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 shall walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40.31)
“Anticipation is making me wait; it’s keeping me waiting,” Carly Simon sang so splendidly in her 70’s classic. And as the anonymous sage said, “Anything worth having is worth waiting for.” But it's easy to wait for something we desire. Waiting for what we need is another thing entirely—definitely not anything to sing about. When we anticipate needs, we provide for them in advance so we won’t have to wait. It’s only when unanticipated needs arise that we’re plunged into the waiting game. These are times when anticipation turns into its ugly alternative, anxiety. Once anxiety rears its head, fear and doubt soon follow.
After lavishing God's people with extraordinary promises of its coming Redeemer, Isaiah wisely intuits the big question on everyone’s mind: When will our Savior get here? Given the perpetually repeated pattern of invasion, occupation, destruction, and rebuilding before the next enemy attack, their concept of a Messiah long ago morphed from heartfelt desire into desperate hope. Still, Isaiah doesn’t know exactly when the Promised One will appear. So he changes the subject from a promise with an undetermined delivery date to a matter of urgent importance.
Like Israel, we frequently fix our sights so far into the future we overlook immediate needs that weaken our perseverance and patience as we hope for big promises—finding a life partner, financial security, social and family acceptance, equal rights, etc. We grow weak and weary and disgruntled, focusing on signals that discourage us from holding fast to the promise God will come through in the end. Until then, we’re in dire need of new strength and tenacity. If we lose heart and let go, the “big things” God wants to do for us will never come about.
Isaiah preempts Israel’s question about how long it must wait on God by questioning how well it knows God. In verses 28-29, he asks, “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.” Though our faith falters and our stamina fails, God continues to move, full speed ahead. God’s reasons and methods are beyond our comprehension. In the meantime, God meets our immediate needs for new strength and power.
Solomon observed, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9.11) In other words, a lot of uncontrollable factors come into play as we wait for big things. The question isn’t when will they come to us. It’s when will we get to them. Endurance is what’s most crucial here. Jesus said, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10.22) And, in verse 30, Isaiah points out not everyone who seems likely to go the distance makes it: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.” But, he says, those who hope in God receive new strength. They soar like eagles. They run without getting tired. They walk without feeling faint. God’s great promises require great endurance. When our hope starts to weaken, God sends new strength to sustain our trust.
Originally posted December 4, 2008.
It's not when great things will come to us—it's when will we get to them. To shore up our endurance, God meets our short-term needs for new strength.
Postscript: “They That Wait”
I was raised on this simple song that takes its lyric from Isaiah 40.31 (KJV). It never grows old for me.