Summary: Discovering ways God promises to deliver us in times of trouble
How Does God Help in Times of Trouble Isaiah 40:27-31
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
February 9, 2003
One of the most perceptive Christian writers of the 20th century was C. S. Lewis. Lewis was a bachelor until his late fifties and then married Joy Davidman, a recent convert to the Christian faith. A short time after their marriage, Joy Davidman was diagnosed with having cancer, and Lewis had to watch with agony as his bride slowly died before his eyes. About a month after her funeral, Lewis began to jot down some of his thoughts in the back of old notebooks, and just before his own death, these were put together and published in a little book titled, A Grief Observed. It is one of the most poignant documents of its kind. At the beginning of the book, Lewis makes no effort to hide his profound disappointment in his religion. What had occurred in the depths of his grief was not at all what he had expected. The early pages literally reek with disillusionment that bordered on despair. However, as he continues to work through the grief process, Lewis began to realize that the problem was not so much with God as with himself. It was his expectations, not the experiences themselves, that lay at the bottom of the problem. He discovered what is always the secret of disillusionment: it is the offspring of illusion. More often than not, we experience disillusionment because we have constructed the wrong kind of expectations. Rarely is what we experience what we anticipate. Lewis ends his book on a much brighter note than marks its beginning.
Some years ago, I had an occasion to remember this when a friend of mine asked me abruptly, “Does God really help a person in trouble?” It was a time for me, like Lewis, when I was experiencing a trying time wondering if my faith would sustain me. I was physically exhausted, emotionally dissipated, grieving like I had never grieved before, and also challenging my faith like never before. I didn’t have an answer for my friend that day, but it set me on a journey for an answer. I had preached for years that God helped people in times of trouble, but then I doubted if that were true for me. Thankfully, I can honestly say today that God does help people in trouble. Answering that question, however, led me to another question: “How does God help a person in trouble?”
It was also during this same time frame that I was preached the greatest sermon I have ever heard. The Minister of Word and Sacrament was my mother. I was literally in a quagmire. If I did this, I was damned. If I did that, I was damned. As I gave an account of my messy life to my parents, it was then that these words came blaring out of my mother’s mouth: “David, wait! Wait on the Lord!” So, it has been with those words that I began my search to find the answer to the question, “How does God help us in trouble?”
First, let me say that I have not found a simple answer to that question. It would be easy for me to mislead you with a simple answer which would only lead you to another disappointment and set you up for disillusionment. But I do believe that Isaiah 40:27-31 comes as close to any passage in scripture to giving a comprehensive understanding of how God helps us in trouble.
The passage begins with a specific promise: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Isaiah is talking about the people who take God seriously, who open their lives to Him. To “wait” on God means to look to Him and to depend upon Him. The root word means to “stretch around” much like a smaller cord stretches around a larger one to benefit from the larger cord’s strength. If we depend on God, we will be given strength. We will experience a supplement of power not ours before. However, on the heels of this promise, Isaiah goes on to describe three different ways this help can come to people. These distinctions are crucial, for they will safeguard us against what happened to Lewis, expecting one thing and then experiencing something different.
First, he speaks of the ecstacy of deliverance - the experience of “rising up with wings as eagles.” He is speaking of those times in life when God is obvious, when God’s life flows into our lives which leads to exuberance and abandon and celebration. This experience is well known in Biblical religion. There is a hint of this in the nature of God Himself in the creation story. God is looking out over all He had created and finds it “very good.” He takes a day off simply to celebrate the wonder of the world.