Trusting God's FaithfulnessDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 7, 2002
Selected highlights from this sermon
Isaiah encouraged the broken and battered people of Israel by reminding them of God’s faithfulness. If they waited on God, He would renew their strength.
When we spend time with God, we’ll learn to rely on Him. In every trial and circumstance, God is near us. And knowing this, we can face the future confident that He’ll keep His promises.
I think it’s true to say that sometimes just living wears us out. Particularly if we have situations that just keep dragging on and on. It might be a lawsuit that goes on interminably. It might be an illness for which there does not seem to be a cure. It might be a child, a wayward child in a family that is so grievous to its parents and the parents go on endlessly. They keep praying and seeking and hoping, and their hope is never fulfilled. And as a result all of us tend to wear out. Even young people who seem to have a lot of energy sometimes just become weary of what they have to do and they become tired and they begin to break down because of the pressures of life.
When Isaiah was writing chapter 40, he was writing to a nation that was weary. It was a nation in captivity. It was like a whole nation basically in jail in Babylon. He was anticipating the time when they would return, of course, but in the midst of that situation he was giving them some hope and saying that even in the midst of your deepest and darkest night, God is still there and God is faithful.
Many of you will realize that this is the fourth and last in a series of messages on Isaiah 40. If you have your Bibles, turn to Isaiah 40, that marvelous chapter about the sovereignty of God. And now Isaiah brings it down where all of us are able to live. He asks the question in verse 27, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘my way is hidden from the Lord and my cause is disregarded by my God’?” In light of the fact that God is so great, in light of the fact that He is sovereign and keeps the stars moving and when He calls for them every name that is called responds. Do you think He has forgotten about you? And you are important to Him you are number one on His agenda to take care of things in the universe. Why do you think that the justice that is due you has escaped His attention?
We actually dealt with that verse in the last message on this series, but notice now he asks another question in verse 28: “Do you not know? Have you not heard that 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.” Very briefly in verse 28 he gives us three attributes of God. Three attributes that we wish we had when life begins to fall apart, and when everything that was for us has turned against us, when we can’t seem to get justice, when we need to live with untrue stories, when our health breaks down. We wish we had these three attributes to keep going. Well, God has them. We don’t, but He does.
What are they? First of all, the attribute of strength. He says, don’t you realize that God is the creator of the ends of the earth? Of course He created the ends of the earth, but He also created the middle of the earth and everything that pertains to it. Remember that He is the creator and the sustainer and everything exists, by His good will and His good pleasure.
The second attribute that God has is patience. He does not become weary. Now think about this for a moment. God has not aged. If you were to have met God 200 million years ago, He would not have been younger than He is today, and He is not younger today than He will be tomorrow and throughout all of the ages of eternity. And you know that we won’t age in heaven either. In that sense, we will be like God because once we get our new bodies, we’ll go on endlessly, and we’ll never grow old and we’ll never be tired and we’ll never have to set our clocks ahead by an hour and miss an appointment and come late to church. You know, that’s one of the things that I look forward to in heaven. I think everyone is going to be on time.
So God has strength, God has patience, God has wisdom, His understanding no one can fathom. Sometime I’m going to preach a whole message just on that, the fact that God has understanding that we can’t get our minds around. Joseph Parker says tomorrow is coming upon us, but God is coming with it and in His path, He brings brightness and the sufficiency of His wisdom, but up until that time there is no sun to lighten the dark places in this world. Yes, there is the Son of God who gives us wisdom and insight. But when the prophet says that God’s ways we can’t fathom, he means that we can’t search them out. They are beyond our ability to understand. Remember this, that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite, and only God can understand God. Oh yes, we understand something of God as we come to know Him. But we always see through a glass darkly. There’s always that bigger part of God that is mysterious and hidden, but thank God we do know Him, and partial knowledge is still knowledge. You say “Well, Pastor Lutzer, all this business of the attributes of God, how does this relate to me? I’m interested in take-home pay. I’m interested in what it does for me.” Well I’ve got some good news. What Isaiah is saying is this: that if we meet the condition (and he gives here only one condition), God will share Himself with us and help us in the point of our greatest need. God shares what He has. That’s why the text goes on to say that here’s God who never wearies, and what does He do? He gives strength to those who are weary. Here is God who has infinite power and He helps those who are stumbling. You see the point? God shares Himself with us if we meet the condition.
In the Scripture there are many promises. This is one of those promises, but promises have to be correctly interpreted, because if not, we’ll end up promising some things that God has not promised and therefore people will become discouraged, disappointed, and disillusioned. This happens for example when we have brothers and sisters who tell people that you can be healed at any time from any disease. And many people who have sought God have discovered that it hasn’t worked out for them and then they’ve had to analyze the question: Am I at fault? Is it my fault or is it God’s fault? And because not one of us wants to say it’s God’s fault, we end up saying it’s my fault. I don’t have the faith. And as a result of that, there is deep discouragement as we as pastors have to counsel people to help them in the night of their soul, because they’ve been taught that there are promises in Scripture that really are not there.
But here we have a promise. So what we’re going to do is search the Scriptures today and find a condition and then find the answer and find out how God answers and responds to this promise. The condition is this, and I’m in verse 31 which is the verse that wraps up this entire magnificent description of God’s greatness and power: “But those who hope in the Lord…” I prefer the translation that says those who wait for the Lord. That’s the way its translation in the NASB and other translations, but the NIV says those who hope in the Lord and the reason is because when you hope in the Lord it is true that you have this sense of expectancy and dependence and so in that sense you are hoping in the Lord. But I prefer the translation, which actually does reflect the Hebrew word here that we wait for the Lord.
That could be a whole series of messages, just going through and seeing what the Bible says about waiting for the Lord. What does it mean to wait for the Lord? It’s based on certain premises. The first premise is this: that because we are creatures, we are moment by moment dependent on God, because we are contingent. We don’t have within ourselves what it takes to live. We live because God wills it and only when God wills it, and when He stops willing it, we stop living. Let me ask you a question: Why did you not die yesterday? You could’ve; why didn’t you? It’s because God consciously, moment by moment, hour by hour, chose to sustain you and to keep you and to give you strength, because if He had withdrawn His hand, you would not be here today to hear this message. You’d be somewhere else hearing some other message which I hope would be a very good one. We no more have power within ourselves than this pen has the power to keep itself from falling to the floor. The only reason it is not falling to the floor is because I have chosen to sustain it second by second, moment by moment with my hand. I withdraw my hand and the pen falls. I’ll get it later. [laughter]
Now listen carefully. Waiting on God means that the same sense of dependence we have physically we also have spiritually, because we come to God and we say we are morally and spiritually bankrupt, there is nothing within us that is untainted. We come before You in helpless dependency. We are like water that is spilled on the ground that cannot be regathered. We come to yield and to recognize that in us there is nothing good. All goodness comes from You and therefore our dependence is conscious, it is absolute, and it is continual. That’s what it means to wait on God. It means that we come and we confess sins that He brings to our attention. It’s different from prayer.
There are all kinds of people who pray frazzled prayers who have never waited on God. Some of the older mystics used to say that what we need to do is to have solitude. They’re really onto something: solitude. And we can’t have solitude in our lives because we have to go to work and we have to this and we have to do this but we can go into our bedrooms or in our closets and lie face down in the presence of God and wait on Him, maybe for 15 minutes or half an hour just to renew promises in our mind, renew our submission, renew who we are in His presence. And we yield to Him and we wait for guidance, we wait for fulfillment, we wait with expectation for His will but we wait on God, total dependence.
Now that is the condition, and what is the promise? Here it is: “Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary and they will walk and not be faint.” Many people think that Isaiah had it confused. If he had been thinking logically, some people say, he’d have put this in a different order. He’d have said those kinds of people what happens to them is they learn to walk and then they get good at walking and they eventually run and they run so fast that they fly. [laughs] But Isaiah isn’t confused. He’s writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His order is the divine order.
First of all, they soar like eagles, they are renewed. They are renewed. What do we know about eagles? Somebody who watched an eagle build a nest said that eagles when they build a nest on a tall tree, the first thing they lay down is thorns and sharp rocks and sharp twigs. They begin there and then they bed it with feather and with fur and all kinds of comfy things so that those little eaglets are in such comfort, and then of course as you know the push the little eaglets out eventually and catch them on their wings. This is the Biblical story in Deuteronomy 32 where God says He does that with Israel. And those little eaglets, though, they don’t want to leave the nest. So what the eagle does is throw out all the feathers and all the fur and those little eaglets now when they’re in the nest are on hard rocks and thorns and sharp twigs and the nest becomes so uncomfortable that they say to themselves, you know, I’d rather fly than be in here and then they begin to learn to fly. What does God do to us? Oftentimes He stirs up our nest by taking down those comforts, and we find ourselves against thorns and sharp rocks and jagged edges. And God says, “What I want you to do is to wait on Me, because you are going to fly.” That is to say that you are going to be renewed in your inner man. Now when you fly, eagles just simply spread their wings. And they love storms, because the storms enable them to fly higher and the storms carry them. Another thing about eagles in flight is they have no fear of crossing rivers because they’re above it all. There is such a thing that the Apostle Paul talked about, “That though our outer man perishes” and yours is perishing, I can see it this morning. Don’t look at me; ’m looking at you. “Though the outer man perishes, the inner man is being renewed day by day” when we wait on God. And after we wait on God what can we do? There are two different ways that God fulfills that promise. Sometimes we run and we don’t get tired. That’s when God works with us and everything is going our direction and we have energy and we have the ability to do what we want to do and we’re strengthened and we run along and we’re not tired. But that’s not how God always fulfills His promises. Sometimes the best we can do is walk, that’s all, without fainting. And some of you have been renewed in your spirits and you’ve waited on God, but the best thing you can do is to ask God, “I’m getting up in the morning; help me to make it to evening.” You’re going through a trial that is so difficult, that is so excruciating, that has so many ramifications, that includes fear and uncertainty and all those things and all that you do is say, “Lord, I wait before you and I ask for one thing as I am renewed: give me the grace to be able to walk without fainting. Well, now one of these days all of us will faint and we will all die. There’s no pie in the sky here. Sometimes the best we can do is to simply take a step at a time. And people who are taking a step at a time are also demonstrating the grace of God and the power of God and the renewal of God even as they walk one step at a time.
Let me summarize this and then I’ll give you some examples as we summarize the whole chapter. I would say first of all, the better we know God, the more we can trust Him. The better we know God, the more we can trust Him. You know where Isaiah says, “Why do you say, O Israel, why do you speak that the justice due me has escaped the attention of my God?” Why do you think that God has forgotten you? It’s because you’ve not learned to trust God, because you don’t know Him very well. The better we know Him, the more we can trust Him. So maybe if we have a little faith, God might be saying to us, “Just get to know Me better by waiting on Me, and let Me reveal Myself to you through the Word. Give me time to do it.” We want to know God in a hurry; everything is in a hurry. Like somebody said, “I put freeze-dried coffee in a microwave and actually went back in time.” I mean, I don’t know what that means, but everybody is in a hurry. There’s no time to wait.
Secondly, the more we trust God, now notice the sequence here, the better we know God the more we can trust Him, the more we trust Him, the more of Himself He shares with us. Notice the text: “Because God does not grow weary he gives strength to those who are weary. Because God is not weak (it says in verse 29), he increases the power of the weak.” God comes and shares Himself at the midst of our need and meets us where we are. And in the process of meeting us where we are, of course He’s going to demand honesty. He’s going to demand that we no longer fool ourselves regarding who we are in His presence, and that’s where we find out what we are. But in the process, God says, “I begin to share Myself.” This is the Old Testament equivalent to the New Testament doctrine that God gives more grace. He gives grace to the humble, He keeps giving grace, He keeps giving us strength as we wait before Him. Alexander MaClaren says that God will give Himself to you in the very heart of your decay. I love that. God will give Himself to you in the very heart of your decaying nature. He will plant the seed of an immortal being. That’s what the new birth is all about. There’s a part of us that is immortal, that is eternal, and God does that as He gives Himself to us. We are partakers of the divine nature when we’re converted. God grants that to us.
And then there’s a third lesson: the more of Himself that He shares, the more confidently we can face the future. You see, what God is saying is that only those who really know how to fly, as it were, by being renewed, they are the ones who can run, they are the ones who can walk, and they are the ones who do not ultimately have to fear the future. Why? Because of this down deep confidence, this settled confidence that they’ve come to know a God they can trust.
This whole chapter teaches us that everything is known to God. That was one of the messages we preached, the knowledge of God. Everything is known to God. Every motive, every intention, every plan against you, every plan that is for you, every event that is hidden from our eyes is fully known to God. He can see around every corner. He can see past all of the time barriers. He can see that and therefore in that we can rest. Everything is known to God. Everything is planned by God. And nothing is out of His control, even because of sin. It’s not as if the devil is out of control because he’s kind of doing what he wants, but only as God allows it. And therefore, everything is directed by God toward an appointed end. So as we are waiting on God, we are renewed. And sometimes He only allows us to walk, but even that walking is under His divine hand. The question that we’re always asking, isn’t it, is does it work? Does it work?
As all of you know, Pastor Milco and his wife Karen have gone many times to a refugee camp, the Osire Refugee Camp in Africa. And they've received letters from people within the camp. Now I need to describe this to you. We're talking about a camp that has 20,000 people but food being trucked in for about 15,000. This is a camp where parents are starving themselves to death so that their children can live. What I want to know is, does Christianity work there? Because if it works there, it most assuredly works everywhere. I asked Pastor Milco to share a few letters that they received from the refugee camp. I read only a few lines. Listen to this, a young woman writes: "We feel like we are people with no value in the world. The attitude of some people is that everything is against us, but now we know that this is wrong because God loves us always. He tells us what is most important for our lives. In the trials of life, we understand (notice this now) that God is near to us. You can't run in the camp without getting weary. But maybe you can walk and not faint. Through these trials, He gives us the best of friends,” and he's talking here about the Milco’s. Here's another letter: "You have shown us that God is still with us." Because many people in that camp are thinking that to be in that camp and to be away from our own country is like there is no hope anymore. But now, I can hardly read this next line. I mean, this is what we're talking about, folks: "But God showed us His glory and love and made us understand that He is with us." Are these people being renewed? So that sometimes they can run and sometimes maybe all they can do is walk, but God blessed them? Listen to a 12-year-old boy. This boy, you'd think, had read the 40th chapzter of Isaiah. He said it much better than I've ever said it. He said, "Only God can solve this problem. He is president of heaven and earth." I like that. I like that. "He's president of heaven and earth and of the whole wide world. He is more powerful than the presidents of these countries because they were created by our God." I'd like to meet that young guy. [applause] Another person writes in the letter the words of a hymn which I, frankly, could not remember the name of. And I think we know each other well enough for me to be able to say I asked Jerry and I gave him a few words and he couldn't think of it either. [laughter] That's alright Jerry, I'll take you out for lunch. "Not what I wish to be, nor where I wish to go, for who am I that I should choose my way? The Lord shall choose for me is better far I know." And then beyond that, I wasn't able to read what the rest of the hymn was, but that's what somebody wrote in the Osire refugee camp. I just want you to believe in the faithfulness of God. Not faithful just when the sun is shining and everything is going your way and you're walking along sidewalks with little flowers like that and you get the promotion and everybody loves you and everybody at work becomes committed to your happiness. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about sickness, poverty, injustice, and death. He's faithful all the way. And the way you get to know Him is through Christ who said, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest." Let's pray.
Our Father, today we thank You for the lives of those who have demonstrated that they who wait upon the Lord are renewed. No, we don't always fly; we don't always soar with wings of eagles as if life is easy. But we are renewed in our spirit and You do enable us sometimes to run. But sometimes we can't run, but you do enable us to walk. O grant today, Father, that our faith in You might be increased. We ask for hearts that are willing to believe You and to trust You even in the night of our experience. Lord, teach us what it is to wait upon You. In Jesus' name we pray, amen. Amen.