OUR THOUGHT ABOUT GOD THAT SHAPES OUR LIFE

There are far too many of God’s children that feel alone, hurt and wondering where our Father is. Is there a feeling of unrest in your soul and the temptation to give up? We may wonder within ourselves why God has not seen our plight and rescued us from our prison of pain. The only problem of surrendering to our emotions is that it will not bring the needed hope and comfort that we so passionately long for. We often fail to remember that our soul is the object of a great battle. We are under attack from unseen spiritual forces endeavouring to bring discouragement to us. God promises to meet the cry of our hearts. “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).”

We’re not talking here about the more superficial needs that are closer to the surface in each of our lives, rather the inner longing for love that is unconditional, a sense of security, a confidence in the future, and a measure of worth, dignity and value as an individual. God hears that cry and can meet that need thereby giving each of us a sense of wholeness. Augustine was right when he penned those immortal words in the fourth century, ‘Our hearts find no rest until they find their rest in You.” The problem is that many are not resting in the love and grace of our Lord. Intellectually we know that this is promised to us, but it seems to mock us. We truly long for it, but it may not be our experience at this moment in our lives. Our souls’ cry could easily be reflected by the words of that ancient prophet Isaiah when he wrote.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God?[i]

Or as we would say it, ‘Where are you God when my life is falling apart?’ The real problem may not be that God is not there, but rather a lack of understanding of who our heavenly Father really is. We rarely see ourselves as part of the problem, rather we are upset with God because He seems so indifferent to our plight, our pain, our present predicament.

Could it be that in our world we take ourselves far too seriously, and God not seriously enough? Could it be that our world originates with ourselves at the centre and God is somewhere on the side-lines? Could it be that we have lost sight of God’s majestic greatness, which as J. I. Packer states:

The Christian’s instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by the knowledge of the greatness of God.[ii] ?

Could it be that we pursued the false substitutes and trappings of worldly values and found them empty and blamed God for the emptiness in our souls? There are moments in all our lives that we need a message of comfort. We need to hear a message that will help us transcend our momentary afflictions and lift our hearts to new highs and new hopes. Israel was experiencing just such a time when Isaiah penned chapter 40. In Isaiah chapter 40 we gain a new glimpse at the majesty of God that brings renewed hope and vision. Folks, a vision of God can transform our worn, broken, and empty hearts and fill us with incredible hope and joy. It was A. W. Tozer who wrote in his book, ‘The Knowledge of the Holy,’

What comes in our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. …He goes on to say, ‘the man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters which at the most cannot concern him for a very long time…[iii]

What we believe in our innermost being will determine our spiritual future. Our understanding regarding the nature and character of God determines how we respond to Him. In Isaiah 40, we discover something of the awesomeness of God. This upward glimpse transforms our earthly struggles. We need to remember that this is written in poetic language.  There are four aspects of the nature and character of God expressed in this chapter that if they capture our attention will empower and encourage us.

THE FIRST ASPECT OF GOD’S CHARACTER THAT ISAIAH FOCUSES ON IS HIS ETERNAL NATURE

What is God like? Integrity is being consistent with what we say. In other words, what we say is consistent with who we are. We know that is true about the Lord. What He says He will do, because of Who He is. God’s word is eternal in both nature and scope. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever (Isaiah 40:8).”

A. The Power of Words.

Words are incredibly powerful. They reveal our hearts. They judge our motives. They are used by God to create faith and life, hope and healing – truly to move mountains! 

We are told by scientists that every sound we utter goes on indefinitely through the atmosphere. Jesus taught that the effect of our words – good or evil, believing or unbelieving – go on eternally.  Words live forever…[iv]

Not only do God’s words live forever, but we underestimate the power of words and their effects. 

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.[v]

We also underestimate what God has to say about our circumstances and situations. Circumstances change, but God’s word stays the same. Too often in the pressure of circumstances that are difficult and uncomfortable, we forget the promises of God. Too often we allow the words of men to affect us more than the Word of God, and His promises. We forget that God’s word is more real, has more substance, will endure the test of time; whereas the circumstances come and go. Let’s hang on to God’s words, rather than allowing our circumstances to determine our sense of wellbeing or allow our circumstances to overwhelm us.

B. Here in Isaiah 40, Isaiah is writing about the promise of Israel coming out of the Babylonian captivity.  

Isn’t it interesting that judgment’s purpose is to produce peace in our hearts. Israel had been judged and now the words of comfort are to be offered. 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.[vi]

God does speak tenderly into our lives after times of testing and trial. After times of discipline, God wants to reassure us of His love. The message is one of restoration. Too often our personal sin brings devastation in our lives. Then in brokenness we start over again hearing the tenderly spoken words of God. He is promising to raise up those in the valley of despair and devastation, while at the same time levelling those that would exalt themselves.        

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.[vii]

C. It’s as we experience the power and presence of God restoring our lives, that we have something to say.  

After a season of correction and restoration, we have a compulsion to speak into the lives of others who are struggling, going their own way. That was King David’s experience after his failure with Bathsheba. He states it in such a compelling way in Psalm 51.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.[viii]

Here we are challenged to cry out that our earthly life is temporary, but God is eternal. So often in our day to day lives, we forget that powerful truth, and when we do, we start to live for that which is temporary, rather than that which is eternal.

A voice says, Cry out. And I said, What shall I cry? All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.

You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, Here is your God!

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.[ix]

            “Here is your God!” God is able. He is coming in power. He is coming back. He is bringing His reward with Him.

One thing that I have notice: You only develop confidence in someone’s word based on the knowledge of their character and ability, and their love and concern for you as a person. What a beautiful description of both. The caring God, able to carry out what He promises.     

THE SECOND ASPECT OF GOD’S NATURE AND CHARACTER THAT ISAIAH FOCUSES ON IS HIS UNLIMITED POWER

When we think of power, we seldom think of power under control. We think of raw power, brute power, but here God’s power is described as power to effectively minister to others in need. Notice that His power is also gentle. That is what meekness is all about, power under control. He is a restoring God. He is a nurturing God. He is the Shepherd that is guiding the flock and gathering us close to His heart.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.[x]

How many times have I heard the tragic story of how power is used to abuse someone? We hear of it all the time. Someone in a position of trust and authority using their position for their own needs at the expense of others. One thing we can be assured of, God uses his power and authority to minister to us.

A. Isaiah also describes the limitlessness and immensity of God’s power.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?[xi]

He measures the waters of the earth in an expression of speech that we can understand. Can you imagine measuring out the oceans of the earth by placing them in your hand? Or placing the mountains of the earth on a weigh scale? This expression speaks of the grandeur of God.       

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.[xii]

Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?[xiii]

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. [The powerful men are no match for God]

No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.[xiv]

What is Isaiah saying to us here? When we compare the immensity of creation or the great men of the ages, they are no match for God’s power and strength.

Patrick O’Boyle recalls in the late 1940’s, appearances of Frank Sheed, the Catholic author and publisher: Sheed could be devastating with hecklers. Once, after Sheed had described the extraordinary order and design to be seen in the universe, a persistent challenger retorted by pointing to all the world’s ills, and ended shouting, ‘I could make a better universe than your God!’ To which Sheed replied in his characteristic wit: ‘I won’t ask you to make a universe, but would you make a rabbit just to establish confidence?’

THE THIRD ASPECT OF GOD’S NATURE AND CHARACTER THAT ISAIAH FOCUSES ON IS HIS UNSEARCHABLE WISDOM

Who can fully grasp what God is doing? In our limited understanding, we will never fully grasp how God works out His purposes in our world.

Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, or instructed the LORD as his counsellor?

Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?[xv]

It is said that Augustine, was walking on the shore of the ocean one day pondering the mystery of the trinity. He came upon a little boy who was playing with a seashell. The youngster would scoop a hole in the sand, then go down to the waves and get his shell full of water and pour it into the hole he had made.  Augustine said, ‘What are you doing, my little fellow?’ The boy replied, ‘I am going to pour the sea into that hole.’ ‘Ah,’ said Augustine, ‘That is what I have been trying to do. Standing at the ocean of infinity, I have attempted to grasp it with my finite mind.’[xvi]

Too often we question what is happening in our lives. We wonder if God is aware of what is happening. Of course He’s aware of what is occurring in our lives. He is the all-wise God. He knows the course that each of us must run in order to grow in our relationship with Him. He is aware of each of the pressures that we are undergoing.

A. We need to wait for God rather than try and take things into our own hands. 

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.[xvii]

We all struggle with the issue of patient endurance in times of crisis. One example that proved costly was the establishment of King Saul. He couldn’t seem to wait, as the growing crisis of his army was leaving him, under the pressure of the Philistines. Samuel had told him to wait for seven day and then he, Samuel, would come and offer an offering to God. Yet, as his army was melting away in fear of the enemy, Saul took things into his own hands and offered the sacrifice. Why the delay by Samuel? God was testing the heart of Saul and he failed. 

‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel. Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash,

I thought, Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favour. So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’

‘You acted foolishly’, Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.

But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command’.[xviii]

Why do we take things into our own hands?  Because we really don’t trust that God will come through.

B. To a man undergoing the greatest spiritual battle of his entire life, God rebukes Job for questioning His wisdom and power.

Sometimes in our distresses we lose sight of the grace and love of God in our lives. What we need and sometimes get is a rebuke, like what Job received. Who are we to question God for the way He guides us?

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.  He said:

‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?’[xix]

C. Let’s look at life from God’s perspective.

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.[xx]

In the current affairs of men, it seems that some are giants that control the destiny of others. I remember as a little child the days of the Cuban missile crisis, when people were living in an anxious frame of mind, wondering if this would be the beginning of the end; the start of a nuclear war between the U. S. and the Soviet Union. People were living with bated breath. You could feel the tension in the air. That is what God is trying to say to us who are trapped in time and space. He is in control of the destinies of men and women. He controls the nations. We need to remember this when our personal worlds are falling apart. God is still in control. Too often we are looking elsewhere for our source of meaning and security in life. The problem with doing that is we are placing a person, or a thing ahead of God. People and things will fail you. God is the only one capable of keeping his word completely. He is the only one that has the character as well as the ability to do what He says. He challenges us in verses 16-20, to see if any man-made resource can ultimately take His place. The answer is obviously, NO!

THE FINAL ASPECT OF GOD’S NATURE AND CHARACTER THAT ISAIAH FOCUSES ON IS THAT HIS STRENGTH IS EXCHANGEABLE

Remember the background in which Isaiah is writing here. It is a devastating time in the life of the nation. The northern tribes have been destroyed and taken into captivity by the Assyrians. A new threat was arising from Babylon. They had trusted in a false religious system. Idolatry had failed them. They felt that God had abandoned them. Now we come to the point of the message.

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.

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 [some translations say wait] in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;[xxi]

When we are soaring spiritually, it impacts our ability to handle the storms of life. It also suggests that we have incredible vision. People who have lost their spiritual vision are people who are struggling, people who are fainting.

[The passage continues] ‘they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint’.       

The analogy is comparing the energy and resources of the youth which will fail to those who have exchanged their weakness for God’s strength.

When we walk in the Spirit, God comes underneath us and bears us along. We’re still walking, but we walk dependent on him. Our lives will never be effective apart from waiting on God.

How can we handle the pressures and challenges of this life? We need to look up! We need to be reminded of the nature and character of Almighty God. We need to stop looking at our circumstances, the diminishing words of others. We need to stop looking at ourselves. When we consider the eternal nature of God’s word, His unlimited power, His unsearchable wisdom, and His willingness to exchange His strength for our weakness, we need to come to Him. We need to come to our God when we feel weak, exhausted, confused, perplexed, and remind ourselves of the greatness of our God. He will sustain us! He will strengthen us. 

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[i]     Isaiah 40:27, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[ii]     J. I. Packer, Knowing God, (Downers Grove: IL., InterVarsity Press, 1973), 73.

[iii]    A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (Fig Classic Series, 2012), 2-3.

[iv]    Christianity Today (4-23-99), reprinted in “To Illustrate Plus,” Leadership Journal (21.1), 69.

[v]     Matthew 12:36-37.

[vi]    Isaiah 40:1-2.

[vii]   Isaiah 40:4-5.

[viii]   Psalm 51:10-13.

[ix]    Isaiah 40:6-10.

[x]     Isaiah 40:11.

[xi]    Isaiah 40:12.

[xii]   Isaiah 40:15.

[xiii]   Isaiah 40:17-18.

[xiv]   Isaiah 40:21-26.

[xv]   Isaiah 40:13-14.

[xvi]   Infosearch, # 601: One God-Not Three.

[xvii] Psalm 37:7-8.

[xviii]           1 Samuel 13:11-14.

[xix]   Job 38:1-5.

[xx]   Isaiah 40:15.

[xxi]   Isaiah 40:28-31.

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