God's Waiting Room
God’s Waiting Room
Comedian Howie Mandel, who now hosts the show “Deal or no Deal” no doubt honed his skills while working at one of his first jobs – operating a ride at an amusement park. “Make sure the orange safety harness over your left shoulder is securely fastened,” he would warn riders. “We’re going upside down in five seconds.” “This announcement would invariably be met with abject panic. “There was,” he later explained, “no orange safety harness.” Oh boy – we don’t like it when there is no safety harness, do we? We don’t like it when there is nothing to catch us, nothing to hang on to, when there are no answers. We don’t like it.
One Saturday morning Patty and I were doing some chores around the house and getting ready to watch the Nebraska/Oklahoma football game. It is not unusual for us to have some kind of sports event on television and sometimes it’s more or less in the background – but with Nebraska and Oklahoma – we were preparing to watch. In fact, I was getting ready to call my dad who lived in Victorville – about 70 miles distance from us to make sure he knew the game was on. I knew he would be interested. 83 years of age, he was in perfect health, strong as an ox having worked all his life on the farm and in construction. He was vital and loved his life and his family. But just before I made that call, our phone rang. It was my mom – calling with the news that would change all of our lives. Dad had gone out to get the paper, but on his way back, she had watched through the window as he slowly collapsed onto the pavement outside the kitchen. Paramedics had been called and were about to transport him to the hospital.
Of course, we immediately got into the car and drove to the Victorville hospital as fast as we could. By the time we arrived, Mom was sitting with a neighbor in the waiting room. They had no word yet on Dad’s condition, but it was clearly serious. He had never really regained consciousness prior to transport. After Mom filled us in on all she knew and we prepared to pray, I asked her how she wanted us to pray. She replied, as I thought she would, “Dad would not want to live with impaired functions. We should pray that he will recover, or that the Lord will take him home.” So that’s what we did, though at the same time submitting to whatever the Lord might choose.
What the Lord chose was to take us, and particularly Mom, to His waiting room. God’s waiting room – the place where there are no “yes or no” answers, but only “wait.” The place where at first it seems dark and dreary, where God seems far away and doubt creeps in. The place where there is no safety harness and where faith seems inadequate. And worst of all – a place where there is no timetable. God’s waiting room -- where none of would choose to go. And when we see it coming our response is, “Oh, no, Lord. Not that. I don’t want to go there. It’s scary there. It’s dark and cold there. And you might leave me there longer than I can endure.”
Some of you are in God’s waiting room this morning. Some of you have been there a long time and you’re not sure you can hold out. Your whole heart is crying out – Where is God? And that’s exactly the question we want to address for the next couple of weeks.
Now, I want to tell you a bit more about my mom in God’s waiting room – but you’re going to have to – yes, that’s right – WAIT! Because first I want us to see this whole thing from God’s perspective. Our key verse is found in Isaiah 40:31. Look at it with me: 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. (ESV). This verse is telling us that God always has a purpose for having us in the waiting room and that purpose is our renewed strength. But see that little phrase, “those who wait”? It literally reads, “the waiters.” These promises are for the waiters upon the Lord. You see, it’s possible to be in God’s waiting room and not be a waiter. It’s possible to be in God’s waiting room and be anxious, bitter, angry, fearful, cold. Then you will not be renewed. You will not run without weariness and you will surely faint.
But this passage of Scripture was written for our comfort. It turns out that God is BIGGER than any problem, any issue, any person or any circumstance that we will ever face. And though we may be in the waiting room, God wants to turn on the lights, warm up the temperature, hold out hope and make it a place of refreshment. He just needs our cooperation to bring that about.
Now the context for this passage is this. Isaiah was a prophet of God living from around 739 B.C. until possibly as late as 681. He came from a good family, had easy access to the king, wrote in an impeccable style with a message urging repentance from idol worship and meaningless ritual. But he knew his message would not be followed and he prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. The children of Israel were about to enter God’s waiting room, in their case to purge them from sin, and it would not be pleasant. But in the midst of that prophecy, Isaiah was instructed to offer hope. That is what the passage we want to study for the next couple of weeks is all about. Why and how should the people take hope and what is it that can offer hope to us as “waiters” upon the Lord? The answer is God – God! God is bigger than any possible problem we can confront. Let me illustrate.
John Elway used to step up behind the center. A short hut! - hut-hut! And the ball is snapped. Immediately there was a violent blend of orange and blue with silver and black as the Raiders defense pushed the Bronco offensive line back and back. Some of the offensive line would hold their positions while others forced the defense out past the sides of the offensive play. As the mayhem formed a circle around him, Elway stood firm in the pocket - his comfort zone. He had confidence in the greatness of his linemen. Now, Elway’s protection was not always perfect; ours is.
God’s answer to the question of timing is a crescendo of affirmations about Himself that when applied can turn on the lights and bring peace in the midst of hopelessness. Let’s look at those affirmations in detail.
I. God is Bigger Than All Creation (vv. 12)
In verses 12-14, the prophet offers a series of 5 hypothetical questions aimed at focusing attention away from the immediacy of the problem and onto the ultimate sufficiency of God. The first is found in verse 12 and emphasizes that our God is bigger than all creation. Look at it with me: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has done all this? Clearly Isaiah was saying, only God can do this. Man is making progress, but he cannot hope to manage creation as described here.
To man the oceans are a mighty force. To God, they are like the bit of water that you might hold in the palm of your hand. The distances of the heavens challenge our imagination. Hang on to your seats for a moment folks and let’s consider for a moment. We all know that light travels at 186,000 miles per second – that’s nearly 8 times around the circumference of the earth. I can remember as a young man when I first found out that light even had a speed, I used to take a flashlight outside, point it at the sky, turn it on and then off, trying to see the light disappear into the heavens. Never could quite track it! Now I know why. Okay – eight time around the earth in one second. For light to get from the sun to the earth takes about 8 minutes. Now, let’s go a step further. At a speed of 186,000 miles per second, light travels 186,000 times 60 seconds per minute times 60 minutes per hour time 24 hours per day times 365 days per year -- almost 6 trillion miles in one year. I can’t give you any reference point for that. It’s starting to get beyond my ability to comprehend, but we are told that at that speed it takes about 4.4 years for light to get from the next closest visible star, Alpha Centauri to earth. 4.4 years, folks! That’s more than 26 trillion miles! Are you staggered yet? About 100 years ago, astronomers believed our universe to be about 5,000 light years across – that’s 5,000 times 6 trillion. Don’t know about you, but I’m lost. But, of course, that number has changed somewhat. Today, it is believed that the universe is not 5,000 light years but at least 27 billion light years across! Who could begin to imagine that? But look at verse 12 again. How does God measure that expanse – whatever it may be? It says He “marked off the heavens with a span” – a span – the width of a human hand – the distance between thumb and forefinger. As big as creation may be, God is bigger.
The hills and mountains have been weighed out and apportioned by God and the dust of the earth is like the left over portion after something has been removed from a balance. God is bigger than all creation – the reason being, of course, that He is the Creator.
Now there are many ways that God’s creative genius is exemplified in creation, but let me use just one to illustrate this morning. We are all aware that material things are made up of atoms and that atoms are made up of even smaller electromagnetic particles called electrons and protons – far too small to see but conforming to theories which posit that all atoms are their own tiny universe with protons at the center in the midst of rapidly whirling electrons. Now here’s one for you. Because protons and electrons are electrically charged particles which repel each other, they must ultimately be equal in number or the whole universe comes crashing down. Modern science estimates that if they were not present in equivalent numbers to an accuracy of one part in 1037, electromagnetic forces in the universe would so have overcome gravitational forces that galaxies, planets and stars would never have formed or would not be maintained. Imagine a pile of dimes covering the whole of North America. Now imagine that each pile stretches 239,000 miles to the moon. Now image one billion such piles of dimes with one red one mixed in somewhere. The odds of finding it would be about one in 1037. That’s just one indication of the delicate balance of our universe. And you want to tell me that there’s no designer and that God is not bigger than creation?
It is facts like those above which have caused even avowed agnostics like Stephen Hawking – one of the most brilliant scientists of our time, to reluctantly concede, “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.” Charles Darwin himself, as he became older and neared the end of his life, said over and over in letters and in his autobiography, “I cannot believe with my mind that all this was produced by chance.”
Those who wait upon the Lord take comfort from the fact that He is bigger than creation. You see, the implications of this are many. If God is bigger than creation, it means I need fear no material entity. No physical calamity can overcome me that God has not allowed in His providence for my good. No disease is beyond His ability to heal or to direct in my life. No request related to the physical realm is beyond His potential. He can bring rain and he can stop hail. You say, “Well, he’s pretty arbitrary about that! That doesn’t always happen to my advantage.” Actually it does, but we just aren’t seeing it from God’s perspective yet.
Turn with me to I Kings 19. The background here is that Elijah has just had his little encounter with the 450 prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel – the encounter where their gods never answered, but Elijah called down fire out of heaven to destroy the altar which he had drenched with water. All 450 prophets of Baal lost their lives there.
As a follow up to that, Elijah called down rain out a heaven that had been closed for more than three years. I think it’s fair to say that Elijah had had a good week. Probably was feeling pretty good about things. Which, of course, is just when Satan struck. Jezebel, the queen, sent Elijah a little love note that basically read, “Dear Elijah, I understand that you have bested and slain all my prophets. Please be advised that I intend to see you in the same condition by this time tomorrow. Love, Jezzy.”
Ever fail in your faith? Ever feel like you just blew it for no reason that you or anyone else could ever explain and you just wanted to die? Well – join Elijah, for this man who could personally face down 450 prophets of Baal found himself quaking in fear at the mere message from one woman. Long story short, his heart failed him and he ran. Ran until he could go no more and wanted to die. God stepped in and said, “Arise and eat, then you can run some more, and he did which leads us to finding Elijah just arrived in Horeb (near Mt. Sinai – 200 plus miles distant from Mt. Carmel) where he goes through this little encounter with God. 9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
Elijah was discouraged. He was in God’s waiting room, feeling alone, deserted and unappreciated. So God took him through this little exercise. Why? Why? What was God’s point in all of this? Why it was to demonstrate that God was bigger than creation. To show Elijah that he was underestimating God. To show, before he informed him that he was not alone, that God is not controlled by events, but is the controller of events.
Does God care if you have rain for your crops or deliverance from your cancer or relief from whatever physical condition is afflicting you? Of course, He does. But thankfully, He is much more interested that we learn to trust Him, that we grow in grace, that we have a ministry to others, that we don’t get too comfortable with this life and a thousand other reasons that He sometimes says “No” to what we are asking or at least places us in the waiting room.
Are you in God’s waiting room today regarding some physical issue today? Then take heart. He has not abandoned you and He is bigger than creation. You must trust Him. Our son Tim did a really stupid thing a few years ago. He stepped to the open doorway of an airplane in flight, looked out and then he jumped having never done anything like that in his life. Having taken that step he was entirely at the mercy of the law of gravity having abandoned all hope of survival – except that he had a parachute and more importantly he was physically connected to an instructor who knew exactly what to do to release the chutes in a timely fashion and direct their descent to create a safe landing.
Now listen – if you’re in God’s waiting room, you must abandon all hope except in Him. I tell you, He is bigger than creation and He will land you safely where He wants, but you must trust Him completely. That’s message number 1 in God’s waiting room. [Pause]. Now – the second message we need in the waiting room.
II. God is Bigger Than Any Counselor (13-14)
Look with me at verses 13-14. “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?” In these verses we have three more questions basically aimed at instructing us that God is bigger than any counselor.
The word “counsel” found in verse 13 is used 88 times in the Bible. It is usually translated counsel or advice. One common usage is to describe the counsel that political advisors gave to rulers of the day. Here it is used to indicate that no man can ever counsel God, although, let’s face it, we often try! No man can ever counsel God – and further He is the one in whom justice, knowledge and understanding have their origin. The point of all this being – to whom else would we go for counsel, for advice, for instruction in life?
Listen to some of the many passages that describe the importance of having God as our counselor. Psalm 33:10-11: “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. (11) The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” We have a lot of Christians running to counselors these days. And I’m not saying there is never a place for counseling, but folks, there will never be a counselor like God. We see here that he frustrates the plans of people, but His counsel is forever. Ever notice that there is a new psychological wrinkle every few years – some new trend, some new approach? Not with God folks. You want something you can count on? He is it.
Because of this, we see direction like this found in Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Do you want to be wise? Begin to seek the counsel of God. Look at Proverbs 19:20-21, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. (21) Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” You may recall that one of the names predicted for the coming Christ in Isaiah 9:6 is the Wonderful Counselor. Listen, do you need counsel? Do you want the very best? Then you must seek out Jesus. You must seek out his Word. You must know what he says and what he is about and how He directs. God is bigger than any counselor.
You see, we would much rather go to a human counselor because it doesn’t involve any work on our part. We don’t have to dig. We don’t have to seek. But there is an even bigger and far more destructive reason that we seek out human counseling. You know what that is? Listen now – you need to get this. We like human counselors because they concentrate on us whereas God concentrates on God. 1) We’d much prefer to go to a counselor who listens to and legitimizes our complaints about our wife than we would to go to God and get his counsel to Love our wives even as Christ loved the church. 2) It is so much more pleasant to talk about the deprivations of our childhood and blame our parents for our failures than it is to acknowledge that it is our own choices that are leading us to frustrated existences. 3) We’d far prefer to have someone listen non-judgmentally to our litany of complaints about bosses, family members, friends and those random “jerks” who inhabit our world than we would to acknowledge before God our own selfishness and self-centeredness which is really the root of our problem. One well known Christian counselor, Dr. Paul Tournier, has said that the starting point for good counseling is to realize, “God is not at our service. To claim to penetrate His secrets, know His signs, and have His power at our beck and call is not faith, but magic. This is a great problem.”
You see, the true function of counseling isn’t to learn about me. That’s the human approach. The true function of counseling is to learn about God. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” That’s personal, isn’t it? But it’s centered on God’s way, not yours. David said in Psalm 119:24, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” Is that good or what? The testimonies of God should be our delight and our counselors Need counseling? I must tell you – all the wisdom you could ever hope to find is wrapped up in this book – but you must read it, you must meditate in it, you must come humbly to it. You cannot come hoping to justify your sin or to selfishness. How many times have I heard people say that they’ve tried praying and brought their problems to Christ, but the truth is, all they’ve done is bring their own preconceived notions of who Christ is and what the Bible says without actually digging deep.
Look again at Isaiah 40:14. Do you see that the Lord can counsel us in justice, knowledge and understanding. I mean, think it about, folks. He made us in the first place. Who better to give us counsel, and it’s ours if we will only seek it. Why seek help from an amateur when you can have the absolute best? A college basketball coach discovered a young high school prospect who was a dream come true. The youngster was 7’4” and never missed a basket. Unfortunately, he wasn’t an academic whiz. The coach begged the academic dean to admit the young man. The dean agreed, saying, “I’ll ask him three questions. If he answers them, he can be enrolled.” The young man was brought before the dean, who asked him the first question: “How much is two and two?” His brow furrowed, the young man thought and thought and finally said, “Four.” The dean went on, “How much is four and four?” The young man gulped, worked and worked and finally said, “Eight.” The dean went on, “How much is eight and eight?” Beads of sweat formed on the young man’s forehead. After an eternity, he finally said, “Sixteen.” With that the coach fell to his knees and said to the dean, “Please, dean, please -- give him one more chance!” Moral – it won’t do to seek counsel from someone who doesn’t know as much as you do!
Are you in God’s waiting room this morning? Do you need counsel? Don’t seek help from someone who knows no more than you. Go directly to the source. You will begin to find answers when you begin to acknowledge that it is not about you, it is about Him. David says in Psalm 73:24, " (24) You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. " What a great promise that is. God is bigger than any counselor.
III. God is Bigger Than Any Country (vv. 15-17)
Now a third reason to take comfort even in God’s waiting room is because He is bigger than any nation. Sometimes our fear of nations is similar to our fear of technology. For twenty years, the scientists slave over formulas and charts and build a giant computer. It stands six feet tall and has a hard drive that can hold a zillion bytes. It is programmed with all the knowledge and systems we know about. To celebrate its completion, the scientists gather and ask it, “Is there a God?” The computer answers, “There is now.”
That kind of sends a shutter down your back, doesn’t it? The idea of some kind of being that can control everything, our lives included. Nations have arisen that created and continue to create a similar fear factor, don’t they? Because in reality, they can and do play havoc in people’s lives. We all remember the 6,000,000 Jews killed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany. We are told that even more have been killed in Stalin’s old Soviet empire.
Now in the context of Isaiah 40, fear of nations is paramount in the minds of the people. As most of you are aware, the nation of Israel was divided after Solomon’s rule, with the ten northern tribes being known as Israel and the 2 southern tribes being known as Judah. They operated as completely separate nations for a period of nearly 300 years, often fighting each other and sometimes joining alliances with other nations against each other.
Isaiah was born in Judah, the southern nation, in 739 B.C. By 722, 17 years later, the northern nation, known as Israel, had been taken captive by the Assyrians and ceased to exist. Some people were deported and immigrants from other nations were imported leading to the inbreeding that resulted in loss of any national or tribal identity – thus the historical reference to the 10 lost tribes.
Having seen that happen to their brothers to the north, the people of Judah, the southern two tribes, were now faced with another dilemma. Their king, Hezekiah, basically a good king, had received ambassadors from a fledging nation called Babylon. During the course of their visit, Hezekiah had decided to show off and revealed to them every secret of his storehouse. As a consequence, Isaiah prophesied as we find in Isaiah 39:6-7: " (6) Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. (7) And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” One could assume that this was not a particularly encouraging message and the anxiety level within Judah must have gone sky high as they began to watch the growth of Babylon, eventually into the first certified world power.
Questions abounded. When would captivity come? How could they possibly hope to cope with Assyria and Babylon? What would the future mean to their families? Could they repent and prevent the prophesied captivity?
It is in the midst of that angst that Isaiah reminds them of the truth of Isaiah 40:15-17: " (15) 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. "
Don’t you love the language that the Lord uses here? Those nations that you fear so -- they are like a drop in the bucket to God. How much more insignificant can you get? They are like the dust that is left over on the scales to be brushed away as meaningless. God is so great that you could take all the lumber of Lebanon for fuel, a place known for its forests, and all its beasts for an offering, and it would not begin to suffice for the Lord’s worth. I love the summary. All those nations that you fear – less than nothing to Him. What’s the message? What’s he saying? He is saying, “Do not fear.” God is bigger than the nations. You can trust Him. Whatever may come, just know that it is allowed by Him and He will finish it in His time and in His way.
Interestingly, the proof of that statement was already being written. It turns out that mighty Babylon, which would indeed take Judah captive and wipe all the city of Jerusalem eventually was only doing so not just through the Lord’s benign neglect, but in direct obedience to his unrecognized direction. Jeremiah prophesied this way later in Jeremiah 25:9 “behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations.” As it turned out, mighty Babylon and its king Nebuchadnezzar, were nothing more than the servant of the Lord, sent specifically to purge his people of their sin. Furthermore, in Isaiah 45:1 we read that there will come a mighty king named Cyrus (he is actually named there), leader of the Medes, who will release the Jewish people from captivity. Concerning Cyrus God says in Isaiah 45:4, " (4) For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name (before he was ever born), I name you, though you do not know me. " And approximately 150 years later, the Jewish people were released from Babylonian bondage by Cyrus the Mede.
Folks, God is bigger than the nations. Here is God’s perspective from Psalms 2:2-4: "(2) The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, (3) “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (4) He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. " Even in their arrogance, God holds them in derision. Don’t you like that?
When I was growing up it seemed like the Soviet empire had a stranglehold on much of the world. It was unimaginable that they would ever be brought down or Germany would be re-united short of war. Oh, how we used to worry about the legitimate threat of the Soviet empire. But from today’s perspective we can imagine that God was never too worried, right? Today I find it interesting that much of our anxiety centers on Iraq and Iran – the same exact area that was the concern of the Israelites when Isaiah was written. 2600 years and nothing has changed. But I tell you, they can go no further and no longer than God allows. Even the Muslim militants will one day be seen for what they are – servants of God in some way unknown to us at present – just like Nebuchadnezzar of old. Think about that folks next time your blood pressure shoots up. Nothing more than drops in a bucket, dust on the scale, less than nothing.
We can even bring this closer to home. If you’ve been watching our own Congress of the US this past week – what a fiasco, huh? I tell you, if I were counting on their actions to protect my retirement plans and my interests of any kind, I’d be deathly worried by now. Don’t get me wrong. I love our country – but I long ago learned to separate even this great country from faith in God. It is great, yes. But it is not infallible. It is not efficient. And much of the time, it is not very smart, and its leaders are men of clay feet who cannot even agree during a national crisis. Thankfully, God is bigger than any country.
I love the account of an event that happened to a missionary lady named Gladys Aylward whose story was told in the movie The Inn of Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman, and who experienced a harrowing journey out of war-torn Yang Chen during the Communist take-over. On one particular morning she found herself faced with circumstances where there was no apparent hope of reaching safety. A 13-year old girl tried to comfort her by saying, "Don’t forget what you told us about Moses in the wilderness," to which Gladys Aylward replied, "Yes, my dear, but I am not Moses." The young girl replied, "Yes, but God is still God.” They made it out and Gladys went on to many years of service for her Lord. He is bigger than any national threat we can ever face. They can go only as far as He allows to serve His ultimate purposes – purposes intended for our good.
IV. God is Bigger Than Any Competitor (vv. 18-20)
Now the next thing we need to see to give us comfort in God’s waiting room is that God is bigger than any competitor. As a matter of fact, it’s not even a contest, though it sometimes looks as though it is.
Look with me at Isaiah 40:18-20: "(18) 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. " Isaiah’s wording is so clever. He says, “Now, to whom are you going to liken God? An idol!” He says it almost incredulously. It is as though someone says, “To whom are you going to liken Tiger Woods? Dave McNeff? Oh, please. There’s no competition there!”
Then notice how he subtly reminds them that it takes a craftsman to actually form the idol, to overlay it with gold and to cast it. A cheaper version might be made from a robust wood of some kind – but they all have one thing in common. They cannot even move! The movement of the craftsman to create the idol is emphasized, but the resulting idol cannot even do what its creator could do. His point, of course, is that God is bigger than any competitor. But we must acknowledge that it is not all quite as simple as it looks here.
The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 10: 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. What Paul is saying is that behind the lifeless idol there is very lively demonic activity. We should not be fooled into thinking that idols are harmless.
Turn with me to Exodus 7. Remember how Moses and Aaron went to visit Pharoah prior to his letting the Israelite people go from Egypt? And remember how Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to duplicate some of the miraculous displays? We have recorded one such in Exodus 7: (10) So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. (11) Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. (12) For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. We can’t be sure whether or not Pharoah’s servants were just using slight of hand or whether they could produce supernatural results. I suspect the latter, but the important distinction is that Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. What is the point? God is bigger than any competitor.
Now, in fairness, the competition can look pretty scary at times. Goliath must have looked that way to the Children of Israel. And there is reality behind the threat. Look at II Thess. 2: (9) The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, (10) and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Please note in particular that those who serve Satan will clearly be able to duplicate miraculous activity. We should never be taken in just because something looks miraculous. It may or may not be and if it is, it may or may not be of God. That’s why we are to try the spirits.
But, beloved, we are not to get too concerned about the enemy. Keep looking at Jesus and it won’t matter what the competition is doing, right? So look at II Thess. 2: (8) And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. Don’t you love that? Here is Satan’s man performing signs and wonders, leading thousands upon thousands of people astray, looking for all the world like an irresistible force. Unconquerable and all-powerful – right up until the moment that Jesus Christ kills him with one breath of his mouth! Don’t you love that?!
You know, some Christians worry a lot about the devil, demonic activity and the power that attaches to it, but we must always remember John’s words in I John 4: (4) Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. What a reminder.
The Devil wants us afraid. He would do anything to have us quivering in God’s waiting room, scared to death that our problem is the one that is too unique for God to handle, that we are the exception. But it just isn’t true.
On June 18, 1941, the light-heavyweight, Billy Conn, challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight title of the world. For 12 magnificent rounds, Conn managed to stay away from Louis’ powerful blows. He was ahead on points and it looked like he might do the impossible and win the fight by just staying away. But in his own words, he got cocky. He had landed a left hook on Joe’s chin in the 12th and seen Joe wobble. “I can knock him out,” he thought. “I can knock him out.” But he got too close and with less than a minute to go in the 13th, Joe at long last caught up with him. He nailed him with two stiff left jabs, buried a right in his ribs, then two more jabs, a right hand, a right uppercut a left hook and it was all over.
Make no mistake, Satan got in his best blows at the cross, but that was also his downfall folks, for it provided redemption for all of us. We’re on the winning side.
In many ways our life is like a little league baseball game in which a man approached a young boy and asked the kid what the score was. “Eighteen to nothing, we’re behind,” he replied. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll bet you’re discouraged.” “Oh, no,” replied the young boy, “we haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”
So if we’re in God’s waiting room, what do we do? Why, we wait for our turn at bat, of course, knowing that in the end, the victory is already won – that there can be no other outcome whatever it may look like. God is bigger than the competition.
V. God is Bigger Than Any Creature (vv. 21-24)
Perhaps it is a person who has you in God’s waiting room this morning. Perhaps you’re concerned about some ruler who could destroy the world, an unreasonable boss, a disillusioned family member, some difficult person in your life – at home or elsewhere. I have good news. God is bigger than any creature, than any person.
Look beginning in Isaiah 40: (21) 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; [first thing to note – every creature on earth is to God like a grasshopper – no big deal unless you happen to be from Australia. Did you hear about the Texan who was visiting Australia. When he spotted some kangaroos, he asked what they were. His Australian hosts said, “What! – don’t you have grasshoppers in Texas?!” The point is all people – all, including those we fear most – are no more than grasshoppers in terms of threat to God.]
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. How much more clear could the Lord make it? He is in absolute control.
What is God really saying here? What He is saying is this. No one – positively no one can go any further than God allows. No one. In a moment he can make the rulers as emptiness.
Joseph Stalin was perhaps the most evil ruler of the 20th century which did not lack for candidates for that title. Far more people were killed under his regime than that of Adolf Hitler, for example. Listen to this description by Lance Morrow from an article entitled, “The Power of Paranoia” which appeared in Time magazine on April 15, 1996:
STALIN'S DINNERS IN THE KREMLIN went on all night. He would sit at a long table and force his ministers and cronies to drink, hour after hour, while he plotted and probed and flattered and terrified them. At dawn, when their brains were numb with fear and vodka and confusion, the NKVD might lead one or two of the men away, without explanation, to be shot. . . . Stalin refracted violent fear through alcohol, then presided over a reciprocal mind game that ended in death.
What a guy, huh? One to be feared for sure, but when the Lord determined his time was up, he simply allowed one little blood vessel in that demented brain to burst and a stroke ensued that made him “nothing”, “as emptiness.” His daughter, Svetlana, recalled the scene when he died 4 days after the stroke:
He suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance. Then something incomprehensible and awesome happened. He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse upon all of us. The next moment after a final effort the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh.
Are you worried about Osama bin Laden this morning? I tell you, he can go no further than God allows. Are you worried about the election coming up? Here’s Daniel’s comment to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:21: (21) He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. We should certainly all vote. It is our great privilege to cooperate with God in our great democratic process, but I tell you, God will set up whom He will and he will remove him when he wills.
But probably most of us this morning are a lot more concerned about some people a little closer to home. Perhaps it is an evil boss or co-worker. Look again at verse 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. God is in control.
I was a relatively young manager when a new executive management regime came into a company for whom I worked. One day the VP of HR came to me in confidence and said in essence, “Listen. We like you. Play your cards right and you can have your boss’ executive position.” But what she basically wanted was for me to undercut my boss, to stab in him the back. Yes, there are evil people out there. Well, though I knew it would be a threat to my job, it took me about 2 seconds to let the lady know that I was not interested in any such plan. My boss was an honorable man and in any case, the methods she was suggesting were wrong. I’m happy to say that both Alex and I survived the lady by more than 20 years!
But, of course, it does not always work out that way. I could tell you other times that the Lord had me in His waiting room regarding fellow-workers or bosses. But the point is, whatever the outcome, we can trust Him. Nothing can happen that He does not allow. See – I think we tend to believe this in theory as we hear it on Sunday morning, but our faith really begins to take a hit when Monday morning arrives and we face the fact all over again.
Beloved – take heart. Listen to this verse found in Proverbs 21:1: (1) The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Can you not take comfort in that? I don’t care whether it is a tough boss, a critical family member, a rebellious child, a troublesome neighbor – whoever it is, God is bigger than any creature. He can move any heart just like He would move a stream of water. If He’s asking you to wait, work on what He wants you to learn, keep on praying and trust Him.
The great Scottish preacher, John Knox, was once asked if he were not frightened at the prospect of meeting the Queen of Scotland. He replied that he had just spent four hours with the Lord in prayer and study and was not too impressed by a mere queen. He had it right, folks. God is bigger than any creature.
VI. God is Bigger Than Any Caretaker (vv. 25-26)
Now there is another indication of God’s spectacular nature revealed in verses 25-26: (25) 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. In many ways these verses parallel verse 12 at the start of this section in emphasizing the Lord’s creative power. Not only has He created everything on earth, but He has created the heavens too. I think it is also interesting that similarly to Romans 1, man is called upon here to notice, to look, to see creation and understand the implications. Just as one would not hold an intricate and beautiful watch in one’s hand without supposing that it has been made by someone, so we are also responsible to see that the magnificence of creation implies a creator.
But I believe that the real thrust of this passage goes even deeper than that. He has not only created the stars and the heavenly hosts, but notice the two phrases – “calling them by name” and “not one is missing.” At this point the passage has moved from a pure recitation of the creative power of God to the first indication the emotional investment He has in his creation. In other words, it is starting to get personal, building to the crescendo that we have in the latter verses of the chapter.
It turns out that God has not only created all that is, but that He cares! This is so wonderful. You don’t want to miss it. As most of you are aware, our little earth is a small spec in a disk-shaped galaxy of stars that is approximately 100,000 light years across and about 10,000 to 20,000 light years thick. It is estimated to contain somewhere between 200 billion and 400 billion stars, of which our sun is one. There are other galazies as well. The Hubble telescope, which is really a satellite station put into earth orbit in 1990, has allowed scientists to see much deeper into space than ever before, causing drastically revised estimates on the size of the universe. Most estimates today suggest that there are around 100 billion other galaxies with the Milky Way being of small to medium size. Folks, that’s more stars than you’ll see at the Academy Awards. And Isaiah tells us that God has a name for each and every one of them and has never lost a one!
I ask you – if God cares so much about His immaterial creation, do you think He doesn’t care about you? We’re told in Matthew 10:30: But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. For all I know, God has those named too. I grant you that it’s a little harder for some than it is for others – but you get the point. God is bigger than any Caregiver. Beloved, He cares. It may be uncomfortable in the waiting room sometimes, but He’s right there and He cares.
The Cherokee Indians used to have an interesting rite of passage by which a young boy became a man. At the culmination of the rite, the boy’s father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night, he is a MAN. He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own. The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man! Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.
Here’s the thing you need to know. God is in that waiting room with you. Did you know that? He is. He knows the name of every one of those billions of stars – and He knows your name too. He’s never lost a star – and He won’t lose you either. He is bigger than any Caretaker on earth.
VII. God is Bigger Than Any Circumstance (27-31)
Now in these final verses we arrive at the great culmination of this passage. Here Isaiah brings home all that he has been saying previously. It is dramatically revealed that God is bigger than any circumstance. He is big enough to renew the strength of anyone who will wait on Him. Notice first the attitude required in verse 27: (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”? This is the cry of the one in the waiting room who is not yet waiting. It is the cry of despair and abandonment. It is the cry of unfaith. We’ve all been there and often. Look at what’s happening to me. I’ve even prayed without answer. I don’t like this waiting room; I want out, and I want out now! God fix this circumstance. Sound like us?
Now, listen to God’s answer. Keeping in mind all that we’ve learned from the previous verses, listen to this beginning in verse 28: (28) 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. (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.
What is God saying? He is saying this – I realize that you are faint and weary. I realize that even young and strong individuals become exhausted. I know you have not chosen and do not want this circumstance, that you don’t wish to be in my waiting room. But you miss the point! It is not about you. It is about me, and I have not grown weary! I do not lack understanding or compassion! And I will give you something better than release. If you will wait – I will renew your strength. I will cause you to fly (meet any crisis with soaring confidence); I will cause you to run (when the challenges multiply); I will cause you to walk (meet the tedium of everyday life with endurance, steadfastness and joy).
Notice that there is no mention of removal from the waiting room. These promises relate to us while we are still in the condition of waiting. In fact, once we get it right, removal from the waiting room becomes almost incidental. The New England preacher Philips Brooks was known for his poise and imperturbability. But his close friends knew that he sometimes suffered moments of frustration and irritability. Finding him peevishly pacing the floor, a visitor asked, “What is the trouble, Dr. Brooks?” “The trouble is,” Brooks replied, “that I’m in a hurry – but God isn’t.”
Now, let’s unpack this in a little more detail, so that we get it! First, what does it mean to wait? This is very, very simple, but very, very hard. The root word that is used here has the idea of hope or expectancy. It’s a bit like a bride who gathers a hope chest in expectation that the things she gathers therein will one day be useful when she marries. There’s a wonderful verse in Psalm 130:5 (5) I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. Just think of all that is encompassed in that one short verse. I wait, my soul, my innermost being waits, and in His word I hope. That pretty much says it all.
To wait simply means to believe God – to believe that He is there, to believe that He cares, to believe that He will act. Why don’t we do that? Because when the answer doesn’t come, and there is delay and it hurts literally or figuratively, there is the natural inclination to believe He is too transcendent to meet my problem. Too small, too insignificant, not even sure He notices. To wait is to remove that thinking completely from our mind and say with Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him. To wait is to abandon ourselves completely to the promises of God. To wait is to look at him and not the circumstances. To wait is to be Peter on the water walking toward the Lord forgetting about the sea. I say this humbly and carefully, but beloved, the circumstance is irrelevant when our eyes are on him and we are believing Him and trusting Him.
Quoting again from Oswald Chambers: “We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal [that is, is as interested as we are in getting out of the waiting room]; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end. . . . His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process—that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God. . . . We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; . . . if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.” That is what it means to wait.
Then we have this marvelous promise. If we will wait we will renew our strength. The phrase literally reads, to change strength. To change as to change clothes. Literally to put on a new strength. But it’s not always easy to put on that new strength, is it?
The Lord uses a beautiful illustration here – that of an eagle. The analogies are many. A flying eagle is a magnificent sight. He soars in the air above us. But it does not just happen overnight. An eagle has to learn to fly. The eagle is an interesting bird. It makes its nest from briars and thorns and then lines the nest with animal skin - to stop the thorns and briars hurting the newly hatched eaglets. For the eaglets - this is the life. Mum brings the food and the eaglet hangs around the nest getting fat. UNTIL one day, when Mum decides it is time to fly. Naturally the eaglets are not interested and so the mother eagle pulls away the animal skins. And soon the eaglet is keen to leave the prickly nest. He clambers on his mothers back and the mother flies high, 1000 ft, 2000 ft till she reaches about 5000 ft over the ground. If the eaglet suffers from vertigo, this isn’t the job for him. Suddenly, the mother tips the eaglet off and it goes hurtling down. It flaps it wings but nothing happens and the earth looks closer and closer. Just as the eaglet is about to be splattered all over the ground, the mother eagle swoops down and catches the eaglet and the process is repeated until the eaglet can fly. The fearful plunging sensation and feeling of abandonment is part of learning to fly! - sometimes (always?) God allows us to be tried and tested so we can learn where our strength lies, and how to fly.
So, what these verses are saying in a nutshell is, even the strongest of us get weary at times and wonder where the Lord is. But to those who will wait expectantly, he will give renewed strength, even while they are still in the waiting room. Give it all to him and the lights will come on, the heat will come on and the existence that seemed so sparse will become bearable and even exciting because you see that it’s all about Him. This applies to every human condition. For the tedium and monotony of everyday existence, he gives the strength to walk. For the chaotic assaults of multiple demands too much for human existence he give the strength to run and for the crisis of unendurable pain, tragedy, suffering, and even death, he gives the strength to soar. If we will allow Him, He is bigger than any circumstance.
Oswald Chambers writes, “If you spend yourself out physically, you become exhausted; but spend yourself spiritually, and you get more strength. God never gives strength for tomorrow, or for the next hour, but only for the strain of the minute. The temptation is to face difficulties from a commonsense standpoint. The saint is hilarious when he is crushed with difficulties because the thing is so ludicrously impossible to anyone but God.”
D. L. Moody once said that one of the happiest men he ever met was in Dundee, Scotland. The man had broken his back at age 15 and had been bedridden for 40 years by the time Moody became acquainted. Along with his affliction, he had great pain. You talk about being in the waiting room! Moody asked him, “Don’t you ever doubt? Don’t you ever wonder why Christ has allowed this in your life?” The man replied, “Well, I’m only human. Of course, there are moments. When I see childhood friends going by, Satan says, ‘Couldn’t God have kept you from breaking your back? If God is so good, why did He allow this?’ But when Satan does that, I have learned to take him to the cross and show him Jesus’ wounds. I remind him that the Father was pleased to bruise him for me and I say to Satan, ‘Doesn’t He love me?’ Truth is, Satan got such a scare there 1900
years ago that he leaves me be.” God is bigger than any circumstance.
God’s waiting room. How long will I be here? When will it ever get over? I honestly don’t know. I can find prayers in the Bible that were answered almost instantaneously. I can find others that were months and I can find some that were years before a definitive answer came – but the point is, they were all answered.
God’s waiting room. How long? I don’t know. I know that we were there one day waiting for a home in Eaton. Found that the same weekend we came here to candidate. We’ve been 5 months so far waiting on one to sell in Yorba Linda. We’ve been 12 years in God’s waiting room regarding a daughter. But in all that time, while our hope has gone up and down many times, God hasn’t changed. And He’s still bigger than any circumstance.
God’s waiting room. How long? Wrong question. The question is, is my time there worthwhile or is it wasted? I read about one lady who retired and then, in her 60’s, enrolled as a full-time college student and graduating magna cum laude. At the commencement she was making her way through a crowd of well-wishers when she came upon a man with a little girl in tow. “My daughter would like to ask you a question,” he said. “May she?” “Of course,” the lady replied. “What is your question?” The girl, about eight, looked up at the lady taking in her gray hair and wrinkles and finally said, “I would like to know,” she said shyly, “how come it took you so long?” The question for us this morning isn’t how long will we be in God’s waiting room. The question is, how long is it going to be before we accept God’s strength to help us walk and run and soar – while we are in that room. Because, you see, when we do that, the time becomes irrelevant.
Now I’m sure some of you are saying, “Do you really believe that? Do you really believe it is possible to be in God’s waiting room and be happy?” Yes, I do. I’ve seen it done. I’m not here to make a saint out of my mother this morning, but I began this sermon telling how my dad had a stroke one day and we prayed for him to go home, but the Lord said, “No. I want you to go to the waiting room.” As it turned out, it was 6 years, and it was not an easy waiting room. Dad could never speak again, though he always tried, often to his own and other’s frustration. His mind could take in only simple concepts. Worse, with therapy he learned to dress himself and could ambulate somewhat with a walker for the first three years. But three years in he suffered a setback leaving him bedridden and in gradual decline. During those years, my mother would not hear of having him in any kind of facility and she became his primary caregiver even through two hip replacement surgeries. There was no rest as Dad had no means of entertainment except what we could provide and during the night, he required constant attention, but his breathing was so labored that no one with him could sleep.
Nevertheless, my mother every morning got up, found verses of comfort and promise that she then held up to the Lord, claiming his strength. We saw her deal with Dad’s frequent emotional swings, part of the residue of the stroke, with appeal to the Lord’s Word and his promises. We saw them both go through unbelievable physical, emotional and spiritual upheaval – without flinching. In short, we saw someone find renewed strength because they waited upon the Lord. What a homegoing celebration we had the night the Lord called Dad home, but I must tell you it did not increase the joy that had been there with my mom through the whole ordeal.
I couldn’t do what she did. But I hope that I’m better now than I would have been. I know that many of you here this morning have been in God’s waiting room – in some cases, for months or even years. It may be an illness, a constant pain, a disability, a loved one who doesn’t know the Lord, a prodigal son or daughter, disappointment in a career. Whatever it is, I urge you this morning to take heart and to take hope and to have faith. Remember that in all the things that we’ve seen, God is bigger. And while He may not be visible, He is just as active behind the scenes as ever, just as loving as ever, just as able as ever, just as caring as ever and just as sure as ever. He will not fail you. Trust Him and accept His strength – even while you’re in that waiting room. I love the song:
In His time, in His time,
He makes all thing beautiful in His time.
Lord, my life to You I bring,
May each song I have to sing,
Be to You a lovely thing, in Your time.
In Your time, in Your time,
You make all things beautiful in Your time.
Lord, my life to You I bring,
May each song I have to sing,
Be to You a lovely thing, in Your time.