling around with sore knees and a bruised heart?
If so, then purge yourself from blame and shame, bitterness and excuses. Stop trying to “fake it til you make it” and instead devote your heart, mind, soul and strength today to waiting on the Lord.
Wait on the Lord by listening to some Christian music and letting Him speak through it.
Wait on the Lord by making a list of your concerns and placing them in the fold of your Bible as a way of turning them over to Him.
Wait on the Lord by slowing down, taking a day off of work, or scheduling a spiritual retreat.
Wait on the Lord by meditating on Scripture each morning or reading a Christian book.
Wait on the Lord by bookending your day with the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus Creed.
Wait on the Lord by exchanging TV time for God-time.
You shall renew your strength in time. Your turn to fly will eventually come. You shall soon find your valley life and earth-bound existence swept up on the wings of the Holy Spirit, propelled by the Spirit-breath of God in your nostrils. You shall run and not grow weary like Forest Gump, watching the braces of that old valley life break loose and fall away. You shall walk humbly with your God and Savior, hand in hand, along his narrow path to Life Abundant, and not grow faint!
But flying with the eagles often requires first waiting on God in the valley and, when you’re in the desert valley, always remember God’s faithful deeds in the past.