For the past 5 years or so, I've found myself asking God to grant a peaceful year. You know, to change it up a little and--just to give it a whirl--grant a year that isn't full of drama, conflict, massive changes, etc. etc.
It's a little whiny of me, because God has blessed in incredible ways. I am well aware that many would look at my life as something to be envied. Truth be told, I am very content. I honestly wake up every morning thankful for the material blessings such taking my morning cup of tea on my covered back porch looking out on a forest as well as thankful for the larger blessing of being alive, being able to breathe, being able to see. Because, some of my trials have had to do with struggles over the latter two. These trials have caused me to be deeply thankful of the long stretches when my body and things around me seem to be working just fine. Even now, as I sit in contemplation and thankfulness, I am preparing to go to a doctor's appointment that will hopefully confirm that my eyes are just fine for another 6 months or so. Peace in between chaos.
I've learned that my prayer for a drama-free year is rather misguided. First off, this prayer hasn't been answered yet, so I would assume that God knows better than I do of what should be happening in my life. Second, I'm learning from studying Isaiah 40 that it's not the absence of drama and conflict that we should be seeking.
Let's start at the back and work our way forward in this amazing passage.
We've wrapped up the narrative portion of Isaiah and started the heavily Messianic section of Isaiah chapters 40-55. Even those who are unfamiliar with the Bible may likely know excerpts from these passages, due to incredible musical works such as Handel's Messiah.
Chapter 40 starts with the word, "comfort," and then ends with this section:
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 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.
The word "hope" is sometimes translated as "wait" in some Bible translations. Both are correct, if a little inadequate in the English. According to the NIV Application Commentary on Isaiah,
To 'wait' on God is not simply to mark time; rather, it is to live in confident expectation of his action on our behalf. It is to refuse to run ahead of him in trying to solve our own problems for ourselves.
I've previously blogged on Isaiah's teaching (and others') on waiting on the Lord (https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/_wait) and all of those points apply here as well.
The exact Hebrew word used here is qavah, which has both a literal and figurative meaning. The literal meaning has to do with binding together, like a braid or cord. It has to do with abiding, with the strands of a braid staying or abiding together because they are tightly interwoven.
So, like, not how I do braiding. My daughter is definitely on her own if she wants to attempt a nice, abiding braid.
The figurative meaning has to do with the eager expectation of waiting. I shouldn't passively wait for God to do something. Instead, I trust in Him and have hope that He will do something new and wonderful, if perplexing and confusing at the time. I stay close by, in place, so that I don't veer out of the arena that He will be working.
So, that's the "wait" or "hope" part.
Then there's renewing strength and a poetic passage on soaring like eagles. There are many songs based on this passage that has brought so much encouragement to so many. I love the choice of an eagle to illustrate some great truths in such a beautiful way. I know literally nothing about eagles or, really, most animals. My mother and I frequently joke with one another that are well-aware of what we do and don't know, and that "don't" category largely includes most animal facts, despite me once having conducted a research study at a zoo (as a psychology researcher, I was studying people, however!). But, I can read (!), and learned that the bald eagle can have an 8 foot wingspan and can fly 35 mph and even up to 75 mph with wind included. I was also aware that, like with swimming, a good flap can go a long way. Eagles are not constantly flapping--with that wingspan, they don't need to. One study found that an observed eagle averaged less than two minutes of flapping per hour during a flight. It takes a lot of energy to flap. This article concluded, "Therefore, eagles will always choose to soar or glide when possible" (https://journeynorth.org/tm/eagle/EagleFlightLesson.html)
And there's the connection with Isaiah 40. We don't need to be constantly flapping, striving and striving spiritually. I'm reminded of Keith Green's song, "When I Hear the Praises Start," which starts with, "My son, my son, why are you striving? You can't add one thing to one's been done for you." By hoping in/waiting on the Lord expectantly and abiding in Him, we renew our strength and soar.
And, pristine air conditions don't help with the soaring. Turbulence does. The Cornell Chronicle posted an article this summer entitled, "Turbulence gets eagles up to speed" (https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/06/turbulence-gets-eagles-speed). The article cites research that found that "rather than hindering flight, turbulence is a source of energy that birds may use to their advantage." The flight may look easy, but eagles are soaring in air that is churning and changing. Kinda like my life.
And then the article included this nugget:
The air is always turbulent. This is really hard to convey, because unless there’s a cloud or smoke, it is transparent to us...I suspect these animals know a lot about turbulence in a practical sense. They’re not just responding to this as if it were an annoyance. They feel it and can probably anticipate it and respond in clever ways that I think would be useful for us to implement in our own flight vehicles.
We can implement this spiritually as well, by not responding to the turbulence of life as if it were an annoyance but to respond in clever and creative ways. So, using wisdom rather than mere knowledge.
I've known a spiritual truth for quite a while that even Bible study and prayer, when taken as a personal effort or checkbox for one to do to grow spiritually, can be a trap to self-righteousness and actually not get one very far spiritually. Mere increase in knowledge and making a lot of requests before the Lord is not actually abiding.
The secret of life is abiding, which involves surrender because waiting and hoping means you're not pursuing something else that you would otherwise be doing. We can do lots of spiritual activities, but they end up as purposeless flapping unless we are abiding in the Lord. The researcher cited in the Cornell article concluded, “If you could find a path in which every vortex is pushing you the right way, then obviously you get there a little faster with a little less energy." Spiritually, that path is laid out in Isaiah 40.
Working backwards in this incredible chapter, the middle section includes God describing Himself, much like an introduction or resume just to put things in perspective. Prior to this is the section that so inspired Handel in songs such as, "And the Glory of the Lord." And, prior to that we have the John the Baptist prophesy ("A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord"). And, then we end where we started,
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
It is indeed a great comfort that we can rest in the Lord. We can soar in the wind path that He has arranged for us, in the midst of the turbulence. He is the source of our strength.