But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
The longing to find new strength and perpetual vigour is everywhere in the world today. The very existence of wonderful animals like the rhinoceros and the tiger is threatened by primitive longings for youthful energy that many men believe can be obtained by eating parts of these magnificent beasts. They will pay any price to feel young again. Our society is characterized by a sadness at long departed youth and an envy at the energy of the young. How can people find that strength restored?
This is where these wonderful statements of Isaiah the prophet are so relevant today. Here he is is describing for us where new strength can be found.
- STRENGTH IS GIVEN TO THOSE WHO WAIT UPON THE LORD.
First there is a description of these favoured people. The familiar phrase is ‘those who wait on the Lord. The NIV translates the verb ‘hoping’ in the Lord, but Edward J. Young is happy to translate it as those who ‘wait on the Lord,’ and Alec Motyer says that to hope is one of the dimensions of those who wait patiently on the Lord. I will continue to use the well-known term, those who wait upon the Lord.’ These are the people who are going to renew their strength, and these alone.
Then let us start here. A Christian is someone who waits on the Lord. Think of our Queen, that she has a trusted group of people who are devoted to working for her and with her, women whom she has in her confidence, and to whom she delegates many tasks that come to her. They are called her ‘ladies in waiting.’ Every day I guess a hundred people write letters to the Queen; she has visits to make and these women accompany her; her grandson and his wife have a newborn baby and hundreds of people send gifts to the baby. All have to be acknowledged. A lady in waiting is sent to work for the prince and princess to help them with the ton of letters and gifts they have had. Each day there is correspondence and people to meet and she can trust these ladies in waiting to give their best gifts, and intelligence, and wisdom in acting on her behalf and working for her. The ‘lady in waiting’ is not an honorary title; it does not describe someone who does nothing. Waiting on her majesty the Queen means an honour . . . much hard work . . . great satisfaction . . . and contentment to be a figure in the background. I ask you whether you can name one of the ladies in waiting? They are not there for fame; they are there for one purpose, to serve the Queen, to work for her and help her.
So the Christian is someone who waits upon the Lord Almighty. Each day we go to him and we say, “What do you want me to do for you today?” What a privilege to work for him; each day we have duties which the Lord instructs him to do. I want us to consider our responsibility to God, to do his will. I am speaking here to Christians who have repented of their sin and entrusted themselves to the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. He is their only hope of salvation and of entering heaven, and every true believer is a person who waits on the Lord, whose delight it is to do God’s will each day.
Now you know the structure of the New Testament letters. The great saving work of God is described for us at the opening of these letters and then they end with a series of duties which those who wait on the Lord are asked to perform. They are quite bewildering! They are extraordinary! They are overwhelming, and they are binding. We wait on the Lord each day, and the Lord says to us, this is how I want you to act and these are the duties for the day. What we will do is this – I am describing to you what it means to wait on the Lord – let us look at each of the letters of Paul and choose just a single one of the commands that gentlemen and ladies who wait on the Lord have to perform day by day without fail. Let us in that way build up a picture of the duties of waiting on the Lord. We have to do that if we want to discover the meaning of our strength being renewed. So let us start with Paul’s letter to the Romans and go on through to the letter to the Hebrews simply selecting one verse or so from each of Paul’s letters
Romans 15:1 “Bear with the failings of the weak and [don’t] please ourselves.” People let you down. They speak and they provoke. They make promises and they fail to keep them. Don’t get exasperated and angry. Bear with their failings – that is what your great King of heaven says. Don’t please yourselves and simply ignore them. They are weak and they have failings; bear with them. Be patient! That is waiting on the Lord.
I Corinthians 15:58 “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” You are tempted to give up, and take a back seat, and let others be in the front line of Christian service. No! Stand firm! Let nothing move you, not the most powerful man, not a multitude of people, the devil, physical weakness – no, let NOTHING move you. Then what. “Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord! 100% effort, nothing half hearted, and all the time – “always” – never doubt for a moment that your work is never in vain, in spite of the devil whispering to us, “It’s in vain. It’s all in vain.” The cup of cold water given in the name of the Lord is not in vain. That is waiting on the Lord.
2 Corinthians 13:11 “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.” Those people who wait on the Lord what is their aim in life? Perfection in keeping God’s law, perfection in loving him – with all their hearts, and loving their neighbours as themselves – go for it, aim for perfection. This is Paul’s appeal, and do this as a body – as members of one another – the whole congregation. “Be of one mind . . . live in peace!” No strife or bitterness or envy. Each one considers the others better than he is and worthy of respect and his service. That is the life of those who wait upon the Lord.
Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Jesus went about doing good, and he left us an example that we should walk in his steps. There are neighbours on your street, people in your family, colleagues you work with, and as the opportunity arises in God’s providence you can do good to some of them. How has it been this summer, or this year? Have there been people to whom you have done some good? Paul reminds us especially of the family of faith, our congregation. What good are you doing to them? That is waiting upon the Lord. That is what he tells you to do.
Ephesians 5:3-5 “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Can you imagine those ladies in waiting in Buckingham Palace telling dirty jokes across their desks as they answer letters, boasting of the men they have been with over the week-end, dropping obscenities, foolish talk? It would be out of place wouldn’t it? So those who wait on the Lord, who desire an inheritance in the kingdom of God they don’t behave like that. It is improper for God’s holy people. You either choose the lifestyle that prepares you for heaven or one that prepares you for hell.
Philippians 2:14-16 “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” Can you see someone who has been given a high calling, with much responsibility and great privileges and honours, and yet with all this privilege they are always whinging and arguing, overwhelmed with self-pity? “It’s not fair . . .” That is what they’re saying all the time. What miserable people. Rather, they are to be without any fault. They are to stand out and shine like stars. They are to hold out the word of life to men and women – that is the behaviour of those who wait on the Lord.
Colossians 4:5&6 “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” There are people who are outsiders; they are outside of grace, outside any profession of faith, outside of the church. Are you conscious of how such people look at you and how you are to relate to them? You are to be WISE in how you act, in all your dealings with them you’re praying, “Lord, give me wisdom here!” Make the most of every opportunity. Don’t let a conversation with them be wasted, and your speech should always be full of grace. Ask God for help so that you know how to answer everyone. That is the way those men behave who wait on the Lord.
I Thessalonians 5:21&22 “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” There are those three exhortations. Don’t be gullible. Don’t believe everything people say to you. Their hearts are deceitful above all things. Be wise and test everything. Test it by the Bible. Test it by common sense. Test it be the opinion of wise Christians, and then you will break it down to some things that are true and trustworthy. Hold on to that – see how Paul tells them that, and finally he says, “Avoid every kind of evil.” Wickedness is multifarious. It comes in all forms and manners. Avoid every kind of wrongdoing. That is the lifestyle of those who wait on the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-8 “Keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” So this is the picture of those who wait on the Lord, that they are never sluggards. They don’t look for an easy life preying on the kindness and generosity of others. If a Christian insists on being idle then we are told ultimately to avoid him. Isolate him. Make him feel ashamed. Let him pay for his own food. Let him provide for his dependents. Let him work night and day. Let him labour and toil. Let him not be a burden on anyone. That is the righteous character of those who wait on the Lord and get their orders from the Lord for every day they work
1 Timothy 6:11 “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” Six massive virtues. They are your goals in life. For the next seventy years if God spares you these are your targets every day. This is what you are aiming for, not for three of them, or four, but all six. A life of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. This is to be the character of all who wait on the Lord, all who are following the Lord Jesus Christ, and each of us finds one or two of those graces in particular so very hard to do. Cry to God to help you in your pursuit of all these virtues. Don’t be barren or fruitless in any of these areas. Go for them all as you wait upon the Lord.
2 Timothy 2:25&26 “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” Those who wait on the Lord are going to meet opposition – scorn and disdain and ignorance. Don’t lose your cool. Be gentle with them. Instruct them gently with the prayer and hope that they will be given repentance by God, that they will come to their senses and escape the devil who has trapped them and taken them captive. Poor sinners, boasting of their freedom and yet snared by Satan. Gently testify to them! Gently speak to them! You are not able to deliver them but God can deliver the worse of them. That is how those who wait on the Lord live.
Titus 2:7&8 “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” Again there is this stress on doing what is good, and then he shows what this means for speaking to people. He commends three virtues for those who say a word for Jesus Christ; “Show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech.” Integrity is trustworthiness and reliability; seriousness does not mean a lack of humour or naturalness, but that this Christian faith of ours is never a joke. Soundness of speech means we know the great truths that God has given to us in the Bible and we are sound, we are biblical in our convictions and thinking and speaking. If we are that, then those who mock will feel ashamed. That is how those who wait on the Lord are to live.
Philemon 6 “Be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” There are others who need to know the Christian faith. Could you explain it to them? Who is Jesus Christ? Why did he come into the world? What is the plight of man? How has God delivered us? Know these things and then share your faith! Be active in that duty. Don’t put your light under a bushel. It is in the sharing with us that you will appreciate as never before what you have in Christ. As you use your lisping stammering tongue you will be speaking to yourself about the good things you have in Christ. That is how those who wait on the Lord are to live.
Hebrews 13:1-5 “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” This is how those what wait on the Lord are to behave every day, 24/7, until they die. This is not set out here as something to be admired but is quite unattainable. It is a way of life to be obeyed scrupulously and cheerfully, loving, giving, remembering, identifying yourselves with those suffering for Jesus’ sake, keeping your marriage vows. Not being covetous but contented. How can you wait on the Lord who died for you and pardoned all your sins whom you are going to meet very soon in glory, the one who gives you richly all things you need – and then live any different from these exhortations? I am saying to you in all these apostolic commandments to Christians who wait on the Lord that this is the way you are to live. This is what it means to wait on the Lord, and to hope in the Lord and to patiently look to the Lord day by day. You are to aim for this radical, new and powerful lifestyle. So waiting on the Lord is not quietism, though it can never be achieved without prayer and fasting. It is the consciousness of receiving such orders from your monarch and master each day, and responding to all your duties in these ways – and of course there are many, many more ways we show that we are truly waiting on our dear Lord.
- STRENGTH IS RENEWED TO THOSE WAITING ON THE LORD.
“They renew their strength.” They alone are renewed daily. You are not expecting that response. You are expecting that they are going to be exhausted people. To live like that, bearing with the weak, standing firm, aiming for perfection, doing good to all people, no hint of sexual impropriety, being wise in your dealings with non-Christians, keeping away from every brother who is idle, pursuing righteousness and godliness, gently instructing those who oppose you, showing integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech, being active in sharing the faith, entertaining strangers. Keeping your lives free from the love of money and being content with what you have – living day by day to those standards and never giving up, never giving up for a moment, then Isaiah tells us these remarkable words, that these people far from dying of exhaustion renew their strength. These people who wait on the Lord in these ways – and many others – get stronger not weaker. Literally it is that they ‘change their strength,’ the strength of the old unregenerate man is exchanged for the strength of the new man who is joined to Christ, the man who can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Do you see the contrast with the mere healthy man who is yet outside of Christ, even comparing our strength with the strength of the athlete, the energy of the young man? Do you see the contrast that’s here in this passage of Scripture? Look at the context, at the 30th verse; “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.” You have dreamed of what can never be, that you could be young again. You have spoken enviosly, “Youth is wasted on the young.” But look at this footballer, he grows tired and weary. Look at this athlete, even he stumbles and falls. That is the strength that the natural man possesses, the power that all men have because of the providence of God and from the fact that they are made in God’s image. That is the energy of all the resources you once had as an unregenerate man, apart from God, which strength you know didn’t keep you in the dark days. It did not erect a great impregnable wall which kept ill health and depression from entering your life. You see many of those athletes, that they were only as good as their last game, as the last goal or assist or the medal they won but since then there has been many a failure. Now they are tired and weary; they stumble and fall.
They don’t know the secret of renewing their strength. That is why there is always the temptation of artificial stimulants. I am saying that none but his loved ones know how to renew their strength. It is found in the daily obedience of faith. It comes from doing God’s will. It comes from looking at those commands from the letters of the N.T and saying, “It is impossible for me to live like that, but as I wait on you and do your will I experience this amazing reality, I find that this work and labour for you actually strengthens me. I feel stronger and more vital with new energy as I’m pursuing righteousness and godliness, gently instructing those who oppose me, showing integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech, being active in sharing the faith, entertaining strangers, keeping my life free from the love of money and being content with what I have – as I do such things then God graciously renews my strength.”
You think of the athlete who works with a personal trainer, that each week his coach examines and checks up on his state of health, puts him on a tread mill and measures his heart beat and blood pressure. Then what does he say? “I have discovered that your muscle is getting bigger, so you know what you must do? Put it in a cast and wear a sling around your neck and carry your arm there and don’t exercise it at all, wrap your arms in cotton wool and lie down as much as you can. That is the way to renew your strength.” Is that what an expert coach says? Not at all; he develops a whole array of exercises for every part of the body to tone up each muscle and improve his co-ordination and balance. He will renew his strength in the exercise of his body.
So it is with our renewal and strengthening as Christians. There is only one way – wait upon the Lord. Do all the things that a God-fearing and God obeying servant has to do, and far from being overwhelmed with weariness you will find that your strength will be renewed. It was like this in the life of John Wesley, as he toured the United Kingdom beginning in London and then westwards to Bristol, and then north to Newcastle and then down south to London again in a constant great triangle of Christian evangelistic effort, then Wesley found that this activity was best for his spiritual and physical well being. The sweat he broke into in preaching made him fit for slumber in the hours of darkness and prepared him for the next day’s toiling. He lived on to his eighties keeping up this tempo, constantly working for the Lord and the Lord was always renewing his strength.
But it is much more than feeling better and surviving. See this language…
i] They will soar with wings like eagles. Isaiah chooses this because the eagle is the strongest and most beautiful of birds. It can remain soaring on thermals, the rising currents of air for hours. It can carry a lamb or a big buck rabbit in its talents from a field in the valley bottom and fly high up the mountain to a crag to feed its young. When we become Christians and wait upon God and present our bodies as living sacrifices to him then we don’t merely do our duty and do our best. We rise! We are seated in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. Who is? The mere Christian. The youngest Christian. What energy! What work for God!
ii] They will run and not grow weary. You remember how it was with Elijah? Once he spoke to Ahab the king and told him the rain was coming and to hitch his chariot and go home before the storm struck the land and the drought ended, but we are told, “The sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel” (I Kings 18:45&46). He outran the king’s chariot all the miles to Jezreel. No matter how much the charioteer lashed the horses they couldn’t overtake the prophet. Then later he was aroused by an angel from his depressing sleep under the juniper tree and the angel ministered to him. He ate the food the angel prepared and lay down again and we are told, “The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he travelled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (I Kings 19:7&8). He ran and was not weary.
iii] They will walk and not faint. Consider the great missionary journeys of the apostle Paul and his companions, three of them, on foot around the Mediterranean basin taking the gospel as far north east as Yugoslavia or the borders of Albania, and Paul and his friends did not grow weary with all their mistreatment and abuse. They walked all those miles and then preached in the face of violent opposition, dogs turned on them, stones were thrown and they faced many threats but they did not faint and never gave up.
In your labours, as you do what God tells you to do, you are given strength. You read of a day in the life of Spurgeon, the letters answered, the books read, the preparation for his meetings, and the travel and the preaching – what a colossus! You get weary just reading about what he did, and he was not unique in this regard. I know of a man who edits a magazine, heads a publishing house, writes books with a lot of research behind them, lectures in a theological seminary, travels around the world to speak at conferences, preaches in his church every Sunday and is a family man with a wife and children that are not neglected, gives himself to his pastoral duties to the sick in his congregation. How does he do this and not faint? He is doing it all as his duty to wait on God, and then he finds his strength is renewed. This is the secret of a full and strong life.
- THE CHRISTIAN IS A MAN WHO IS PRACTICALLY OMNIPOTENT.
Sometime we look at the pressures, the mountains God asks us to climb, the burdens God asks us to carry and we ask ourselves, “How will we possibly cope?” We say to ourselves that we can’t possibly manage, and then we come to this verse and the promise it contains to every Christian of renewed strength, of what Paul says to the Philippians that he has become conscious of the greatness of God’s power to him and to all who believe that he can do all things in the Christ who strengthen him.
You know that in many ways I can say to you this evening that I believe in almost everything the charismatic movement teaches. But I believe that their foundational truths about Spirit baptism, and Spirit filling, and Spirit leading, and spiritual gifts are not simply for some of God’s people, for the hyper-Christian or the super-Christian, some gifted minority of disciples. No. I believe that all who wait upon the Lord renew their strength. I believe they all mount up with wings as eagles; I believe that they all run and do not get weary, that they all walk and do not faint.
I believe that Christ lives in every one of his children. I believe that God’s omnipotent Spirit inhabits the body of every Christian without exception. I believe that the Father has made us his temples. I believe that the triune God lives in every Christian. I believe that every Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit of God. I believe that every Christian has gifts with which to serve the body of Christ. I do not believe that some of the gifts like the gift of apostle were meant to be permanent, that after the last apostle ceased that God stopped giving that gift to men. I don’t believe that there is anyone today who even knows what tongue-speaking was.
I believe that the whole error of that movement is not its reminding us of what God’s children can be. It is the invidious suggestion that you can wait on the Lord and not have the strength and power to do a decent job of it, that it is normal and average to be a Christian and not know these great and these mighty resources.
I am a charismatic; the elders are charismatic; the deacons are Spirit-filled men; the youngest member and the most immature member and every one of you who trusts in Jesus Christ are charismatics – even though none of you speaks in tongues and none of you prophesies. I believe it is impossible to be a non-charismatic church because there is no believer in whom Christ and his Spirit does not live and actively influence and change day by day.
I believe that the reverse – the opposite opinion – that we can plod on through life without the Spirit strengthening and empowering – that that theory is far too often an excuse for our own failure. “Alas, I cannot take that work in the church. I cannot receive that office. I cannot climb that mountain because I don’t have Spirit-baptism. I cannot cross that river because I don’t have Spirit anointing. I couldn’t resist the devil in that temptation because I did not have Spirit filling. I do not believe any single Christian has the right to argue in those terms.
I believe that those who are working in obedience to the Lord, waiting on their Lord and Master and seeking to do his will do renew their strength. They do mount up with wings as eagles; they do run and not grow weary and walk and do not faint. I believe that you can climb any mountain. I believe that you can bear any load. That you can endure any pain, that you can overcome any temptation, that you can bear any pressure because Christ lives in you.
Whatever cup God fills and gives us to drink then we can drink it. Whatever cross God lays on our shoulders, we are able to bear it. Whatever our calling, whatever our duty, however lonely, with few understanding us – still we can do it! We can do all things because “I live, nevertheless not I but Christ lives in me.”
So I am urging you today to begin this new life of waiting upon God and when he says Come, you come, and when he says No, then you stop, and when he says, Do this, then don’t make any excuse. You do it. You can be a Christian, not a great Christian, just an ordinary Christian who waits on the Lord day by day and you will find strength from an indwelling Saviour to please God in all you do, living out the good and acceptable and perfect will of God in everything. May God grant it to all of us.
8th September 2013 GEOFF THOMAS