“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’?” (Isaiah 40:27)
With just over three weeks till Christmas and all that has to be done, you are probably feeling that you have more on your plate than you know how to handle.
This is the season of joy, but it is also a time when the cumulative weight of all that has happened in the course of the year catches up with you. I’ve had several conversations this week in which people have said to me, “This has been a really difficult year for our family.”
Moving into the last month of the year there is often a sense of being worn out, run down, or stretched thin. Someone described it to me as a “collective weariness.” I think that’s a good description.
What the Bible Says to the Jaded, Discouraged, and Worn Out
So I’ve asked the question: What is the answer to collective weariness? Where would we look in the Bible for help when we feel jaded, discouraged, and generally worn out?
My mind goes to Isaiah 40: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). That speaks to me. That’s what I need, but how do I get there? How do I get to Isaiah 40:31? The first 30 verses of this chapter might have something to do with it!
So this is where we are going to camp out for the advent season. Isaiah 40 is full of anticipations of the birth of Christ, but I want to begin today with this promise of renewed strength that we have at the end of the chapter.
“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’?” (Isaiah 40:27)
When Isaiah refers to Jacob (or Israel) he is talking about God’s people, the people God redeemed. God brought them out of slavery and said to them, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
So here we have God’s people speaking. What are they saying? They say, “My way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God.” God’s people are not happy. Things have not been going their way, and they feel that God has been letting them down.
This thought has settled in their minds. The words “say” and “speak” are in the continuous tense: You “keep saying” that your way is hidden from the Lord. You “keep speaking” that your right is disregarded. These people feel that they have been stretching themselves in faith, going the extra mile, and that God has not lived up to his side of the bargain.
I had breakfast recently with a man who showed me his journal. He said “I have been reading and praying, I’ve been trying to grow in my faith, so why are all these things happening in my family?” He felt that God had not kept his side of the bargain.
Some of you are living and serving sacrificially and you know what this is like. Lord, I’ve been working flat out for you. I do it because I love you. But after all these years and all the prayers and all the sacrifices, I have some questions:
Why have you not sent revival? Why has there not been greater blessing? Why have you allowed these difficulties in my family, these pressures in my church? Why have you allowed this great decline of faith in our country?
These are real questions. They lurk in the hidden places of the believing heart. And they sap your strength.
God asks a question
“Why do you say, O Jacob… ‘My way is hidden from the LORD’?” (Isaiah 40:27)
God is asking this question, and he uses it to bring the disappointment out into the open. He’s not asking this question to condemn but to comfort. I get this from verse 1: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
This whole chapter is God speaking tenderly to his weary people bringing comfort to them. So when God asks: “Why do you say ‘My way is hidden from the Lord’?” He is speaking to us in a tender voice.
When there is tension and distrust in the relationship between God and his people, God reaches out. God is not a father who will turn a blind eye to the tensions in his family and pretend that everything is fine. He moves towards the problem. He says, “Let’s get this out in the open. We need to talk. Let’s resolve this.”
You do this when there is tension in a relationship with someone you love. You reach out and you say, “Things between us are not as they were. Our relationship means too much to me to let it slip away. Now tell me, what have I done? How have I disappointed you?”
That is what God is doing here. He reaches out to his tired and weary people. He comes to the discouraged believer. That is what he is doing among us here today.
I love what happens next: God answers his own question. When you are tired and worn out, you don’t know how to answer: “Why do I keep saying my way is hidden from the Lord? And what is to be done about it? I don’t know!” But thank God, he does. So let’s look at God’s answer to his own question. It comes in two parts:
Lean into the Truth That You Know
Have you not known? Have you not heard? 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. (Isaiah 40:28)
God reminds his people of what they already know, what they have often heard, because faith is strengthened, not by learning something new, but by coming back to what we have heard and known.
Today, we gather around the Lord’s Table. Faith is strengthened, not by learning something new, but by coming back to what we have heard and known: Christ crucified and risen for us. At the table it is as if God says to us: “Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
What is it that every believer knows and has heard about God that we need to lean into in these times of weariness?
i. God is your Creator
The Lord is…the Creator of the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 40:28)
God formed you in your mother’s womb. He gave you life with the purpose of redeeming you. He purchased you at the cost of his own Son. He infused a new life into you, recreating you in Jesus Christ.
ii. God does not grow weary
He does not faint or grow weary; (Isaiah 40:28)
God sustains all that he has made. He never runs out of resources. He never tires of you. There is never a time when God looks at you and says, “Where do we go from here?”
iii. God works on an everlasting timescale
The Lord is the everlasting God… (Isaiah 40:28)
Time is at his disposal. None of us knows what God will do in the coming year, let alone in 10 years or in 50 years, or what God will do in the lives of our children or grandchildren. The granddaughter of your rebel son may turn out to have a ministry beyond anything you can imagine.
iv. No one can fathom his understanding
His understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28)
None of us will ever fathom the mind of God, or gain a full picture of what he is doing. So why even try? His understanding is unsearchable! Lean into the truth that you know about God.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; (Isaiah 40:29-30)
Notice the words that are used here: “faint,” “no might,” “weary,” “fall exhausted.” That’s us! And notice that this is us at our best: “even youths shall be faint and weary.”
Then God says “Young men shall fall exhausted.” The phrase “young men” literally means “picked men.” This is like athletes who are in peak condition, the ones who catch the eye of the Olympic selection committee.
At the end of the marathon, even athletes in peak condition are weary. Some fall exhausted. Others look faint. Why? Because their bodies have been through a test of endurance that has pushed them to the limits.
There are limits to all human endurance. Paul describes our bodies as tents (2 Corinthians 5), not palaces made of stone and held up by marble pillars, but tents made of canvas and held up by ropes that stretch, sag, and fray.
So, no Christian should be surprised at this experience of weariness. God has placed his treasure in jars of clay. We live in this earthly tent that one day will be torn down.
John Calvin said that nearly all the wisdom we possess can be divided into two parts: The knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. Lean into the truth that you know about God and about yourself. God is your Creator and he will never abandon you. He does not faint or grow weary. He works on a vast timescale with outcomes still to be revealed.
Here’s what you know about yourself: You are not God. You are a created being with limits to your own strength and endurance. You will become weary. You will know what it is to feel spent and exhausted. This should not take you by surprise. Lean into the truth that you know. But that’s only half the answer.
Lay Hold of the Hope That You Have
The gift of strength
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (Isaiah 40:29)
Notice the word “gives.” This is an action of God in relation to his own people at times when we feel our strength is depleted, and our faith is burning low. He “gives power” and he “increases strength!”
How does God do this? God does not faint or grow weary (Isaiah 40:28). The way he gives strength to the weary is that he gives himself to you. This is not some zapping with power that moves an exhausted Christian into bionic overdrive. The effect of this strength is that God’s people keep pressing on. They keep running. They keep walking.
Listen to how Paul puts this: We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
Paul says about his own experience, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29).
The energy of God does not make him feel that he is soaring above the clouds. No! He says, “I toil! I labor! I sometimes feel discouraged and exhausted. But here’s why I don’t give up. Here’s why I keep struggling on… God puts the ability to do that in me.”
How we receive it
They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; (Isaiah 40:31)
What does it mean to wait on the Lord? It means to look expectantly in eager anticipation.
When I was a boy, my grandparents would come and visit every Wednesday. My grandmother, (we called her Nana) always had sweets in her bag. I liked it when she came! I would watch at the window for her blue car to arrive. That’s what it means to wait on the Lord. Hope in him. Count on him. Look expectantly for his help.
Laying hold of the hope that you have is the natural result of leaning into the truth that you know. When you lean into what you know about God (that God is the everlasting Creator and that he does not grow weary), you will look to him and, as you do, he will give you strength.
Look at the promise: “They 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” (Isaiah 40:31). Isn’t this the wrong way round? We go from soaring like eagles, to running, and then to walking. What’s next? Grinding to a standstill?
What God says here is the right way round. The strength to keep pressing on comes as we ascend by faith into the presence of the Lord. I invite you to do this around the Lord’s Table. This is more than remembering a Savior who died. This is drawing near to a Savior who lives!
In his humanity, he knew what it was to be weary. He knew what it was to stumble and fall exhausted from bearing the weight of his own cross. But he is beyond that now! He has ascended to the right hand of the Father and he is there for us.
Christ gives his Spirit to those who hope in him so that something of his divine power may touch us in our human weakness. Strength comes as we ascend by faith into the presence of the Lord and commune with our living Savior. Here’s what will come from that: You will keep running. You will keep walking. You will keep pressing on.
If you ask “Where’s the proof?” The proof is all around you. Brothers, sisters in Christ – you are the proof. Look back on your life and ask the question, “How is it that I am still a Christian today?” Think about the questions that have perplexed you, the disappointments that drained you.
Look at all that you have endured and ask “Why am I still a Christian?”
You were saved because God laid hold of you. You are kept because God has never let you go. John Newton wrote: “Tis grace that brought me safe this far, and grace will lead me home.”
Some of you do not yet have a living faith in Jesus Christ. I ask you today:
Do you not know your own Creator? Have you not heard that strength and hope can be yours through Jesus Christ? This Savior says to you and to all of us today, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
© Colin S. Smith
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