Summer Requests – FBC Laurens
August 25, 2013
I have read a couple of interesting articles recently that arrived at very similar conclusions. One was from the tech industry and dealt with electronic gadgets that we purchase and ultimately return. According to the study, in 2007, over $13.8 billion worth of electronics goods were returned. Of that number, only 5% of the products were actually broken. The rest were returned for a variety of reasons from failure to meet expectations to the products being simply too cumbersome to use. Within the mix, however, was the insinuation that a large percentage of the products being brought back to the store were because of the consumer’s lack of willingness or ability to simply take time to read the instruction manuals that accompanied them. (“95 percent of All Returned Gadgets Still Work, Americans Don’t Read Manual”, engadget.com, June 3, 2008.)
In the same vein, according to a similar report by the Institute of Health in 2006, each year, there are over 1.5 million preventable medication errors that occur annually. Of that 1.5 million, one-third are connected to the patients themselves and their inability to either read or properly follow the instructions that accompany or are printed directly onto the medicine bottles. (“Can You Read This Drug Label?” Consumerreports.org, June, 2011)
What both of these studies confirm is that many, if not most, of us struggle with following directions. This is true with everything from electronics and our medicine to the board games we play or the cars that we drive. Often times, we only consult the instructions when all else fails or when we find ourselves caught in a predicament that we can’t figure out how to quickly overcome on our own.
Struggles with following the directions are also at the heart of the beautiful text that is our focal passage for this morning from Isaiah 40 in general and specifically verse 31. What I mean by this is that when we study this passage, we immediately rush through the open statement of verse 31 to get to the promises of the verse that state that God will help us to “soar on wings like eagles, to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint.” Without question, these are wonderful promises, but, they need the preface or the instructions that go before them. Notice the phrase that begins the verse—“those who wait on the Lord….for those who wait…the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” We need those opening instructions and the Israelites who first heard these words needed them too.
You see, the context of Isaiah 40 was the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. In the period of 586/587 BC, the Southern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Babylonians and many of God’s people had been taken captive to that foreign land. They were in uncharted territory, they were dealing with an unknown world and they had no idea what was around the next corner for them. Without question, they likely began to make assumptions and declarations about both where they found themselves and what was ahead for them as individuals and as a people.
As you can imagine, their outlook was decidedly negative. They concluded that God had abandoned them. They determined that life was not of any value or worth. They expected that they would never go home again. They felt that they were powerless as an oppressed people under the authority of a foreign power.
In the midst of their pity party, Isaiah, as God’s messenger, reminded them of God’s continued reign as not only their God but as Lord of all creation. Isaiah reminded them that all was not lost, that they would be strong again and that life still had meaning. Isaiah comforted them with words of hope that they would again, “soar likes eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint” but all of these promises were couched within the idea of waiting and their ability to trust in God’s timing.
What Isaiah so skillfully tried to encourage the people to do was not to so quickly look at their lives and their surroundings while jumping to all types of conclusions. Rather than automatically falling to the temptation of assuming that they had everything figured out and that they possessed the ability to completely understand what was happening in the moment, Isaiah challenged them to trust God enough to wait and to be patient.
This same good word is invaluable advice for us too. Like the Israelites, we are prone to look at life and to quickly surmise exactly what we have in front of us. We love to rush into relationships, situations and experiences while quickly declaring them very, very good or very, very bad. Yet Isaiah challenges you and me, just as he did the Israelites, to realize that God’s strength and God’s power are more likely to be found in the patience and the waiting. Here is what I mean.
On the one hand, in light of this text, our challenge as people of faith is to always be patient enough with every life situation and experience to trust that good things can happen. Again, like the Israelites, our human tendency is to quickly make value judgments about who and what is in front of us. The danger for us, just as it was for the Israelites, is that we are unable to wait, be patient or stay calm long enough to allow ourselves to see how any given moment can be a positive thing rather than a negative. Rather than being an experience through which we crash and burn, this may be a moment that allows us to soar like the eagles. Instead of knocking us off our feet, we may find that this very experience allows us to run or to walk as we never have before. But, if we are not willing to wait, be patient or to stay calm, chances are we will never be able to come to those conclusions.
When I was growing up, our family owned a small business in the neighboring town. When I was in Junior High and High School, my father began to carry me to the office every day in the summertime. My job was to mow the yard, take out the trash in the salesman’s offices, vacuum, clean the bathrooms and wash the delivery truck. Having to get up early all summer, work while my friends were playing and do tasks that I didn’t enjoy led me to hate that job. In fact, I was probably the happiest kid in town when school went back into session for the fall each year. But, as I look back over those summers now, there is no doubt in my mind that some of my better qualities and ethics began through that experience that I could not stand. Most anywhere that I have been any type of success—anywhere I have soared or found a way to run—can at least be tied to that moment.
God wanted to the Israelites to be patient enough to give their time in Babylon this type of possibility and he wants us to be willing to do the same with our own experiences.
On the other hand, our challenge as people of faith is also being patient enough in every situation to also expect the goodness of God. Isaiah 40 wasn’t simply about Isaiah calling the Israelites to get over their pity party in terms of how they felt about their time in Babylon but much more pronounced was Isaiah’s call for them to get over their pity party in terms of how they felt about God in these same moments and their sense that God had abandoned them. Yet, the advice is very similar. Again, Isaiah’s first direction is that they needed to wait. Isaiah challenged them to stay calm, be patient, don’t immediately assume that God has forgotten or abandoned you—have enough trust and belief that even if you cannot see it or feel it in this moment that God right now may be at work behind the scenes so that you can walk, run or even soar!
Some of you have heard me mention before Philip Yancey’s analogy from his book The Jesus I Never Knew about aquariums. When he lived in Chicago, there was a point in Yancey’s life where he really enjoyed salt water aquariums as a hobby. One day, while he was cleaning the tank and caring for his fish, he began to notice that their reactions toward him were very similar to our reactions toward God much of the time. Every time that he came to do good for them—feed them, clean their space, drop important chemicals into the water—the fish ran in fear and hid. Their limited mental abilities always led them to interpret his good and positive actions as being for their harm rather than for their benefit. His conclusion was that we do the exact same thing. Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan, 1995, pages 38-39.
This is what Isaiah so wants to caution us against. When God doesn’t immediately do what we want or when God seems to be silent, in our limited human mental ability, we immediately run toward the conclusion that God is not working for our well-being or that God just doesn’t care.
Again, though there is Isaiah’s promise—for those who wait, we might just be surprised. Rather than a God who does not care, we may discover a God who is preparing us to have the strength to walk, run or soar.
At the end of the day, God has given us the instructions—in every situation our first job is to wait, be patient, stay calm and approach what is ahead with hope and trust – we have our instructions. The questions is, will we listen to and live by these good helpful, living giving words? Our ability to walk, run and to soar in this life may just depend on our answer. Amen.