Sunday, February 10, 2008

They Shall Walk and Not Faint

Today at Blackhawk Ministries, Pastor Kelly Byrd introduced a six week program of daily Bible readings to lead up to our celebration of Easter. One of today’s two passages is Isaiah 40:18-31. Reading it, I realized that I had never paid any attention to the first verses of that section—commentary on the massive greatness of God—but instead have gone directly to the end of the chapter. Naturally, it all ties together . . . verse 29 asserts that God “gives power to those who are tired” (NLT) but the prior verses make it clear that God actually does have more than enough power to share!

Anyway, I have been feeling pretty dry and cold (spiritually, but maybe even in other ways, too) lately. The fact that God has not poured amazing miracles out on Taylor University Fort Wayne despite our hard work and conviction that He has given us a vision and calling that He will bless has sometimes made me fearful that I’m like Jonah in that storm-tossed boat . . . Once Jonah was tossed overboard, the seas calmed down and the sailors were safe. I don’t want to be the factor that is holding back TUFW from smooth sailing.

Reading Isaiah 40:31 reminded me that even though I may feel cold and dry, I still need to keep moving and be faithful. And whenever I read this verse, I remember some great words from John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. What follows are some extended excerpts from pages 184-189 of that book . . .

If you are waiting on God these days—if you are obeying him, but you don’t see the results you hoped for yet—you need to know that in the Bible there is a wonderful promise attached to this waiting.

Even youths will faint and be weary
And the young will fall exhausted;
But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

I can never forget David Hubbard’s comment on these lines. . . . . The last letter I ever got from him, just a few weeks before he died, had a wonderful comment on these lines from Isaiah about waiting. David said that we must live these words—soaring, running, and walking—“one line at a time."

Sometimes you will mount up and soar on wings of eagles. This is a beautiful picture. Ornithologists say birds have three methods of flight. The first is flapping—keeping their wings in constant motion to counteract gravity. Hummingbirds can flap up to seventy times per second. Flapping keeps you up in the air, but it is a lot of work. Flapping is an awkward, clumsy business. I spend a lot of time flapping around. It gets me from here to there, but there is not a lot of grace involved.

A second flight method is gliding. Here the bird builds up enough speed, then coasts downward a while. It is much more graceful than flapping, but unfortunately it does not get the bird very far. Reality in the form of gravity sets in quickly. Gliding is nice, but it does not last.

Then there is the third way—soaring. Only a few birds, like eagles are capable of this. Eagles' wings are so strong that they are capable of catching rising currents of warm air—thermal winds that go straight up from the earth—and without moving a feather can soar up to great heights. Eagles have been clocked at up to 80 m.p.h. without flapping at all. They just soar on invisible columns of rising air.

Isaiah says that for those who wait on the Lord, times will come when they soar. You catch a gust of the spirit—Jesus said, "The wind blows wherever it pleases .... So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

Sometimes in your life you will be in an era of spiritual soaring. Maybe you are there right now. You find yourself simply borne up by God's power. You are out of the boat. God is answering prayer with extravagant generosity, using you in ways that leave you astonished, giving you power to rise above temptation and sin, making you surprisingly productive in your life's work, and flooding you with strength and wisdom beyond your ability.

Be very grateful. Do all you can to stay in the stream of the Spirit's power - be very obedient as the Spirit guides you. Keep praying, and don't assume you are soaring on your own strength. Maybe there are particular disciplines helping you catch the Spirit's power - solitude, memorizing Scripture, simply getting enough rest. Identify these and be very diligent in them, build on them and enjoy the ride. You are walking on the water. You are soaring with the Spirit.

But there is another line in Isaiah's description. Sometimes we are not soaring, but we are able to run and not grow weary. If this is where you are, your life isn't feeling effortless. You do not see a lot of miracles. You have to do some flapping. But with persistence and determination, you know you are running the race. You feel frustration, but you also feel God's pleasure in your obedience. You need to keep running - faithfully obeying, serving, giving, and praying. Do not try to manufacture spiritual ecstasy. Do not compare yourself with someone who is soaring right now. Your time will come. Just keep running.

Then there is a third condition that Isaiah describes. Sometimes we will not be soaring, and we cannot run—because of doubt or pain or fatigue or failure. In those times all we can do is walk and not faint. This is not water-walking. It is just plain walking. All we can do is say, "God, I'll hang on. I don't seem too fruitful or productive, and I don't feel very triumphant. But I won't let go. I will obey you. I'll just keep walking."

. . . . We have some very fast runners in our world. We have some eagles that soar much higher than we can see. It is a hard thing to be a walker when you are surrounded by racers and eagles. But sometimes walking is the best we can offer God. He understands all about that. Walking counts, too.

. . . . So you keep walking, because what we wait for is not more important than what happens to us while we are waiting.

Now it is just a matter of time.


Dusty Penguin said...

Thank you for the words of encouragement. I'll keep on walking.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Palmer, I needed that. "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

-Amy (still waiting for our daughter from China. 21 months down, maybe 20 more to go...)