What kinds of strength or power does the world recognize and reward?
- Physical power
- Military power
- Athletic power
- Persuasive power
- Glamorous power
- Attractive power
- Prestigious power
- Seductive power
- Intimidating power
- Charismatic power
- Racial/ ethnic power
- Sizable power
- Political power
- Financial power
- Intellectual power
- Social power
- Manipulative power
Some of these powers are intrinsically good and helpful. Some of these powers are intrinsically evil and harmful. Some of these powers are neutral – the way we use them determines their morality.
God’s power is incomparably greater than every conceivable form of human power, but human powers are more tangible and more sensory, aren’t they? Because God’s power functions subversively we can miss it, especially when we feel powerless in this world.
Isaiah wrote this prophecy to exiles, people whose nation had been swallowed up by the dominant empire of that day – Babylon. From Israel’s desolate and conquered perspective God was disregarding their troubles and ignoring their rights (Isaiah 40:27).
It’s easy to read God that way when our faith is in a weakened condition.
In the passage, God argues otherwise. Isaiah 40:28 says God is Almighty whether we see it or not. God’s resources are never exhausted. God’s perceptiveness never dims.
Isaiah 40:29 is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible. According to this verse, we qualify for God’s strength when we own our weakness! This reminds me of the first three steps in the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
BRILLIANT!!! We own our weakness, we choose to believe in God, and we entrust ourselves to God.
Isaiah 40:30 gives us valuable information about people who epitomize humanity at its dynamic peak. That strength eventually declines. At our very best and even with our technologically advanced powers, we cannot compete with God’s power.
Isaiah 40:31 continues that line of reasoning by presenting the alternative. “But those who wait on (hope in, trust in) the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not get weary. They will walk and not faint.”
What does it mean to wait on the Lord? We identify primarily with passive waiting, like standing in line or being put on hold. But “wait” in verse 31 refers to active waiting. We entrust ourselves to God moment by moment, wrapping ourselves around God and tenaciously leaning against the wind into the solid hope that God is still faithful to His promises and is still capable, no matter what powers in this life have destabilized us or enfeebled us.
People who live in such intentional and trusting hope “gain new strength.” This means far more than God supplying a boost or a power surge to what we already have going for us. Rather, we come to an end of ourselves and we exchange our failing strength for God’s sustainable power (verses 29 and 30).
God’s strength manifests itself in three scenarios. In the first scenario we soar high on wings like eagles. There are seasons in life when we are effortlessly and transcendently gliding. In this scenario it is all good.
In the second scenario we run without getting weary. There are seasons when life is challenging and there is resistance (like hills during a marathon), but we are making progress. We hit our pace and keep moving. In this scenario it is not all good but we are okay.
In the third scenario we walk without fainting. There are seasons when life stinks, when faith wobbles, when we are disillusioned or discouraged or deflated, and the best we can manage is to shuffle one 5,000 pound leg forward and then move the other leg in generally the same direction or in no direction we can detect. In this scenario it is not all good and we are not okay but by God’s grace we are still standing. Success is defined as not totally shutting down and giving up.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could choose which scenario or season characterizes us? The faith journey does not work that way. We do, however, get to choose the source of our strength. We do not have to settle for human strength or power that is ultimately inadequate. We can own our weakness and exchange our ebbing strength for God’s strength.
God most emphatically demonstrates divine strength in the weakness of the crucified Christ. On the cross, worldly powers were broken from the top down and humble love secured our redemption from the bottom up. God offers us that kind of strength.
Are you soaring? Are you running? Are you walking? Are you collapsing? In the grace of the Gospel we come as we are, not as we should be.
May you and I exchange our powerlessness for God’s enduring and adaptable strength.
Grace and peace,
Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)