“But those who wait for the Lord [who EXPECT, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power. . .”
Who hasn’t got themselves into something of a “lather” when their bus, their train, their plane or their lift has STILL not turned up? Who hasn’t become “excited” – but not in a good way(!), when that repair man for whom you’ve taken time off from work or foregone precious leisure time, seems to be taking an eternity to arrive?
Well, I have to confess that I am not very good with waiting. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it – I HATE waiting. It gives me a growing sense of frustration and annoyance as I think about the time I am wasting when I could be doing something else – something useful, something enjoyable, or something productive. But here I am waiting. Waiting for someone or waiting for something.
Part of what I don’t like about it is that I am not in control. I can’t get on with something I want to do, or get off to somewhere else that I’d like to be.
Now in the light of that, there’s a statement in the Bible that suggests that waiting is not always an experience that generates a shed load of sighing and snorting and wringing of hands, but is actually a positively worthwhile and rewarding exercise.
That statement is found in Isaiah 40, verse 31 and I’d like us to give that verse the once over, to see if for people like me, who hate waiting, whether waiting in fact has a promise we have yet to really get hold of.
In that verse, Isaiah 40:31(ESV) it says:”31 but they 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.” Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s not an outcome I normally associate with waiting.
And of course, if you are like me, and don’t get on well with waiting, then the very use of the word “wait” in that verse presents an obstacle. It recalls all the uncertainties, frustrations and annoyances that our memories associate with the word, and this tends to obscure the real message of this amazing scripture. So, if you have a problem with waiting you’ll need, like me, to put those negatives to one side for just a moment, in order to really hear what I think God would have us grasp from this great verse.
For this is a verse that promises that waiting will bring us new strength when we are feeling weak; a lift in spirit when we are down and depressed; perseverance when we are flagging; and, a source of new strength when we feel like throwing in the towel.
Perhaps the first thing to say, is that the word translated “wait” in that verse carries the sense of to “await” and has the implication of “looking for” or “expecting”. The Amplified Version of the Bible brings this out when it translates the verse “31 But those who wait for the Lord [who EXPECT, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power…” Isaiah 40:31 (AMP)
So putting it simply, to wait for the Lord is really to “look expectantly for Him”. It is telling us therefore, that if we want to wait in order to see our strength renewed, to mount up like eagles, to run without tiring or walk without fainting then it is no good waiting impatiently or even just passively, with a wishy-washy, “hope so” frame of mind. Because if we do we’ll just find our worst fears about waiting are only confirmed. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen, and we’ll end up with another bout of frustration and annoyance. It’s like waiting at the wrong bus stop – your bus will just NEVER, EVER arrive and your destination will remain just a distant dream.
Now keep our new definition of waiting on God, that is, “looking expectantly”, in the forefront of your thinking as we drop in on one of the Apostle Paul’s experiences. You’ll remember that dream he had when he saw the Macedonian man standing and begging him to: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16:9) and how they took the next boat out, and hot-footed it to Philippi, a leading city in Roman controlled Macedonia. They then began to preach the gospel and it was there that a cloth merchant, Lydia, was saved and let the missions team stay at her place.
You’ll also remember that slave girl who had a spirit and who followed them around shouting“These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Acts 16:17 (ESV) until Paul could stand it no longer and cast out the spirit in her much to the chagrin of her employers, whose source of income was suddenly terminated and who then used their influence to get the magistrates to slap Paul and Silas in prison.
That account in Acts 16 tells us that they had been stripped, severely beaten and slung in an inner cell – that’s one with no external light, and they were secured in stocks. Just reflect for a moment on their situation.
Unjustly confined in a cold and pitch black prison cell, beaten and probably bleeding, certainly in physical pain, the mission trip instigated by a dream from God, no less, had barely begun with so far only one family won for the Lord and had now been halted prematurely. In addition to their physical pain they had every reason to feel anguish, frustration, stress and concern. This was a number one opportunity for a pity party and for urgent, passionate pleas to God for Him to act on their behalf and set them free.
But these guys were not bitter and angrily calling out for God to act, consumed by the drastic nature of their present circumstances. They weren’t negatively “waiting on God” in frustration, urging Him to turn up and rescue them. Quite the reverse.
They weren’t even grumbling to one another about their fate. They were WAITING EXPECTANTLY and Acts 16:25 (ESV) tells us:”25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and SINGING HYMNS to God,. . .” They weren’t doubting God at all, or questioning what on earth God was doing allowing all this to happen to them. Instead, they had an overriding confidence that they were right in the centre of the will of God and that He was using them to serve His purposes.
Sadly, I have a strong personal conviction here that this is not the kind of response that God could bank on from me in a similar situation!
I think for many of us in fact, when things go wrong we immediately drop into a whirlpool of doubt, questioning and even anger. “How could God let this happen to me?” “Come on God, get me out of here!” “What’s all this about - aren’t I serving you God, aren’t I doing your work?” “It’s not fair!”
Shocked by our difficult or inexplicable circumstances, or lack of answers, we jump to the conclusion that we have been forsaken by God and let down.
Because God hasn’t immediately responded to our call, our spiritual immaturity is thrown into stark relief as we bemoan our fate, unable to conceive that any unpleasant trial or challenge could be a part of God’s will for us right now.
But how foolish and childish we are when we respond like that. If having problems and setbacks and difficulties means we are out of the will of God then the great Apostle Paul could rarely have been in it. Listen to his testimony in 2 Corinthians 11:23–27 (ESV) “23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
So, if problems and setbacks indicate that we are outside of God’s will and blessing then by this testimony Paul could hardly have ever been in it! But if Paul was not in God’s will, then I think it’s safe to say that you and I can just forget it.
Paul knew, on the basis of much repeated experience how to wait; how to wait for the Lord EXPECTANTLY and there, in the inky black darkness of that smelly Philippian jail, in the midst of pain, deprivation and uncertainty about his future, he demonstrated that he lived above his circumstances and in the bright light of the truth that he could wait expectantly for God to bring to pass His purposes whatever the present situation.
Indeed, in the days ahead, in the letter he wrote to the church that was subsequently established there in Philippi as a result of this missionary journey to Macedonia, which had seemed so threatened while he and Silas were there in prison; Paul was at pains to share this same truth with those who had now come to Christ.
Reflecting and sharing his personal experience and testimony he writes in Philippians 4:6–7 (ESV) “6 do not be ANXIOUS about ANYTHING, but in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the PEACE of God, which surpasses ALL understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That surely is the key, the route, to waiting how God asks us to wait. Waiting without anxiety, waiting with thanksgiving, waiting with the peace of God in our hearts!
If we will respond to those things that naturally make us worried and provoke our anxiety, with a settled expectancy in the faithfulness of our God, rather than with a panicked response of fear, then I believe we too could have the privilege of serving the purposes of God in whatever way He chooses. And, whatever the nature or extent of the trial we are called to go through, we too could see the lasting fruit for the Kingdom of God that only that kind of faith and commitment can secure.
But that same passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians gives a further secret about this kind of God honouring trust. It says in Philippians 4:11 (ESV) “11. . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” This is not Paul advising a “Que sera, sera” (“Whatever will be, will be”) approach to the Christian life. That was definitely NOT what Paul meant.
The Amplified Bible again throws some light on this verse which it renders as: “11. . . for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.” Paul is speaking of a place in the Christian life where we have a settled confidence in God that brings a contentment that is independent of our current circumstances. And this is Paul’s aspiration for the Philippian Christians and it’s his aspiration for us too.
So here’s the BIG QUESTION this Sunday morning. How can WE move towards this place of total and settled assurance in God that will enable us to remain confident in Him? So that in the midst of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we can fully TRUST Him, having learned the secret of WAITING EXPECTANTLY?
Well, if you know, please do come and share the secret with me after the meeting!
But sorry, I’m afraid that just at the moment, I can only offer you a rather rudimentary point, in what I believe, is the right direction!
I can think of two key things that I believe can help us along the road towards an amplified trust, or faith, in God, that will help us to battle with adverse circumstances while remaining assured of God’s good intentions towards us. Two things that will empower us to WAIT EXPECTANTLY. Both are simple but also profound.
The first is seen in the same chapter of Philippians we have been dipping into this morning. The Good News Bible renders the well-known and often quoted verse Philippians 4:13 as:” 13 I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ GIVES me.”
Simply, if we look to generate this kind of knockout faith by dint of personal effort and application, we are headed for failure and disappointment – whoever we are. This kind of victorious living; this ability to trust in God whatever our present circumstances; does NOT come by the exercise of our own effort and determination. It comes from Christ “in us”.
As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:57 (GNB) 57 But thanks be to God who GIVES US the victory THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ! And as Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV84)” 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness . . .”
Our task then is to learn to look to the Christ IN us and to that divine power He gives us, rather than to our own resources.
Interestingly on this point, Paul shares his own secret, when in Romans 1:9 (NIV84) he speaks of “9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart . . . “ The word rendered there as “heart”, is the Greek word “pneuma”, meaning spirit. So Paul is telling us that he served God primarily with, or out of, his spirit, rather than from his soul - his mind, his emotions or his human will. And I think that this is a lesson that we need to learn if we are to discover for ourselves this secret of waiting expectantly for God. We must learn to live in response to our newly created spirit, as God the Holy Spirit works within us.
And, since this process demands that we learn to allow the Holy Spirit free access to our lives, I can’t resist the opportunity to slip in here again my personal view, since I am speaking to a bunch of Elim folk, that one key way that we can do that is by the personal exercise of the gift of tongues. And, as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters in other denominations might be uncomfortable with it, Paul himself, for all his exceptional intellectual powers, declared in 1 Corinthians 14:18 (NIV84) “18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”
Could it be, that some of that midnight praying and singing of hymns in that Philippian jail was interlaced with the use of tongues? And could Paul’s declared prolific use of that gift, have played a part in his own spiritual life such that it enabled him to wait with such evident confidence and assurance in the face of this and his countless other challenging, extreme and even terrifying experiences as an Apostle?
Remember, that one key aspect of the gift of tongues is it’s role in personal edification because it comes, doesn’t it, with a GUARANTEE in God’s Word that it WILL cause us to develop and grow as Christians because 1 Corinthians 14:4 clearly says “He who speaks in a tongue EDIFIES HIMSELF . . .”
Tongues, allows our lives to be flooded with the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s prayers AT WILL and as much as WE CHOOSE and operates within us, as a “fifth column” channel for the Holy Spirit within our spirit, so that God can accomplish his purposes in us! And, since WE can choose when we’ll use this gift, we get to be in control of our own edification! No wonder Jude urges us in his short letter: (Jude:20)“But you, dear friends, build YOURSELVES up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”
So surely we can’t afford to neglect such a vital tool for our own spiritual growth and we MUST learn to use it more and more and more – giving it the very same kind of priority that Paul himself clearly gave it.
But for me, the second key to developing an amplified trust, or faith, in God that enables us to triumph over the adverse circumstances of life and yet remain assured of God’s good intentions towards us, is DEVELOPING our faith. And here, there is no doubt that the real secret of this lies in our approach to the Word of God because as I often repeat, Romans 10:17 reminds us:”17 . . . faith COMES from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
I think, the psalmist in Psalm 130, verse 5, absolutely nails it. He says: “I WAIT for the LORD, my whole being WAITS, and in his WORD I put my hope.” We have to develop a proper view of God’s Word. We need to appreciate where it comes from – it is GOD’S word. It springs from the very breath of God Himself and so is endued with every iota of God’s own integrity and His unstoppable and unbeatable POWER. There is no greater credential for any other word uttered on earth or in the Heavens. God’s word is GOD’S WORD! Nothing less, and there is NOTHING MORE! So we can absolutely, and in any and every circumstance, TRUST what God’s word tells us.
We need to become fully convinced that God’s Word is GOD’S WORD. And how do we do that? We speak it out, because as we do so its power is released in us and through us. If you don’t yet have the habit of speaking out God’s Word, make it a real priority to get that habit. It is literally life transforming because:
As 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us: “All Scripture is GOD-BREATHED . . .”, and,
as Hebrews 4:12 tells us:12 . . . the word of God is ALIVE AND ACTIVE.” , and,
as 1 Peter 1:25 tells us: “the word of the Lord ENDURES FOREVER.” and,
as 1 Thessalonians 2:13 tells us:“the word of God . . is indeed AT WORK IN YOU who believe.”, and therefore,
as James 1:21 advises us, we need as the Amplified Bible puts it to:”in a humble (gentle, modest) spirit RECEIVE and WELCOME the Word which implanted and rooted [in your hearts] CONTAINS the power to save your souls.”
And in my experience there is no better way to allow the truth and reality and INTRINSIC power of God’s mighty Word to work in our lives than to stand and speak it out, declaring it boldly before Him. You can almost FEEL your faith bud and grow and flourish as you do so.
If you’ve never tried that, decide to try it now; or better still make a decision to commit to doing it as part of your daily routine. If you’ve tried it in the past but don’t do it now, decide to pick it up again. There is such a blessing in doing it.
The Word spoken out loud and with conviction is God’s Word set free, set loose in our life in all it’s power. In just moments we can be transformed from fretting, dismal negativity, to buoyant joy and release so that we can say with the author of Lamentations 3:24–26 24 I SAY TO MYSELF, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will WAIT for him.” 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to WAIT quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Now as I say, I do not pretend that this is the whole answer to learning HOW to wait expectantly for God, but I do think that these are two key aspects of learning that secret.
I could imagine that Paul and Silas, shackled in the cold darkness of that Philippian cell, might well have actively made the CHOICE not to succumb to the misery of their FEELINGS, their FEARS for their lives, or their PHYSICAL PAIN from their beating, choosing instead, and choosing deliberately, to remind themselves of whose they were, and who their God is.
I could see them raising their voices to boldly speak out the promises of God in their native tongue, and, as the truth of those words from their mouths permeated their hearts, how they would have sung psalms and hymns of praise and joy, and that their spirits would soon have overflowed in ecstatic praise in the Holy Spirit through the gift of tongues.
So, on the basis of God’s amazing Word, this morning, I have to say, for all my difficulties and bad associations with the word, there IS the promise of a special intimacy, of a special depth of blessing, of a warm and comfortable blanket of secure assurance in God, and a rich and wonderful additional dimension of Christian experience available to us, if we will learn what it is to WAIT, to WAIT EXPECTANTLY, on our God, whatever our feelings, whatever the circumstance, and whatever the duration because as Isaiah 30:18 simply declares: “. . . Blessed ARE ALL who wait for him! “
Sermon text with italics and bold and John 3:16 and v. 20.
Text with an outline.
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