A Favorite for When You’re Discouraged

Have you ever had a faith crisis? Who hasn’t? Something bad happens and we think, “This isn’t right; where is God in all of this? Doesn’t he see what’s going on?”

My friend Bill was asking those questions recently. After several treatments of chemotherapy and many prayers for healing, the tests came back showing no improvement. He wondered aloud, “Where is God in all of this? Doesn’t he hear me? Why doesn’t he do something?”

And then there’s Laura. She is upset because she feels her church is in a mess. She read in the paper that the national assembly had set aside God’s Word in some of their decision making. Her church was starting to be of the world instead of just in the world. “God, where are you? Can’t you do something about your church? It is getting run over by the culture,” she wondered. It is a faith crisis.

God’s people, Israel, were having a faith crisis in today’s scripture reference. Rattled and feeling alone, they were an exiled people, living in a foreign land Ð the land of Babylon Ð wondering to themselves, “Are we out of God’s reach? Yes, we were disobedient, and we probably deserved this. But has God written us off for good? Why isn’t he doing something? Can he do anything to help us?” I imagine they were homesick and tired of waiting on God to do something. After all, Jeremiah and some other prophets had promised that God would bring them home someday. Yet nothing was happening.

So the people began to wonder among themselves, “Maybe the Babylonian gods are more powerful than our God.” In their minds, God was beginning to look smaller and smaller. They were living out the title of J. B. Phillips’ book, “Your God is Too Small.” It was a terrible, hopeless feeling.

It is in the midst of that crisis that the voice of God, through the Prophet Isaiah, spoke to them. It’s as if he was saying to them, Now wait a minute. Isaiah 40, verse 27 reads: “Why do you say “O Jacob and speak O Israel . . .”

“O Jacob, O Israel,” there is a personal, intimate note in using these terms. It is God’s way of saying, I know you; we have a long history together. You are mine. I named you. How could I possibly forget you?

“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded.” People of Israel, do you think that I can’t see you or that I have turned my back on you? “Have you not known, have you not heard?” he goes on to say. Wake up, people, and remember that you heard and experienced God at work in your life many, many times in the past. Remember your history of the faithfulness of God who has never deserted you.

Then Isaiah goes on to give us a description of God. He says in verse 28, “The Lord is the everlasting God.” Notice the present tense Ð The Lord IS. He is the beginning and the end. The alpha and the omega. Always here, ever present, all knowing. This God is much bigger than you are giving him credit.

“He is the Creator of the ends of the earth,” Isaiah goes on to say. He put this whole planet into place. He is the God of the cosmos, and so he is not limited by natural boundaries as you might wonder. He is present and able to help you where you are. And Israel, He doesn’t get tired and weary of you.

Jay Collins Smith writes on this little verse, “Have you ever watched a young child with too many toys? He plays with one for a while and then discards it. He gets weary of it and wants to play with something else. Isaiah says, ÔWhatever you do, don’t ever imagine that God is like that. He will not tire of you. He will not lose interest in you or put you aside. God will never become weary of you.’ You may find that God allows circumstances that will change the direction of your life so that you might wonder what he is doing. It may look as if the problems you face would make it impossible for His purposes to be achieved in your life. But don’t be so sure. God never becomes weary of you.”

O people of God, if you ever wonder about that, just pause and focus a bit on that cross. God never got tired of you. He came after you through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to make you his own.

Isaiah goes on to say, “His understanding is unsearchable.” He is infinite; we are finite. Our little minds cannot keep up with His. His ways are not our ways. They are so above us.

Then what does he do? Verse 29: “This God gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless.” He always has throughout history. In the exodus from Egypt, God took care of his people in the wilderness as he led them to the Promised Land. He took care of Gideon as he fought the Mideonites and David as he fought Goliath. On and on the stories go of a God who gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless.

As Christians, we’ve learned that God continues to give throughout our lives. He continues to work in us through the working of his Holy Spirit, doesn’t he?

Then comes that great promise in verses 30 and 31. It’s the crown jewel of this text. “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men will fall exhausted.” Isaiah is saying, Yes, we have limited resources as human beings, “but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

What does he mean Ð to wait? It means to trust, to hope in the Lord. Trust your entire life to the Lord’s care; surrender yourself to him. You will find that your strength will be renewed as only God can renew it.

Isaiah uses a powerful image to describe that renewing strength. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles.” Have you ever watched eagles soar? I live near the St. Croix River in Minnesota. What a site it is to see majestic eagles soaring upon the wind! If you have ever wondered why they were chosen as America’s national symbol, it is because they are a sign of strength. Isaiah says, “You shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

Lloyd Ogilivie comments on that verse: “The eagle does not soar on its own strength, but when it is caught in the stream of the wind. So it is with us when we wait for God. God’s Spirit has the power to infuse the tissues of our impotent minds, our depleted emotions, our wayward wills, and our weary bodies.”

Dear friends, isn’t it interesting that in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is often referred to as the wind. We can ride upon the wind of the Spirit as we turn ourselves over to God’s care.

Isaiah goes on to say, “They shall run and not grow weary, walk and never faint.” You are going to be able to keep going and face all things in Him. As the Apostle Paul says, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”

This passage is so much more than beautiful poetry. Isaiah is attempting to give his people an adequate theology to face their life’s situation; to restore the magnificence of God in the minds of the people; to give them a renewed perspective of that magnificence; to face discouraged moments with confidence. He is trying to give them this great picture and help them by saying, “Don’t give up. Don’t cave in. Keep your eyes on the magnificence of God.”

How does one go about retaining that sense of God’s magnificence?

First, by being still. As the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Henri Nouwen tells the story about some friends who were trapeze flyers. Not long before his death he wrote a book called, “Sabbatical Journeys” in which he talked about some friends called the Flying Rudellas. They told Henri Nouwen, “There is a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one who lets go, and the catcher is the one who catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air. His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air.”

One of the Flying Rudellas told Nouwen, “The flyer must never try to catch the catcher. The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.”

Sometimes life is like a trapeze, and we feel as if we are caught in midair. When did you last take quiet time to just focus on God, on that cross of Jesus Christ, and his great love for you?

Then next, we start looking for God. We start our day with a “God-consciousness.” How do you start your day? With the saying, “Good morning, Lord” or “Good Lord, it’s morning!” We walk through our day with a God-consciousness, knowing that God is present with us, and we begin to look for his hand.

Gerald Weber writes, “Spiritual experiences are not a matter of finding God, nor are they a matter of waiting till God screams, ÔLook! Here I am!’ Spiritual experiences surround us. We fall over them dozens of times a day and can’t avoid them if we try. A spiritual experience is simply a matter of recognizing and acknowledging our relationship to God in whatever is going on in our lives at the moment. God is involved in all we do. He does not pop in and out of our lives. We live surrounded by God. We live and breathe God just as we live and breathe air. To know that both air and God is present, we need only to pause and reflect for an instant to see that we are immersed in them. Sometimes it’s a friend; sometimes it’s a phone call Ð God shows up in the most ordinary ways.”

John Ortberg tells a story concerning the mystery of God’s presence and help. He writes, “God does come, and he may come in unexpected ways. Louis Smedes was a teacher of mine in seminary; one of the best writers and preachers I have ever known. Although he was brilliant, accomplished, and devoted to God, he suffered from a sense of inadequacy that, at times, grew into deep depression. At one point in his life he stopped preaching because he felt unqualified. God came to him through two avenues: One was a three-week experience of utter solitude where he heard God promise to hold him up so vividly that, as he put it, he felt lifted from a black pit straight up into joy.”

The other avenue he describes this way: Smedes says, “I had not been neurotically depressed since that day, though I must be honest and tell you that God also comes to me each morning and offers me a 20 mg capsule of Prozac. He clears the garbage that accumulates in the canals of my brain over night and gives me a chance to a fresh morning start. I swallow every capsule with gratitude to God.”

Ortberg says, “I love the picture that Louis paints. I used to think that taking Prozac would be a sign of weak faith in God. But what if Prozac might be not a substitute for God, but his gift? What if refusing might be spurning his hand because of personal pride? Maybe God is present in wise doctors and medications that make synapses and neurotransmitters work right. Maybe weakness is really refusing, out of our own blindness and stubbornness, the help that God is already offering.”

Dear friends, are you discouraged? God knows. God is present, God cares, and God can lift you up on wings like eagles.