Read Isaiah 55
Israel received some of its most encouraging prophecies while it was at its worst as far as worshiping the Lord goes. Yes, there were plenty of warnings delivered to God’s Chosen People, but there were also words of eternal assurance.
While God stood back and let the world have its way with his own chosen people for a time; he concurrently and continually is proclaiming their restoration. Judah was taken into exile for decades; yet God knew he would deliver them from Babylon even as he had delivered them from Egypt.
God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His thinking and his operation is so far above our comprehension that it often does not make sense to us. We say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” and it seems to carry us through most of our week.
Sometimes, it seems that there is not much distance between trusting God and our own understanding. Then something hits us. We lose a job. We lose a loved one. Bills are piling up. The kids won’t listen. The car won’t start. The car somehow drives too fast and there is a $300 ticket or two that were not in the budget.
The family vacation was a bust and nobody is rested or renewed. We’re in a tornado watch again. No, wait, it’s a warning, again. Now it’s a watch. I made it to work and discovered that my shoes don’t match. The ice cream truck is getting close and I don’t have any money to give the kids.
If you try to keep up with everything in this world—you are like a jugular trying to keep too many balls in the air—then you will feel like you have been ripped to shreds. If you try to solve every problem that comes your way, you will be exhausted every day and wonder if you accomplished anything.
The logistics of life love to leave you lifeless. Yes, you may check the alliteration block for today’s message.
Sometimes it seems that nothing that you do produces any tangible results. We are on a treadmill. We are the hamster on a wheel. We are jogging in quicksand. We just need to know that our efforts are for something.
If my metaphor mania had not gone far enough already, we can’t see the forest for the trees.
Have you ever seen it rain—I thought I might have to show a video to remind you what rain was but we had a couple reminders this past week. Have you ever seen it rain for 10 minutes and then the rain goes right back up in the heavens? Rain comes down. Rain goes back up.
Of course not. Well, unless you live in Florida. The rain comes down, stops, and then starts rising as steam a couple minutes later. Rain comes down and soaks into the earth, runs off into gullies, ponds, and rivers.
It brings life to the earth. What was brown turns green. What seemed lifeless now blooms with life and beauty. Rain accomplishes its purpose. Eventually, it makes its way back to the atmosphere.
This is how the prophet Isaiah explains God’s word. God’s word does not go out and return void. God’s word accomplishes its purpose. Because of God’s word, the insanity will turn to peace for us. The insanity is still out there You may have rest in the midst of turmoil.
Sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. We get so fixed on what we are doing and what we are accomplishing and what we have left undone, we forget that God is at work in our lives. We overlook that God’s word is effective. We forget to trust God and we lean on our own understanding.
God’s word promises us life, abundant life, eternal life, peace, hope, rest, and a future—a prosperous future. We are charged to keep God’s word fixed in our hearts and minds. Yes, we will have trouble in the world, but we are to take courage because Christ told us that he has overcome the world.
We must trust that God’s word is always at work, even when we can’t see it. Perhaps, especially when we can’t see it.
We are to trust in the Lord with all of our heart. To do that, when trusting God and our own understanding are miles apart, we must first trust that God’s word never returns void. It always accomplishes its purpose.
Even if the bills seem insurmountable; even if the kids seem uncontrollable; even if all of the beer cans in Burns Flat continue to blow into my yard; God’s word accomplishes its purpose. The circumstances of the world do not dictate the will of God.
God’s word will accomplish what it was sent to do. In fact, God’s word has answers that precede our questions and requests.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
Every 3 or 4 years I find I reason to tell this story. It is very much a true story. It comes from a missionary sent from England to Zaire many decades ago. Her name is Dr. Helen Rosevere. She died at the age of 91 in 2016. I have read most of her books and can say without equivocation, that the things that she went through in God’s service would make most Marines feel like a bunch of wimps.
One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter.
We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.
A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “…and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.”
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, ” …And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen?” I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!
Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel! I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone; so, I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored. Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – – that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. As I put my hand in again, I felt the…could it really be? I grasped it, and pulled it out. Yes, “A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone: She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”
That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child — five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “That afternoon!” “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24
Sometimes we know exactly what we need. All the time God knows exactly what we need. It’s nice when the two coincide. It’s a blessing and an affirmation when it all plays out before our eyes, but sometimes we can only see the trees.
All things considered, I would rather trust God that he knows what I need. Sometimes, we get wrapped up on the little things and miss the big things. Sometimes, as in Helen Rosevere’s testimony, the little things are the big things.
Sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees. We see so many individual obstacles and problems and things to be worked out before we can have peace when God has already given us peace.
Jesus, only hours before he would be apprehended and dragged from one kangaroo court to another until arriving at the cross, gave his followers these words, that we too should remember.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. I doubt that I will ever be the Christian servant that Helen Rosevere was, and she was amazed at the faith of a young child who prayed so boldly, not for herself but for two others who had much greater need.
God’s word does not return void. Before we call, God answers.
In 2012, my niece was beginning her final year of a 3-year assignment in Nairobi, Kenya. Rick Ellis and I would visit her the following year after our first mission together in western Kenya. Months before, I had put a care package together for her. I had done this before. I had red Twizzlers and some other items that she craved but could not get while she was there. There was $65 worth of goodies for which I paid $165 in shipping.
I packed the box as full as I could and there was one little spot left. It was just the right size for a Gospel of John. My niece already had a Bible, but I wasn’t going to leave the space empty.
It took over two months for the box to reach her. Most of that time it set in customs. It just sat there.
Meanwhile, my niece had been talking to a Muslim student about Jesus. The student said that she could not bring a Bible into her house, so my niece said that the next trip home, she would pick up a Gospel of John for her. That same day, my care package finally arrived. On the very top was the Gospel of John that I had placed in at the last moment.
Months later, I got to meet this young girl during my visit. That was a treat. We don’t always get to see what God is doing through us. We do need to trust that Spirit of God that lives inside of us.
We need to trust that God’s word does not return void. We need to trust in the Lord over our own understanding.
We need to trust that before we call, God has already answered.
We need to trust that God’s got this whole thing figured out and just trust him, obey him, and love him by loving others.
There is a peace that comes from trusting God in everything we do.