God's Word to Little People
“God’s Word to Little People”
Recently my family was over at my folks’ house and my dad and I played Hide-n-Seek with my 2½-year-old daughter, Maria. This got me to thinking back to games of Hide-n-Seek that my siblings and I played with my dad when we were kids. Generally the games would go pretty fast. Everybody would have a 30 or 40 count to hide, then the “seeker” would search the house and within 5 or 10 minutes everyone would be found and we’d start another round with a new “seeker.” On one occasion, though, I remember hiding and not being found for what seemed like hours. I had crawled up on a large storage shelf in the corner of the basement and hid behind some camping gear. The seeker – my little brother, I think –made a pass by the shelves early on in the round but that was it. After that it was quiet and I sat - increasingly restless - as the “hours” passed. “Is he just not able to find me?” I thought; or… “Has he forgotten about me? Maybe the whole family forgot about me and they’re all upstairs playing Scrabble without me.”
JUDAH FEELS INSIGNIFICANT
The people of Judah, to whom Isaiah wrote the words of Isaiah 40, began to have similar thoughts…about God. They had been defeated in war and forced to walk the 700+ miles from Jerusalem to Babylon. Now they were exiles, stuck in Babylon, subject to the whims of a godless king. And they wondered, “Is our God not able to rescue us? Maybe he’s not strong enough to stand up to Babylon. Or… maybe, he’s forgotten about us.”
Some of their cries are actually recorded for us in the book of Lamentations. Here’s how it ends:
20 Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
22 unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lament. 5:20-22)
The people of Judah are desperate to know: “Will our God just leave us here…forever?” Far away from home, far away from the temple where they experienced God’s presence, these exiles felt insignificant. Now, of course, they knew that it was their own fault that they ended up where they did. God plainly told them on their way into their new homeland, that if they forgot about him – if they turned in on themselves and turned to idols – then they would be removed from their land. They knew that this mess was of their own making, but that just made things worse, made them feel even more insignificant. They felt guilty and tired; they felt forgotten. And they wondered: “Has he written us off as hopeless, not worth the effort? Does God in his great vastness not notice what we’re having to endure here? Will he just leave us in this mess?”
LITTLE PEOPLE IN A DANGEROUS WORLD
The experience of those exiles was not, however, unique to them. The words of Isaiah 40 continue to be so powerful today because feeling insignificant, feeling tired, even forgotten – these are also common experiences today. I was reading in Time magazine recently that each year more than 2 million American teenagers attempt suicide. 5.5 million are in psychological counseling. But this is not unique to teenagers. Last summer in the church I was interning at I met with a woman named Jacki who is in her late thirties. Jacki has four young kids and a husband who is bi-polar and can be verbally abusive and domineering. Their marriage is on the rocks. She spends long days at home by herself with the kids. Her family lives far away. People in the church seem hesitant to get involved. For Jackie every day is a battle just to keep it together.
For many of us, there’s something in Jackie’s experience that we can relate to: maybe we’re young and find ourselves always picked last for the team, or, maybe, we’re on the older side and feeling like society - and possibly even our families - have moved on without us. Many of us feel like we’re surrounded by people who are more gifted, more spiritual, more disciplined than we are. We wonder if we got stuck with the leftovers when God handed out talents, abilities, and personalities. In short, many of us feel “little.”
- [bring up little people] -
Now my preaching professor cautioned us students against using props in our sermons because people in the back row won’t be able to see them, especially if they’re small. Well, I’m breaking that rule today. If those of you in the back rows can’t see these very well, it’s OK…actually, it’s quite fitting.
You may recognize these (if you can see them) as Fisher Price “Little People.” I remember having these around when I was young, but I don’t remember actually playing with them all too often. They’re pretty simple – no batteries, no wheels. We had a lot of them and, unlike my stuffed animals, they didn’t get named and were generally neglected. I think a few may have gotten thrown at my little brother, but other than that, they found their way to the bottom of the toy box. Now my kids have Little People – the new, revamped Little People. They aren’t quite as little as the old ones – so kids don’t choke on them – and they are a bit more interesting, but, at least in my house, they still don’t get played with much. They get passed over for the big trucks or the toy cell phone that talks and plays music. So there the Little People lie in our living room in a basket on the bottom shelf.
I would contend that most all of us – even those among us with the most prominent job titles, the most experience in church leadership, or the highest academic degrees – experience this sense of being little from time to time…and maybe more often than that. Maybe it’s being little in comparison with people around us who seem to have it all together. Maybe it’s being little in the presence of a big mess – of our own making, or not. Maybe it’s simply feeling little in this unpredictable world – a world of random accidents where a father of three gets hit and killed by a drunk driver, where college students get shot while attending class. Natural disasters, violence, cancer – none of us are immune to these things. We are vulnerable. Our lives are contingent - contingent on forces much bigger than we are. It can all be quite wearisome at times.
BEHOLD YOUR GOD: THE ONE WHO REIGNS
Isaiah’s message to the little people of Judah is a message for “little people” today. Isaiah tells us two important things about who God is, about God’s nature. And he does so, first, by comparing God, the Creator, with his creation. Let’s just take a moment to look at how God is described in Isaiah 40. Verse 15 says that the nations, that whole countries are like drops in a bucket. In comparison to the size and strength of God, they amount to hardly anything at all. Then in verse 22 it says that “he sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people [-us-] are like grasshoppers.” Basically, Isaiah says to us: “You feel little? Well, in the grand scheme of things you are pretty little.”
About a year ago I spent a few days in Death Valley, California. There, I can tell you, I certainly felt about as little as a grasshopper. Death Valley is the biggest national park we have in this country, and I think the least popular; there aren’t a lot of people there. There isn’t much of anything else either, except an endless expanse of salt flats and rocks and open sky. I was there by myself. Other than knowing that I was somewhere in western California, know one knew exactly where I was. And standing there on a dusty ridge with my sunscreen and hat on I would look out across the horizon; and in that huge, barren – but beautiful – landscape I was convinced of two things: 1) how little – how grasshopper-like – I really am; and 2) how big God is. “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,” Isaiah says, “and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (40:22).
BEHOLD YOUR GOD: THE ONE WHO LOVES
But, you might say, “How is this necessarily comforting? So God is big; he’s powerful; couldn’t that just make him a manipulative dictator in the sky who moves his creatures around on a whim like pawns in some game? Doesn’t it say in verse 23 that ‘he brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing’? This doesn’t seem to be a message of comfort.” And I would say, “You’re right. If this is all Isaiah said about God, we’d be left in a state of fear; we’d hide ourselves from God.”
Isaiah’s message is a message of comfort because it doesn’t stop with God’s greatness.
Maybe you remember this prayer from your childhood: “God is great; God is good; let us thank him for this food, Amen.” That is Isaiah’s message. God is not only great, he is good. God is not only strong, he is loving. God is not only the all-powerful King, he is the Good Shepherd, who “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (v.9).
It’s this combination of power and goodness that define our God. 25 years ago Rabbi Kushner wrote a book entitled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. This was a question he was asking because he had just lost a child to a fatal illness. In the book he concludes that either God is all-powerful and lets bad things happen because he really doesn’t care all that much, or he is good but because he is not all-powerful he is unable to prevent the bad things that do happen. Kushner concluded that either he is all-powerful or he is good – either/or, not both.
This is not the God of the Bible, though. The psalmist in Psalm 62 concludes by saying, “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” The God of the Bible is all-powerful and he pays attention to, he cares for his little creatures. These two things are brought together in Isaiah 40 in verse 26. There Isaiah tells us to, “Look to the heavens: Who created all these?” he asks. Well, it is the Lord, the all-powerful One, of course. And then he adds this: “He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of [this] great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
Isaiah is saying to the people of Judah, “You are not forgotten by God. Just as he knows the name of every star and has never misplaced a single one, so he knows your name and he knows your situation.” And, what’s more, Isaiah goes on to say that God is going to do something about it. He will renew their strength. Note that, at least here in the book of Isaiah, the promise is not yet deliverance. Here in Isaiah 40 God promises to strengthen and sustain tired, little people in the midst of their trouble. The all-powerful One chooses to bring his power to bear in the lives of his children.
I find it interesting that the word “renew” that is used here when the text says that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” in the original language actually has a meaning something like “exchange.” Like when you renew a book at the library, you exchange one due date that is rapidly approaching for a new one 4 or 6 weeks down the pike. The Hebrews used this term to talk about someone changing their clothes. Here’s where I, as a New Testament believer, see Christ in our text. Christ, in his suffering and death, took upon himself our weakness and guilt; then, in his resurrection he gave us new life. He took our frailty, our insignificance, and made us children of God. He made an exchange that is renewing us, even now, for eternal life with God. Christ took little people and attached them to a big God, and it’s here with God that we find strength and hope.
TRUSTING THIS GOD
Think about this in terms of a small child with her parents. She trusts her parents and remains hopeful about her little life because her parents are both strong and loving. Her parents are strong enough to protect her and provide for her and they are head-over-heals in love with her – she knows this. If, however, they were only strong and didn’t love their daughter or only loving and weren’t able to feed and protect her, then she would have real reason to feel neglected and quite fearful. Instead, she trusts her strong and loving parents and feels secure.
Our strong and loving God brings security to all who call him their “Father.”
Isaiah has painted for us two pictures of God: the all-powerful Creator and the One who cares for the weary. It is not enough for us to take this as a theology lesson about the nature of God. Isaiah calls us to wait upon, to hope in, to trust in this God. Peter puts it this way in the New Testament: “Cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Psalm 105 says, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.”
In his book entitled Ruthless Trust Brennan Manning includes this prayer for praying at the beginning of the day: “Father, into your hands I entrust my body, mind, and spirit and this entire day—morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Whatever you want of me, I want of me, falling into you and trusting in you in the midst of my life. Into your heart I entrust my heart—feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain. Father, unto you I abandon myself in Jesus our Lord. Amen” (p. 11).
Here again these promises of God:
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (40:29-31)
[Now instead of me leading us in a prayer of commitment, I would like us all to respond by saying together what we believe from the Heidelberg Catechism. Please turn with me to page _______ in the back of the Psalter – Q&A 26. (stand, I read Q, you read A)]
Father, into your hands we entrust ourselves and this week ahead. Continue to speak to us of your power and love. Use what little we have for service in your kingdom. Through Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Things to possibly add:
- Q&A 26 reference
- verse that says “his power is made perfect in weakness”