“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 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.
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.”
These words are like rocks in my life. Time and again I come back to sections from Isaiah, and these are perhaps among the most famous. One of the songs on the songsheet of tonight’s prayer meeting (Everlasting God) was based on these words.
I remember these words often being quoted in prayer meetings on Summer Camp. By halfway through week 2 many of us leading were feeling utterly shattered and these words gave great encouragement. They were, however, also read in full knowledge that we would soon be sleeping in dry, warm and clean beds, rather than damp and smelly mats under windswept canvas.
Today they have a different resonance. Extreme tiredness exists with the knowledge that things are not likely to change any time very soon. Teething will continue (only 18 more to go…), there will be illness, change, stresses and all will be accompanied by a lack of sleep. There is no “going home” from parenthood.
In that context what does not becoming weary mean? For if truth be told I am utterly weary. There are moments where I feel totally faint. This is where a step back is vital.
I am not the first person these words have been spoken to.
The people these words seem to have been first intended to help are the Judean exiles in Babylon.
A few sleepless nights due to a teething child hardly rated on their horizon of problems. They had grown up on stories of how Yahweh, centuries before, had rescued their fathers out of Egypt “with a mighty hand, and an outstretched arm”. They had heard of mighty deeds by great prophets. But they had seen nothing. Rival prophets had claimed to have heard from God, some prophesying national salvation, others only gloom and despair with future restoration in the distant future.
The prophets of doom seemed to be right, so what hope for these exiles, a small group in the vast Babylonian Empire. The words of Isaiah 40 ring out. “Comfort, comfort, my people – speak to the heart of Jerusalem…”. The words say that Yahweh is going to act again. To bring about a return from exile on a parallel with the rescue from Egypt – a New Exodus.
And yet those who did go back wept at the state of the temple. The return from exile failed to be a full return. 600 years further on a voice in the wilderness was heard once more proclaiming comfort, as the Saviour of the world stepped into human history to be all that Israel had failed to be, that the nations might indeed be blessed through Abraham’s seed, that God’s New Exodus might be carried out.
These words of Isaiah 40 apply to Israel, then to the One who fulfilled Israel’s mission, and then to us, who are called to be partners in that mission. They are not firstly words about my physical state of being or mind. Rather they are words that say that this immense God of the Exodus is giving his people all we need to be partners in that mission.
That is a word of encouragement for all I do – because every area of my life needs to be done as part of this mission. There is massive significance right now in the impact our lives as parents have on the two small children in our care. That parenthood is mission, and should be done in the context of God’s mission. My getting up in the morning, making breakfast, changing nappies, reading bible stories, going to the park – all of that is part of this mission – and it is all enabled by God. Whether I feel “weary” in the midst of that is irrelevant.
What matters is that God gives the strength to do what he wants me to do as part of his mission. Some days that does not look like much. Some days it looks tiny and small and like God may have made some kind of mistake. But he doesn’t. So we keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that God carries us on eagles wings, as a father carries his child. And on that note it is time to sleep…