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“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; but 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 40:29-31).*

*You will need your Bible for this study. If I copied all the texts this post would be a small book.

Isaiah 40 contains a passage that many Christians hold dear. We often cling to verses 29-31 when we are exhausted in our journey to follow Jesus amidst life’s challenges and trials. The principle of an indescribably awesome (in its truest and fullest sense) God supplying us soaring, sustaining, and steadfast power brings great comfort (see Isaiah 40:1-2) to those in dire need of such strength. Yet often this energy seems inaccessible and merely words – words that we believe but rarely experience. And why is this? Because these magnificent promises are only understood and realized as we digest and apply what precedes them. In other words, one must interpret Isaiah 40 backwards to get the full picture.

The 2 previous verses to our focal text tell us that this power is connected to faith: “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? 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 40:27-28). Clearly the prophet says we must believe in order to experience the strength of an all-knowing and all-powerful God. But faith in what?

Faith in Him and Him alone. We see this from the previous verses where Isaiah’s oracle makes fun of the silliness of idols in light of the nature of the one and only true God (vs. 18-26). He mocks those who erect false gods that can’t even stand on their own (verse 20 reminds me of “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” as it describes the wish to craft an idol that won’t topple over). Ridiculous, eh? But for our purposes, an idol is not a graven image but anything that we treasure, love, and desire more than God. An idol can even be seemingly good things (like religion, humanitarian efforts, ministry, or family) that supersede God in importance in our lives. This includes the most insidious of idols – our own energy, effort, and ingenuity (let’s just call this self-sufficiency or pride). The prophet says that to experience the unfathomable power of God we must believe in Him in all of His greatness and nothing can be more important than Him.

But moving further back in the text, we see that it’s not just believing in God but having a right vision of His awesomeness and boundless might. This is what we see in verses 12-17. Here He is described as an immeasurably powerful Creator and the sustainer of all things. What we have described in these verses is mind-boggling. It, as best limited human language can, portrays God as incomprehensibly mighty. As compared to our pathetic, limited, and vastly inferior ability, we see that, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God…” (Deuteronomy 10:17). As James MacDonald says, “It’s not that your problems are too big. It’s that your God is too small.”

But how are we connected to this awesome God? In and through the Son of God who became Jesus the Christ (vs. 1-11). Scripture shows Him to have this same power and character as Yahweh, Jehovah God (John 1, Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1). We see the mighty ruling arm of God (v. 9) become the lovingly tender arm of God (v. 11) by way of Jesus (vs. 1-5). This is called the good news (v. 9 – better understood as “great news”) of the Messiah, whose coming was heralded by John the Baptist with Isaiah’s words, “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3). And this is the “Word of our God that will stand forever” (v. 8).

So, in summary, to access the unfathomable strength of God (29-31) we must have genuine faith (27-28) in God and not ourselves or our God-substitutes (18-26). And our trust must be in an awesomely large and limitless God (12-17) that has connected us to His immeasurable power through our surrender to the person and power of Jesus (1-11) and experienced through His Holy Spirit.

So, if we want the soaring, sustaining, steadfast strength of our supremely awesome God, it will only come from Jesus when we:

• love Him above all else and lean only on Him

• yearn for Him and yield to Him

• are devoted to Him and dependant on Him alone

• are surrendered to Him and sustained only by Him

• faithfully fix our gaze on Him and feast on His Word

The New Testament equivalent of the powerful principle of Isaiah 40 is found in Hebrews 12:1-3. The writer connects the dots and gives us a passage to call our own as we seek the strength of God found only in Christ:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

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Rebekah and I recently had the privilege of visiting the very prison cell that tradition says Paul spent his last days before he was martyred (probably beheaded). Unless you have seen it, it is impossible to comprehend just how awful that place was. Dark, wet (the constant water on the floor was filled with human excrement), and, given the impending fate of those incarcerated there, desperately ominous. It was a place so terrible that death may have been a relief. I can’t imagine feeling anything but fear, bitterness, and depression. But Galatians (focused on our freedom in Christ) and Philippians (focused on the joy found only in Jesus) were written from a prison cell. Though probably not as awful as the one we saw, I dare say it was not the Marriott! This is extreme evidence of a life transformed by God, a testimony that bears witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. We often talk about “our testimony,” yet Paul had an amazing testimony
about his suffering. It is recorded in 2 Corinthians 6:

“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (vs. 3-10).

Read that again. And again – this time more slowly, carefully, thoughtfully. That, my friends, is a testimony; a testimony fraught with a rich, dynamic relationship with God, through the Savior, Jesus. It is a testimony that reveals, as best one humanly could, the depth and scope of what it means to know God. To be radically transformed. To see all that is both good and bad in this life as a sign of His sovereign favor. It is a proclamation that, no matter what, in Jesus we “possess everything” of real, eternal value. He is the prize that far and away supersedes circumstance or situation – good or bad. He is the most valuable thing we can ever imagine or have.

Read it again. Is that your testimony? Is it mine? I pray that it is and that it is so authentic that it reeks with the reality of this attitude that only the beauty of Jesus can produce. Why? Because in Him, though our life may be one filled with only a semblance (just a trickle) of Paul’s suffering and we may never end up in a putrid Roman prison awaiting a cruel and excruciating human end, we cling to the “and,” “yet,” and “but” that becomes the focus of our hope found only in Christ. As Paul shares (all emphasis mine):

  • “Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless night (can we at least relate to sleepless nights?), hunger BUT by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, AND the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the      right hand AND for the left…”
  • “…through honor AND dishonor, through slander AND praise. We are treated as impostors, AND YET are true…”
  • ”…as unknown, AND YET well known…”
  • “…as dying, AND behold, we live…”
  • “…punished, AND YET not killed…”
  • “…as sorrowful, YET always rejoicing…”
  • “…as poor, YET making many rich…”
  • “…as having nothing, YET possessing everything.”

So my testimony and Paul’s is quite similar. No, I’ve never faced the tribulations that he did, probably won’t suffer in similar ways, or die a martyr’s death, but I can say with him, “I was a sinner BUT, Christ died for me. YET, though life is not perfect, He is the Rock of my life. AND, although I have nothing material in this world that will endure, I possess everything in Jesus.” I pray this is your testimony as well. Paul staked his persecuted life on it and so do I. Why? Because God is the “and,” “but,” and “yet” of my life. And He is indescribably worthy of this and so much more. To Him be eternal praise, no matter what our circumstances or situation may be. This is a testimony worth having and sharing! Because He is so worth having and sharing. Just ask Paul. Or even better, read again what he left us as a reminder of what it means to trust in God as our everything.

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