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; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
Gracious God, thou hast made provisions for our needs far beyond our power to know or tell. We beg that thou wouldst forgive us our fretfulness and the fever of our ways. We act so often as if thou does not care and hast not provided. Lead us into that sanity of the spirit which makes us realize that we walk a way overrun with blessings and bounties. We grow weary and faint at the facing of the issues of our lives. May we realize in such gray moods that thou still dost live and love and that we shall walk again in the sunlight. Send forth evidences of thy care to those who today sit in the shadow of great sorrow or who are bound in the slavery of spiritual or political oppression. Lift us, lead us toward the high places where thou wouldst have us stand; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Always people have believed that their physical and spiritual strength can be renewed. Out of their faith in fresh starts have grown many enchanting legends. Every schoolchild learns of the legend of Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth, believed to be somewhere in the balmy clime of the Florida Everglades. The water rushing from this fountain was supposed to erase the wrinkles of the years, to take from the footsteps the heaviness of the weight of many winters, and to restore the vitality of youthful energy. Of course, we know that this lovely legend is only the fine-spun fancy of human hopes, no matter how wistfully we might wish that the dear, dead days of youth’s bright freshness might once again be given to us. We cannot turn the clock back. One of the most pathetic, if not tragic, things in the world is to see someone trying to erase the deep scorings of the years, either by clothes, cosmetics, or choosing a new marriage companion. There is renewal, but it is not in these vain imaginings.
The fortieth chapter of the brave lyric which we call the book of Isaiah is one of the symphonies scattered here and yonder through this huge, blessed old book we call the Bible. Rarely does one come across an extended passage where there is music and might, beauty and bravery, poetry and power, so perfectly blended as in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. It begins, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” (Handel has taken almost this entire chapter and set it to the glad thunders and gentle sighings of his oratorio, Messiah.) At the end of the chapter, like a tremendous climax, are these words: “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; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
The promise is that we shall “mount up with wings as eagles.” “We shall run and not be weary.” We need moments of ecstatic happiness. Life cannot be lived forever in the valley, nor should we feel suspicious or guilty in the high days of joy, when all the world’s a song and our hearts are filled and thrilled with an unutterable gladness. God gives these great seasons. We ought to taste such moments to the full. A marriage altar, the first time one looks at life begun again in a baby, those high days in the temple when heaven crowns the mercy seat, and countless other experiences of hours lifted above the humdrum of living. God promises that we shall mount up like eagles, sometimes to the upper pure air where sense and sorrow molest no more. These moments, if we allow the glory of God to shine on them, can be profoundly religious in their significance, giving a sanctity to events and experiences that we are quite likely to think of as being apart from God, gifts separated from the giver of every good and perfect gift.
There is another promise. “They shall run, and not be weary.” We cannot forever live in these rare and luminous moments when all the world’s a song. The tempo must recede, for we cannot survive for too long the times of pure ecstasy. There is a variation which God provides, a variation comparable to the steady gladness of old lovers for whom the first ecstasies have passed. We are not expected to be forever in a kind of breathless, wide-eyed splendor. We cannot be on the wing always. But we are promised the power “to run and not be weary.” Sooner or later, we discover that the holiday has passed and that we must return to a slower pace, a quieter round of duties. We must return to the common duties, and how less exciting they can be. As much as we need ecstatic glories and radiant experiences, we need some power to hold us when life is not so exciting. I think the great heroes of any church and any community are not those whose names show in public print and who move from one exciting event to another, but those people, unsung and unheralded, who do the little-praised work in homes and schools and churches and neighborhoods. There comes a time, however, when weariness sets in, and even they need a power to keep them going. Praise God, here it is.
“They shall walk, and not faint.” Here is the promise that along the hard, dusty road, when loads grow heavy and there’s a dull sameness to every scene, power can belong to us not to give up, not to faint. We need strength for the long pull. In our earlier years we are convinced that the world is our cup of tea. It was made for us, and we were made for it. Someone has told of a class of college freshmen on freshmen day at a Midwestern college, carrying a huge banner at the head of the procession which said: “This college has waited one hundred years for us.” We feel that way in the morning years, but then comes the long pull. We discover that the competition for what we call success is keen. There are others who seem to have more to offer than we have. Early ideals seem rather heavy loads to carry when morning wears toward noontime. William Wordsworth, with his genius for the tenderest cadences of the language, set the thought to living meter when he wrote: “Heaven lies about us in our infancy. At length, the man perceives it die away and fade into the light of common day.” So much of our trudging is in “the light of common day,” where there is weariness, sweat, and hopes long deferred and youthful dreams that turned to dust in our hands. There is no more relevant promise God has made than this word to those who walk the ways of monotony and dullness: “They shall walk, and not faint.” The condition of the gift of these powers is a willingness to wait on the tides of God to bear us up and out on brave and glorious voyages.
Someone young of years and hard of heart immediately cries out, “This is exactly what I do not like about all this babbling of religion. I want to be doing things, not waiting.” Our land, burdened by the ugly weight of its discouraging discriminations, needs bold action from fearless people who will cut it loose from its old chains. “We’ve waited too long already” some say. Ah, and thinking that is to miss the point. The kind of expectant waiting, the kind of exciting tarrying about which the Bible speaks is not the idleness of expecting our dreams to fall full-grown from the skies. Not ever! No, rather is meant that confidence, while toiling, that God will strengthen and hold when our arms grow weary and our footsteps are labored and slow. The kind of waiting the Bible means is that of a beleaguered army, shaken by the fierce assaults of the enemy but fighting still. Fighting, doing what needs to be done, but with one eye glancing toward the hills, sure that reinforcements are already storming to our aid. Waiting while working, or better still, confident and expectant while doing what needs to be done, would better describe the Bible’s intention.
This waiting on God to which this passage refers is that kind of laboring in confidence which I used to see in my native clime among farmers. The farmer goes on in a dry and barren season, when the land is parched, still plowing his field and tilling his soil, but with a look now and then toward the skies, sure that the heavens will keep faith with this labor, that the rains will come to water the earth and to nurture the plants. This waiting on God is that of which the psalmist speaks when his soul is rocked by the attacks of his enemies, when he is besieged by those who hate him, and when his soul’s gates are being battered by a relentless enemy who presses ever closer to deliver the telling blow, the mortal thrust. “I had fainted unless I had believed to see the Lord in the land of the living.”
There are mysterious energies loosed when a soul takes a high road and walks therein, no matter how steep the way becomes or how hot and fretful the journey. It is the testimony of every soul who has dared to live for the purposes of God, whether in places of public notice or in the places of obscurity, that an indescribable strength comes to match the task. So take heart! God is nigh! Keep your aims high! Never mind how long and hot and winding and impossible the way may seem on which you have been called to walk. There is a mercy which will attend your path and a power that will sustain your journey. An oft-hurt people have a song out of their sorrow. A portion of it runs as follows:
Harder yet may be the fight.
Right may often yield to might.
Wickedness awhile may reign.
Satan’s cause may seem to gain.
There is a God that rules above,
with hand of power and heart of love.
If I am right, he’ll fight my battle.
I shall have peace some day.
Here then is the promise that God will renew and refresh us, strengthen and sustain us, along the road in which he bids us walk. You can make it then, pilgrim, since God is near.