I don’t know about you but, most of my life I’ve learned lessons, not when they were taught to me in a classroom, but rather when I needed to learn them. Math is not my biggest strong point. Take fractions for instance, I never understood them for the longest time. I was taught the subject several times throughout elementary, junior high and high school. Did I understand what the teacher was talking about? Not one bit. They never made sense to me. Pie into pieces gives you 1/2, 1/4, 1/8? Who cares! I just want to eat it. But then I started to work in construction and we dealt with eighths. That’s when I started to understand how to covert them, a 1/2 is 4/8s, 1/4 is 2/8s. I began understanding how to add them, 3/4 and 3/4 equal 1 & 1/2. Same with subtracting. But since I never multiplied or divided them, I still can’t do that. But I began to understand fractions.
The same is true in my walk with God. A lot of the lessons I’ve learned had to be learned through experience. I’ve had to get beat up sometimes in order to learn the lessons that deepen and strengthen my relationship with God. But is that the only way to learn, or is there a better way?
That’s where we come to the book of Isaiah chapter 26 today, a place where through Isaiah, God tries to get us to understand an alternative way to learn what he has to teach us.
As we jump into the book of Isaiah chapter 26, we need to know what is happening to get us to where we are.
Isaiah is the prophet that a lot of people think of when they think of prophecies about the Messiah. There’s about thirty-two that Isaiah speaks of. Famous ones like, being born of a virgin (7:14), authority over nations (9:6), and his titles (9:6).
But Isaiah’s primary job was to for tell the destruction that was about to happen to the nation of Judah. So let’s make a short timeline of Jewish history, to better grasp what’s going on. At the beginning of King Solomon’s son’s (Rehoboam) reign as King of Israel, the nation of Israel split into two. It happen because the son was a fool and didn’t listen to his advisors (Literally this is the definition of an fool Proverbs 15:2). So the kingdom of Israel split in two. The northern kingdom continued to be called Israel, with the majority of tribes siding with them, while the southern kingdom became Judah, because it was the primary tribe and followed the linage of David. Out of the two, the northern kingdom tended to be the more wicked, but Judah wasn’t pristine either.
In fact, because of the animosity between the two kingdoms, when Israel called on Judah to help them against the Assyrian forces that were trying to expand their territory, Judah refused and was eventually attacked by Israel. This led Judah to seeking the Assyrians help, which eventually led to the downfall of the northern kingdom. The prophet Isaiah spoke against allying with Assyria, and later against allying with Egypt and Babylon. But his warnings went unheeded, and eventually the nation of Judah fell.
It is during the Assyrian alliance period that we enter into the book of Isaiah in chapter 26. A chapter that is nestled between several of God’s messages for other nations, and the nation of both Israel and Judah. Chapter 26 is one of two songs that Isaiah sings about God, and what he will do in the future.
Let’s pick it up in verse 1.
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. 2 Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith. 3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah put his focus on the city of Jerusalem representing the whole of God’s work in bringing his people back to himself. Isaiah’s song, is meant to be encouraging. All the destruction that will happen, will lead to greater things. All the problems that Judah will face, God will make them right. All the sins that it has committed, God will judge with justice. All the times the Jewish people have turned their backs on God, God will bring about peace for those who trust in him.
Isaiah continues this understanding in verse 19,
But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
And it’s this to and fro of God’s people accepting God’s word, then rejecting it, then experiencing the consequences of their rejection, then calling upon God, just for God to make it right in the end. We talked about this cycle of the Old Testament several week ago in our Descent series.
In Isaiah it has come to the boiling point, to which God begins to more fully reveal the work of the Messiah that is to come. So God uses Isaiah and the other prophets of his time, to let people know that the nation of the Jews, as it was first envisioned, is about to fall. There will be a time when the Messiah will come and restore all things, and God will then dwell with his people. But it will be different than the nation state that they are experiencing now.
So then, what does God want his people to do when they are in this time between destruction and restoration? What does God desire from his people as they are dealing with the pain of the moment and future peace?
Isaiah gives us the answer in his song. In verse 8 he says, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts..”
I think one of the major things we miss in Scripture is the waiting on the Lord that we are called to. I don’t mean that we don’t talk about trusting and waiting upon God, we quote verses like, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…(Proverbs 3:5)”
But do we fully comprehend the wait aspect of trust that God calls us into? I mean think about it, what does trust in God mean? We tend to use the idea as a back up plan. “I have no other place to turn to, so I guess I have to trust God.”
And even though the thought is actually correct, there is no other place to turn except God, it’s the attitude behind it that’s the problem. We tend to do things in our own power first, before we move into trust.
When Judah wanted to ally itself with Assyria against the northern kingdom, Isaiah told them not to, but rather to wait upon the Lord. The kings wouldn’t listen, so in their own power they made an alliance with Assyria against their brothers Israel. Then when the northern kingdom fell, Judah realized they were next, and again in their own power, they sought other nations to help them. All the while Isaiah kept telling them to trust and wait on God.
We do the same thing, we tend to trust God, after we have exhausted our own resources. We do everything our power can do, and we forget that there is a wait aspect to it.
I want to share with you a story that some of you know, but is generally unknown to most of you. Several years back there was a movement within our church that believed it was necessary do away with both the van ministry and the youth pastor position. Opting instead to make the youth pastor position volunteer. I tell you this, not to talk about this movement, but rather my response to it.
Even though I knew this was where God wanted me, I began to feel like I needed to make plans for the future. So I began to send out resumes to different youth pastor positions. My thought was, I didn’t want to be out of a job and have nothing for my family, so I began to plan. The two sides of me were at war, I knew God had called me here and wasn’t done with me in this place, yet I wanted to create a safety net for my family just in case.
Every resume that I sent out got me an interview and for about two years, every time I would apply for a position, I would reach the end of the process and not be chosen. The pressure of the situation got so overwhelming one time, that I exploded at a teen who was being a jerk to me.
Instead of waiting on God to see what was going to happen, I tried to force the outcome so that I would feel more in control.
I tell you this, because it’s something I think we easily slip into. Just a quick study of Scripture reveals how easy we fall into the trap of non-waiting. The need to wait on God usually is talked about when we have exhausted our options and now need to be reminded to trust and wait for God’s movement.
If we look at the Old Testament, we really start to see the talk about waiting on God be begin to happen around the Psalms, where people are dealing with life and death situations. But it really picks up in the prophets, where God’s judgment is about to happen, or has just happened. It is where all options have been exhausted that the call to wait is sent out to the people.
Then in the New Testament, we get really no mention of waiting on God, until Acts, where Jesus tells his disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then the other writers tell us in their letters about waiting for the return of Christ. These New Testament letters were written to help the believers trust that God will make all this right in the end at his coming.
But in my own life, after that experience of exhausting all my options, I came to a realization: God doesn’t want me to treat him like he’s the last option, but rather he is the only option. Too often I work really hard to make things work, but while I do that I have become like Judah who took their eyes off the Lord. Who make alliances with other nations, put trust in other sources, instead waiting upon God to work his plans out.
Throughout Isaiah’s writing, his preferred title of God was the Lord of Hosts, which points to God being all-powerful.
Isaiah had to remind the people that God is all-powerful, they didn’t have to worry about what was going to happen, instead they were supposed to make God their first option and wait on him to act.
But in waiting, they were supposed to being doing something as well, and it’s actually what they weren’t doing that got them into trouble in the first place.
Back in verse 8, Isaiah says, “we wait for you.” That little praise is nestled in-between two statements: “walking in the way of your laws…your name and renown are the desire of our hearts..”
This is the lesson Isaiah desired for his people to learn, and this is the lesson that God has for us this coming year. We must wait on him, true, and what do we do while waiting? We walk in his ways, and desire his renown.
In a couple of weeks we will be starting a series called Legacy, which will pick up on this second idea. But as we go into the new year, God is calling us to be a people who wait on him as we walk in his ways.
We are to be a trusting people who move at his command. We are to be a people that wait for him to act, and trust in him as our first resort. And as we do, we consul ourselves to doing as he commands. Walking in his ways, doing what he has already told us to do, accomplish those things he has put in our path to accomplish, and leaving the rest in his hands.
What has God said? That is what I must do as I wait for him to move. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Over time, I have become a proponent of learning a lesson before I need to. Why learn a lesson after you’ve been disciplined? I’ve learned way to many lessons like that before, and I don’t like the pain. Instead, God calls us to learn lessons before hand, so even if we face trials and tribulations, the lesson we have learned will get us through it with greater assurance.
So I want to trust God now. I want to wait on him now. I want to walk on his path now, because I don’t want to get into a situation where I am forced to do it. I want to walk in his ways now, and his way is the way of trust, of waiting on his move.
If we learn God’s lessons because we desire to conform our will to his, then we will be walking in his ways and waiting on him, something the nation of Judah didn’t do.
So today, as a sign of trust, as a sign of waiting on what God will do through this church in the year to come, and a sign of walking in the ways of the Lord, I have asked the elders to step out in faith with me and ask that we not take a regular offering today. So we are not going to pass the bags.
I don’t know what this coming year has in store for us. I don’t know what trials we will face. All I know, is that we are called to trust in God. We are called to wait upon his work. And we are called to walk in his ways.
So we are not going to take up a regular offering, instead if you so choose to give, there will be a little wooden church box on the welcome table for those offerings. But as a leadership that has been placed here by the grace of God, we want to lead in a way that says we will trust, wait and walk with our focus on God for all things. And we want you to know that you are not banks to us that we use for our own gains, but rather we are co-workers in what God has called us to do in Quartzsite. And together we will accomplish the work God has set out before us.
And so I end with this challenge for you: what is one area of your life where you’ve let God become the last option to trust?
This year, make God the first option, the only option to trust in that area. Wait for his actions, while you do what he has already commanded through his word.
God has called us to make him our only option in the finances of the church, and we want to walk in his ways and not our own. Where is he calling you to make him your first option? Where is he calling you to wait? Where is God calling you to walk? Let us be the people who wait upon the Lord in all things, that his name would be renowned among the nations.
Now may God give you the strength to wait upon his movement that we may glorify him. Amen.