Wait for the LORD when it feels like he’s doing nothing.
Series: Isaiah: Hope in the Holy One
In week two of our Isaiah series, Pastor Matt unpacks a BIG IDEA we all need remonding of from time to time: Wait for the LORD when it feels like he’s doing nothing.
(1) He is incomparably great (Isaiah 40:12-26)
(2) He will give you what you need (Isaiah 40:27-31)
The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction Commentary by Alec Motyer
Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preach the Word Commentary) by Ray Ortlund
ESV Study Bible
Have you ever felt like God has forgotten about you? Do you feel that way right now? Even worse, do you feel like God remembers, but isn’t doing anything? He’s God, he can’t forget, but he doesn’t seem to be lifting a finger to help. Have you felt that way? Do you feel that way about some area of your or relationship in your life right now? If you do, then you know a little bit about what the people Isaiah wrote our passage to were experiencing. We receive a window into what they were feeling, what they were telling themselves, and even what they were saying to one another in Isaiah 40:27 – Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Isaiah was writing in the 700’s BC to Israel’s future exiles in the 500’s BC. As a result of God’s judgment for all their disobeying and ignoring God, Israel had been conquered by the Babylonians and the survivors were hauled off to live as servants and slaves in Babylon. Isaiah is writing to exiles – people who are not at home where they are. And we know from last week that despite all their sins, God – the Holy One – promised to come for his people. He promised to end their exiles and give them double the forgiveness they needed for all their sins. The Holy One is coming, an amazing promise, but right now it doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything. Faith is failing. Strength is failing. Joy is failing. Hope is failing. “My way is hidden, my right disregarded.”
We feel just like that. Citylight Church – we are exiles too. When we repented and believed in Jesus, we didn’t change physical locations, but the location of our home changed. Christ’s kingdom is our home and we are now exiles in this world. Of course, our exile is different from Israel’s. They were exiles in Babylon because of their sin against the Lord, we are exiles in this present world because of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But like Israel in Babylon, we are strangers, sojourners, and exiles in this world. And the Holy One – the Lord Jesus Christ – has promised to come for us too. In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. It’s an amazing, wonderful, and glorious promise. The Lord Jesus Christ will come for us, he’ll transform our lowly bodies so that I’ll be tall and we’ll never die. He will come for us and our sin, sadness, and suffering will be no more and we will reign with him in a new heaven and a new earth forever. Our exile will be over and the suffering of it isn’t worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.
The Holy One is coming, but what do we do now when it feels like he’s doing nothing?! What do we do when we feel like our way is hidden from the Lord and our right disregarded by our God? What do we do now? Isaiah 40:30-31 – Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 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. The Holy One is coming, but what do we do now when it feels like he isn’t lifting a finger? How do we live holy, happy, and faithful lives now, with steel in our spines and love in our hearts, when it feels like the Lord has forgotten us? The answer is the big idea of our passage this morning: Wait for the LORD when it feels like he’s doing nothing. Wait for the Lord. Waiting on the Lord is not the same as killing time. Ray Ortlund describes waiting on the Lord as “Savoring God’s promise by faith until the time of fulfillment…Waiting is what faith does before God’s answer shows up. God gives us great and precious promises, and then he calls us to wait. And Isaiah’s point is that such bright expectancy is the psychological leverage God uses to empower us. Wait for the LORD when it feels like he’s doing nothing. In our passage Isaiah will provide us with two reasons why we should wait for the Lord when it feels like he’s doing nothing: (1) He is incomparably great (Isaiah 40:12-26) (2) He will give you what you need (Isaiah 40:27-31).
HE IS INCOMPARABLY GREAT
Waiting is powerful. Waiting for the glorious coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is very powerful for life right now – especially when you feel disregarded by God. Remember our working definition of waiting on the Lord from Ray Ortlund. Savoring God’s promise by faith until the time of fulfillment. Think about the power of that. Waiting helps you rejoice in all circumstances because waiting means the very best circumstances are a wonderful preview of coming kingdom attractions – waiting makes them better – and waiting makes the very worst circumstances light and momentary compared to what is coming. Waiting helps you love difficult people – if the Lord is coming for me despite all I’ve done against him, then in him I have the strength to bear with and seek the good of people who do all sorts of things against me. Waiting helps you be patient – since I’m waiting for the Lord who is surely coming for me, what can’t I put up with now? Waiting makes you bold – since I know the Lord will wipe away every tear, I can take some risks for his glory now. Waiting on the Lord’s promise to come for us – even when it looks like he’s doing nothing now – is powerful.
So, why don’t we like to wait for the Lord? Why do we look elsewhere for strength instead of savoring his promise by faith until the time of fulfillment? One reason is because we have miniaturized God. Your God is too small. A.W. Tozer once wrote “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” There is so little waiting on the Lord, future hope-filled endurance, faithfulness, contentment, and joy in the American church today because we have miniaturized God. A miniaturized God is not worth waiting for. If you listen to most so-called Christian sermons, podcasts, or books today you would think that God is small and we are the center of the universe. It’s one sermon or podcast after another about three steps to better communication, singleness, sex, marriage, and work. God is there, of course, but only as a light garnish on the side of the plate of your life. He’s small and relatively useless, except for brightening up what really matters. The Garnish god is not worth waiting for. He can’t fulfill any promises. He isn’t coming for you or wiping away any tears. He can’t put holiness into your life, happiness in your heart, or steel in your spine.
But that’s not your God; The LORD is incomparably great. Isaiah 40:18 – “To whom will you liken God…” Isaiah 40:25 – To whom will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. Answer: no one! He is incomparably great! You can trust him and savor his promise until the time of fulfillment. Let’s look at his incomparable greatness. Isaiah 40:12-14 – Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand… The volume of all water on earth is 332.5 million cubic miles (mi3). Just one cubic mile of water equals more than 1.1 trillion gallons. Now think about how out of control you feel when just a four foot wave of water down the shore pummels you. The Holy One put all 332 million cubic miles of water in the hollow of his hand and said, “yep, that’s about right. Let’s keep reading. …and marked off the heavens with a span… The amount of water on earth is big, but the “heavens” are really big. A light year is the distance light can travel in one year and light travels at 186,000 miles per second.The observable universe is approximately 94 billion light years across. The heavens are huge. Now, in the Bible a span is the distance between your thumb and your pinky with your hand stretched open. God marked off the expanse of the universe with the span of his hand and said, “that’s about right. Let’s keep reading. …enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? The Lord put Mount Everest and every particle of dust on a scale and said, “that’s about right.” And not only that, God does it all with no help, no business partners. 13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? The Babylonian captors believed Marduk created by committee and in consultation with other gods – but the LORD has no advisors or peers. Isaiah makes a similar point Isaiah 40:25-26. To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. Isaiah is writing about the stars in the sky because the Babylonians were astrologers. There are more stars in the heavens than grains of sand on earth and God calls every one of them by name, no exceptions. You can trust Him. You can wait for him. You can savor his promise by faith until fulfillment – he is great enough to come through.
He isn’t just incomparably great over creation, he’s also incomparably great over the nations as well! Think about all the frightening chaos in our world right now. Russia at war with Ukraine right next to NATO countries. China sending the spy balloon over the U.S., with the two nations at the highest point of tension in memory. North Korea testing weapon systems near Japan. Unrest in Iran. And the list could go on and on. Isaiah 40:15-17 – Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. 16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. Here is what all that madness is before the Lord! (Dropper w/water. Dust blown off my hand). Isaiah repeats the same idea in Isaiah 40:21-24 – Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; 23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. 24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. Wait for the Lord when it feels like he isn’t doing anything. He will fulfill his promise.
The Lord isn’t only incomparably great over creation and nations, he’s also incomparably greater than anything else you might turn to. Isaiah 40:18-20 – To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. 20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move. Friends – idolatry wasn’t just something committed by pre-scientific peoples. Question 17 in the New City Catechism: What is idolatry? Answer: Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security. What are you tempted to trust in for hope and happiness, significance and security that isn’t the Lord? Write it down. Whatever it is, it was made. It was fashioned. It can’t carry the weight. It can’t keep promises. Wait for the Lord when it feels like he isn’t doing anything. He is incomparably great over creation, nations, and idols. Wait for him when it feels like he’s doing nothing. That’s not the only reason why we wait for the Lord when it feels like he’s doing nothing. Wait for him because…
HE WILL GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED
Who is the most influential preacher in your life? Whose podcast sermons do you download most? For me, I would definitely say Ray Ortlund, but Paul Tripp says that you are actually the most influential preacher in your life because no one talks to you and no one listens to you as much as you do. Listen one more time to what God’s people are saying to themselves. Isaiah 40:27 – Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Does that sound familiar? Is that the sermon you preach to yourself when it feels like God isn’t doing anything? Try this sermon: wait for him because he’ll give you what you need.
Isaiah 40:28-31 – Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. When it’s all said and done, we will have slept for about one third of our lives. And we will have spent much of the other two thirds unsure about what exactly we should do. But the Lord has never yawned or been unsure. To wait – to savor his promise by faith until the time of fulfillment – you need a God who is never tired or confused. He has to be both. When it feels like God isn’t doing anything, you can still submit to God and worship him because he’s great, everlasting, and sovereign. But to actually rejoice when it feels like he isn’t doing anything, you need a God whose understanding is unsearchable. In The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs writes, “In his submission, he sees his sovereignty, but what makes him take pleasure is God’s wisdom. The Lord knows how to order things better than I. The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great while from now. And how do I know but that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone.” To wait for the Lord when it doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything, we need a Lord who is wiser than us, sees better than us, and who understanding is unsearchable. With him, we can rejoice because when things aren’t going our way, they are going his. And his ways are wiser.
And he will give you what you need. Isaiah 40:29-31 – 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 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. Tonight, when you watch the Super Bowl, you will see youths. You will see some of the fittest, healthiest, strongest men in the world in their absolute prime. But every one of them will have to sit down during the game. And even the winners will have to get some sleep eventually. How about you? Does this present exile have you weary? Are you weary from temptations, weary from difficult relationships, weary from sickness and suffering, weary from setbacks, and weary from feeling like God isn’t doing anything? Wait for the Lord. Savor his promise by faith, set your hope fully on the grace to be revealed when Jesus returns, come to him all who are weary and heavy laden and he will give you what you need. He will renew your strength to live holy and happy during this present exile. And he will give you far more than just what you need to get by. When you wait upon him, when you live by faith in his promise to come for his people, when you savor the promise and set your hope fully in it, then you can soar through this present exile without growing faint because the Lord will give you his endless supply of strength. You don’t need new circumstances to soar. Wait on the Lord. As Tony Evans says, “You will walk and not faint as God changes you, whether or not he changes your situation.” He is incomparably great. He will give you what you need. So, wait for the Lord. Live in faith-filled anticipation, savor his promise until fulfillment, wait for the Lord because he is incomparably great and will give you what you need.
The ultimate reason why you can be confident that he will give you what you need is that he gave you His Son. Preach the gospel from Romans 8:32.