They shall mount up with wings as eagles.—Isaiah 40:31
On this our forty-first anniversary together as pastor and people, I desire to bring to your remembrance a fortifying promise for the days ahead. It is found in the last words of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.
It would be difficult to find, even in the Bible, another chapter more lofty in thought or eloquent in speech than this chapter of Isaiah. Many of the noblest minds through the centuries have been profoundly influenced by it.
Handel's majestic oratorio, The Messiah, owes much of its inspiration to this fortieth chapter of Isaiah. Martin Luther pored over it again and again in the fortress at Salzburg. Oliver Cromwell frequently turned to it for refreshment and inspiration in the days when he was terribly discouraged. Daniel Webster read this chapter when defeat and disappointment seemed inevitable, and he said that every time he read it he found new hope and new heart. Carlyle, Tennyson and Wordsworth all recorded their indebtedness to this great chapter from the pen of the great prophet of the eighth century, b.c.
In the midst of this chapter Isaiah tells of the gentleness and the greatness of God. He pictures Him as a Shepherd looking after His flock with all diligence and devotion. He pictures Him as carrying the little lamb in His arms, tenderly pressed against His great bosom; and as gently leading those that are with young.
But God is great as well as gentle. He can hold the waters of the oceans in the hollow of His hand. He can weigh the mighty mountains in scales and the hills in a balance. Compared with His greatness the nations are as a drop of water in a bucket; they are counted by Him as less than nothing, as a mere speck of dust on His eternal scales.
In contrast with God's greatness, the prophet points out our littleness, weakness and frailty. He reminds us that our boasted strength becomes enervated, our minds are weakened, our fancied powers are reduced and depleted. Even the young men shall faint and resilient youth shall become weary. In other words, even at his best, the natural man, apart from God, is doomed to failure and defeat.
But Isaiah proclaims an entirely different story concerning those who trust in God. The declaration is: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint."
There are great lessons in this fortifying promise. May we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, find some of them today.
First of all, we are reminded here that if we are to have this needed strength we are to wait upon the Lord. And what does this waiting mean? It means one clear, definite thing—that we are to put our trust in Him. When we come to the New Testament, it talks about belief. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." We who put our trust in the Lord shall be saved; waiting upon the Lord means that. "Wait then always upon the Lord, oh my soul," said the Psalmist, and then he added, "for my expectation is from Him."
We are to put our trust in a person. "Wait thou upon the Lord." A person. When the sailor read about the Lord holding the seas in the hollow of His hand, being a Christian sailor, he said, "Very well; if I go down in the sea, I will be in the hollow of God's hand, and will be saved, so I will not worry at all." "He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." We are to wait upon a person.
Our trust is to be put in a person as definitely as a sick man turns his troubled body over to the capable doctor; as definitely as a man troubled with all of the worries of his trial in court turns his case over to the competent advocate; as definitely as the troubled pupil in the school brings himself to the teacher for his lesson help. We are to wait upon the Lord by committing ourselves unto Him. "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass." Waiting upon a person. Oh, in this day when we hear so much about forms and ceremonies and conventions and creeds, ritualism and ecclesiasticisms, we are in constant peril of losing sight of the supreme truth that our hope and our help for time and eternity are in a person, in one person. We are to wait upon the Lord.
When the little girl lost her mother—her father had already gone—and there was nothing to do but to put her in the orphans' home, they found her evening after evening quietly sobbing to herself, and one day one of the teachers said to her, "Why are you crying?"
She replied, "I want somebody to cry to. If my mamma were here, I could cry to her, but she is gone. I want somebody to cry to." She wanted somebody to lean on; somebody to cry to.
All through the Bible, there is the union of the Divine and the human in reference to God and man. There is a union of the Divine and the human in these blessings. When the Israelites came to the Red Sea and saw the water in front of them and they were pressed by the hosts of Pharaoh at their rear, they seemed done for. But the Lord said unto Moses: "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. Lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divide it." Then the Lord opened the way through the sea for his people, to safety.
There is the union of the Divine and the human in that happy hour yonder at the wedding feast in Cana, when the water was turned into wine, as the story is told in the Gospels. The word of Jesus was given to the servants: "Fill the water pots with water and draw out and bear to the governor of the feast." Jesus had turned the water into wine, for the comfort and convenience of the guests.
Again when Lazarus lay dead and his two broken-hearted sisters stood beside the grave and the people came around to sympathize with them, Jesus said: "Take away the stone." He could have taken away the stone by a word, but that is not His method. He uses humanity, for He needs humanity to facilitate His work. "Take away the stone," and Lazarus came forth with the grave clothes still about him. Jesus said, "Remove the grave clothes." He could have removed them with a command, but what you and I can do He wants us to do. Let us never forget that.
The motto over a hospital gate in Scotland has the right idea. Here it is: "We dress his wounds; God heals him." Certainly we can dress each other's wounds; we can bring poultices and bandages and medicine; we can dress the wounds, but that is about as far as we can go. God heals us. God makes use of human resources, of human assets, human power, and even though we have just one talent, it is to be laid on His altar unreservedly, unhesitatingly, and He will add His blessing. Our "waiting upon the Lord" means to trust Him, as we seek to do His will according to His own Word.
Here, then, a blessing is promised us if we wait upon the Lord. I would like for us to notice this blessing that is promised. What will follow? What reward will come? Mark it: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." Marvelous catalog of blessings, is it not? Let us look at this promise a little more carefully.
First of all, they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. Now, that is what you and I, my dear friends, need all along this busy way, in the humdrum day's work that comes to us, renewal of strength. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. The batteries of their lives shall be recharged with divine power, if they patiently and trustfully wait upon the Lord. Glorious promise. Blessed reward is this.
After you have come to the end of your own strength and spent your last powers, you can come with unreserved commitment to the Lord and say, "Build Thou me up; put power again within me; renew my strength that I may be strong to do Thy will to the end of the earthly day." You can plead this promise, provided you truly wait upon the Lord.
Now, we should remember that we are to go one day at a time. God does not promise us strength for two days at a time, or two weeks, or a year. Strength for one day at a time. One of the most beautiful promises in all the Bible is this one: "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." He does not say: "as thy years," or "as thy months," or "as thy weeks," but "as thy days," one day at a time. He just offers us strength for one day at a time, and we are to let it go at that and live at our maximum that one day. Let us live this one day at our best by witnessing and working for the Divine Saviour and Lord, one day at a time.
We walk by faith, not by sight. We do not know what is ahead. If we knew the black Fridays that may be out there ahead, our hearts would sink within us. We would be unfitted for the mighty demands upon us right now, if we knew of the separations, of the desolating break-ups in our homes and in our lives out there ahead. We must wait until we get there and His grace will be ample, surely. He hides from us our successes. If we knew that out yonder were great chapters of success, we would be largely unfitted to go on and fulfill the demands upon us today. He hides these things from us.
They tell us that when Rudyard Kipling came over to this country to visit he brought with him his little daughter, Josephine, and that on the ship as they came over, they had great joy in each other's companionship—the tiny little girl, Josephine, and the father—and their joy was so great that the passengers took notice of them playing together on the deck of the ship.
They had a delightful time together, but when they got over here she was taken very ill, and soon died. In a few days the father became seriously sick and kept calling, ill though he was: "Jo, where is Jo? Why does she not come? Where is little Jo?" Little Jo was sleeping under the snow and the ice. Now what a mercy that while the father and the child played together on the ship and had such delight in each other, what a mercy that he did not know that two or three weeks later little Jo would be taken from him, never to be with him again on this earth. What a mercy. One day at a time are we to live.
This may be our last day. Then let us live it at our highest. Let us be more humble, more devoted today, and live at our maximum for Christ. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles." He gives strength to those who wait upon Him. We shall "mount up with wings as eagles." How high the eagle flies. Higher and higher toward the sun, above the mountains and the storms and the clouds, higher and higher. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall fly higher and higher and shall understand some of the great things of God in the secrecy He has for those who wait upon Him.
A glorious promise! Freely translated it means that as Mends of our Lord, as children of God by faith in Christ, He would have us enter into our spiritual inheritance. Why should we play the role of the cringing servant when the Lord says: "Ye are children of mine," heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ; now are we the sons of God. We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him and we shall see Him as He is. Joint-heirs with Christ. To as many as received Him was given the power and the privilege to be the children of God. Here, says this great prophet Isaiah, we are to enter more and more into the graciousness and fullness of our inheritance. We are to wait upon the Lord.
Do you remember when the prodigal son came home? He wanted to come home as a wretched, cringing servant, and he needed to come back that way. He had behaved miserably. He said: "I will go back to my father and I will tell him that I am no longer worthy to be called his Son, and all that I ask is to have a place as one of his hired servants." But when he returned, he was taken into his father's arms of love. He was still a son, although his steps had been wayward and his behavior wretched. He was still a son. "Bring the best robe for the son; kill the fatted calf; make a feast for him; put the ring on his finger. My son, who was lost, is found!" Oh, is it not glorious to be a son of God, a daughter of God? What an exaltation to wait upon the Lord!
Here we are, children of the King. Come into the presence of the King; enter into the joy of your Lord. Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice, if you love the Lord. While you are here in this world, live on the uplands with God. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary." That means that He promises us strength for the emergency hour, for the crisis hour, for the great demanding hours that come in life. "They shall run and not be weary." He promises us strength for the great days, for the black Fridays, for the days of bereavement, for the great days of conquest, for the great days of duty and responsibility. Wait on the Lord, trust in Him, cling to Him, and when those days come you will be undergirded, the everlasting arms will be around you and underneath you. A great promise that!
Martin Luther learned two great truths, namely: "the just shall live by faith," and "we are saved by a person." We are not saved by a church, nor by a sacrament so-called, nor by a creed, a ceremony, nor a ritual. Men are saved by a person, by faith in that person, and that person is the victorious, redeeming Saviour. When Martin Luther found out those truths, he avowed them, profoundly, mightily, and he stood bravely unafraid and said: "Here I take my stand. I can do no other, so help me God." And when they warned him what would happen if he went to Wurttemberg, he said: "I will go and I will declare there what I have found to be true, if every tile on every roof in Wurttemberg were a devil." God sustained him.
God sustained John Bunyan there in Bedford jail for twelve years. He sustained Paul in his prison experiences. He is sustaining men in Europe and in Asia through all the bloody, terrible wars. He is sustaining His children mightily around the world today.
"They shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." Is that an anti-climax? Not at all. If we walk and keep on walking, it is sometimes harder than running and stopping for awhile. We are to walk and not faint. There is nothing spectacular about just walking. The Lord says, "If you will wait on Me, I will help you in the humdrum of life. I will help you in the daily routine of life, when there is the weariness of monotony. I will help you in the home, in the church, in domestic affairs, in spiritual affairs, in affairs of state, if you will wait on me." Now, this is the promise for us today. It is a promise for us tomorrow. It is a promise for us until we get to the journey's end. Wait upon the Lord!
Let us make this promise ours today. More definitely, more personally, more confidently than ever before, let us make this promise our own. Let us tell our Lord today on this anniversary Sunday, all of us—preacher, teacher, every church officer at every post in the church, the parents, the aged, the middle-aged, and the young men and maidens, the eager, blessed boys and girls—let us say to this fortifying Saviour and Lord: "Have Thine own way, whatever it is. I will say Yes! wherever Thou leadest, I am ready; whatever Thou preparest for me, I accept. Today will I wait upon Thee."
This is an hour of unreserved commitment and dedication for me, your pastor, a re-dedication of my all to the Lord.
I have told you before of the great English preacher, John Robertson, who went for months and months in his ministry without any tokens of blessing, without any souls being saved, and after awhile the thought seemed to rage in his mind that if he was God's divinely called preacher, surely he would have had tokens of His blessing on his ministry, if he were divinely chosen to this great work. Months went on, without any change, and one night he told his family not to disturb him for he wanted to be alone in his library. He tells us he got down on his face before God and said, "I thought Thou hadst called me to be a preacher, but I seem to have been mistaken for there have been no tokens, no signs of blessing on my ministry in a long time. Let me resign my commission, Lord Jesus, to Thee. Let me resign my commission and turn to the work of the lawyer, the teacher or the doctor. Let me resign my commission." And he said that he seemed to hear a small voice say, "No, John Robertson, do not resign your commission. Let me re-sign your commission for you." And John Robertson said, "He re-signed my commission that night."
Shall we resign our commissions dear Lord, or wilt Thou re-sign them for us and renew our strength that we may serve Thee more acceptably? May the preacher, the teachers, the deacons and the parents of this church all so wait upon the Lord, that tomorrow and all the days may be marked with a diligence and a devotion as victorious witnesses for Christ, the like of which we have never known before.
Do you want to follow Christ today? Are there Christians here today who ought to link their lives with Christ's people? Come, and welcome. It may be you have waited late and long. Come for your own sake, but more, for the sake of others, come. If there is a secret friend of Jesus here in this great press of people, come out into the open and confess Him today!
Are you here today saying: "I have waited late in life; I have hesitated"? How long are you to halt between two opinions? Come out on His side and say: "I am ready. I choose Christ's side." Jesus died for you. Follow Him. Trust Him, dear friend, trust Him! Can you not say:
Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own way!
Thou art the potter;
I am the clay.
Now, as we sing, tarrying reverently just a moment or two, who wants to follow Christ and come into the church? Come on today, saying: "I wait upon the Lord." Do you say for the first time: "I choose Him; I have decided for Him; I surrender to Him; I receive Him; I give my heart to Him"? Come, as we sing together now: "Have Thine own way, Lord."