“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” (Isa. 40:31).*
ONALD PINKERTON, of Bath, New York, is an expert hang glider pilot. When flying, he feels in control of everything. But on the ground, he was not in control, often succumbing to drugs and alcohol. Through Alcoholics Anonymous he was able to find help and learn to turn to God for strength in moments of weakness. But it was an ongoing struggle for him.
In the September 1988 issue of Guideposts he tells his story. He tells how he stood one day near the ridge edge on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. A rustle in the treetops told him a thermal was drifting in, so he took a few running steps and launched himself in his hang glider. The wind was so strong that his stomach began somersaults. Never before had he ascended so quickly. Then he drifted back with the thermal behind the ridge and gradually began to descend.
Suddenly another thermal hit. He found himself being pushed backward. He immediately began losing altitude. The treetops rushed up at him. He was trapped in this airborne riptide and felt about to crash.
Then he saw a bird fighting the same thermal he was struggling with. This is crazy, he thought. A bird is too smart to let itself get caught in a wind like this. He looked down. He was 300 feet up and falling. Would he lose consciousness when he hit? He glanced to his right and blinked. The bird flew straight downwind.
Downwind! If air is anywhere, it’s upwind! The bird was committing suicide! But the thought came: Follow him. Follow the bird.
It went against everything he knew about flying, but he followed the impulse.
One hundred feet, and suddenly the bird gained altitude. Then a surge of air started pushing the glider upward. Piloting the craft to about 1,000 feet, he began landing maneuvers, coming down in the field where he’d parked. He was trembling as he loaded his equipment into the truck. Then he sat in the grass thinking about how close he had come to death and about his recent struggles. Then he prayed to God. Again and again he kept seeing the beautiful bird that had sailed illogically up alongside him and led him to safety.
Speaking to Our Hearts
In Isaiah 40:1, 2 we find God saying: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. . . . Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
Verses 3-5 deal with the preparation for the coming king. Verses 6-8 deal with the false doctrines of Babylon compared with God’s Word that stands forever. And verses 9 and 10 deal with God’s people crying out: “Behold your God!” as Jesus prepares to bring His reward. When we look at these verses this way, we see their similarity to the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14.
This fortieth chapter also begins a new section of the book of Isaiah. As a younger preacher full of idealism, Isaiah had strongly denounced Israel’s sins. And it was the Lord’s will that His prophets should denounce sin.
But if that was all that they did, their message would not fully represent the care and concern of their heavenly Father. The message would be correct but distorted. So the Lord led His servants to counterbalance messages of strong condemnation of sin with comforting words such as we find here in Isaiah 40. Ron Pinkerton’s experience points us to the promise of Isaiah 40:31, quoted at the head of this article.
If we are uncertain about the future and feel weak in the face of temptations, Jesus speaks to us, saying, “I want to comfort you”—or as the margin in some Bibles reads, “I want to speak to your heart.”
Now, the idea of receiving double for your sins may not appeal to you. Perhaps you see it as a threat on God’s part to double your punishment. But that concept doesn’t fit the poetic style of this verse. In order to understand what God means, we have to go back to a most interesting custom of Bible times. The word “double” in Hebrew is kephal. It means “to fold over,” “to cover.” In other words, God’s people have received a folding over of their sins.
And that’s the comforting news that the fortieth chapter of Isaiah brings to us. The debt is paid! Our iniquity and guilt have been folded over. In His own blood Jesus has written on the back, “I will pay all of it.” We didn’t ask Him to, but He has done it anyway—because of His love. The good news of the gospel story has more in it than just pardon for our sins.
Preparing for the Coming King
It’s the privilege of the church today to prepare the way of the Lord. Preparation for the coming of an ancient earthly monarch involved the repair of the highway. Chariots didn’t have suspension springs, which made for a rough ride, even at best. So when a ruler was coming, the locals, wanting to make sure they remained in his favor, turned out to repair the roads.
What this means is made clear in verse 5. We are to prepare for the return of Christ by letting Him transform our characters (smoothing out all the rough places) and by witnessing to the world about what God has done for us.
People today are uncertain about what is happening and what will happen. When philosophers fail and science turns against a Creator, it’s time to go back to the eternal verities. The never-changing truth of God’s Word will stand.
When Jesus becomes the revelation of God—not only to us but in us, when we really fall in love with Him and He has taken over our hearts, our very lives will shout, “Behold your God, your wonderful God!”
The one condition to receiving these magnificent promises of God’s comfort and care is found in verse 31. We are admonished to wait upon the Lord; to not become impatient or discouraged. And the promise is for each of us.
Filled to the Brim
When Mary turned to Jesus at that wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) and asked Him to do something about the wine shortage, Jesus did it—but in a way that showed that she did not control His miracles. Weddings in those times went on for several days, and it’s quite probable that the guests all along had been drinking fermented wine.1 Fermentation in the Bible is a symbol of sin. Sin sparkles for a while, but soon the sparkle goes and the fizz becomes flat. The unfermented wine that Jesus provided was symbolic of the true joy that He alone can give. And it’s filled up to the brim like the jars of water at the wedding.
Jesus’ blessings do not come in limited amounts. When He works miracles, whether at a feast or in our hearts, He doesn’t stop halfway. When He brings joy to our lives, He pours out everlasting pleasure in such great abundance that we cannot help glowing with peace. He fills us to the brim with Himself—to overflowing!
This is a gospel worthy of our most persuasive powers. What an exhilarating thing conversion is as Jesus comes into our bankrupt lives! The only way to fill life to the brim is to fill it with Him.
But does the sparkle sometimes seem to evaporate out of our Christian experience? Is there such a thing as Christian burnout? There seems to be. What do we do then? Whatever we do, that is not the time to turn away from Christ, but to return to Him in simple, trusting faith, looking forward to His coming.
As if in answer to Christian burnout, Ellen White makes the following statement: “[Your] very first work . . . is to secure the blessing of God in your own hearts. Then bring this blessing into your homes, put away your criticisms, overcome your exacting ways, and let the spirit of cheerfulness . . . prevail. The atmosphere of your homes will be carried with you . . . and heavenly peace will surround your souls. . . . The most precious work that [you] can engage in is that of cultivating a Christlike character.”2
Why is it that so often we seem to fall short in our Christian experience, not always enjoying the sparkling joy and peace in our Christian lives that Jesus makes possible? There can be only one answer: we don’t trust Him enough. We pull back life’s cup before He can fill it to the brim. And the reason we do so is that we’re afraid somehow that what He has in mind for us isn’t exactly what we would be happy with.
But Jesus made it plain that the only way He can fill our cups is that we first empty them completely. He said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Jesus bore His cross all His life, not just on Calvary. And He asks us to bear our cross of self-denial, giving up anything that stands between ourselves and God. Individually, we have to sort out for ourselves what it is that blocks our way to Christ and be willing to let Him remove it. It may be some habit, some characteristic that we know is not good, but that has been practiced so long we feel we can’t part with it without losing something precious. It may be some hatred, some inner belief that others have treated us unjustly. But whatever it is, we must realize that it stands between us and a full surrender to God’s will for our lives.
Self-denial is not pleasant. However, to refuse to do as Jesus urges is to forfeit that which brings real happiness both now and eternally. When we refuse to empty our lives of self we make it impossible for God to fill our cup to the brim with Himself.
What leads people to want the kind of religious faith we have? What makes them want to know Christ and serve Him? It is seeing us go through periods of trial, sorrow, sickness, and hardship and then hearing us exclaim: “The Lord is my shepherd; my cup runneth over” (see Ps. 23).
So let’s take the cups of our lives and present them completely to Jesus. Let’s ask Him to fill them to the brim. Let’s ask Him to pour out His Spirit of joy, love, and contentment upon us so abundantly that we can shout excitedly as did David: “Look! Look! Look, everyone!—MY cup runneth over!”
Then we shall soar with wings as eagles and live with Jesus forever in His kingdom.
*All scriptures quoted in this article are from the King James Version.
1The Desire of Ages, p. 149.
2Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 558, 559.