Small Light, Big Hope
Reading: Isaiah 25-27, Titus 3
I hesitated on this one because I don’t “feel” it. Intellectually I know it’s true. Even experientially, I’ve been in this place. But present reality seems more like a dark hole where, if there is a pinprick of light somewhere miles above me, it seems too impossible for its brilliance to penetrate the blackness.
However, like prayer, you do it whether you “feel” like it or not. Because whether I “feel” it or not, the truth of the Word of God is still that—truth, absolute and unchanging. So here it is.
For the most part these chapters from Isaiah are songs of praise—an odd hiatus in the middle of long passages of pronouncements of judgment. Mind you, there are still bits and pieces of sword slashes built in, but much of what Isaiah records in these chapters is encouraging stuff. Some of it has a tinge of “yet-to-be” (25:6-8) coupled with a touch of more immediate implications—God did restore the fortunes of His people after their sentence in exile was served. Chapter 26 is especially rich.
It begins with “In that day…,” the day of restoration there are wonderful things that will happen to God’s people. After the judgment is over and the time has been served, the release will hold sweet promise.
Isaiah writes: “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith” (26:1, 2, NIV). This, in itself, is significant because the prophet was talking to an apostate people who had rejected God and righteousness in favour of conformity to the standards and beliefs of the nations around them. Their exile would teach them some valuable lessons about where their loyalties needed to lie.
With the return to God, there were many more pluses than there were minuses. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal…The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth” (26:7, NIV). What is it about us that insists that we do things the hard way when God has promised that if we follow Him the path will be smooth and level?Why do we prefer strife instead of peace?
Are we stupid or something? Do we really not learn from history?
I shook my head as I read the compilation of E.M. Bounds’ messages on prayer. He lived through the American Civil War (1861-1865). What “blew my mind” were his comments on the state of the church during the period that he was involved in ministry. I could easily have imagined him sitting beside me describing the church of today. In the brief biography at the beginning of the book, the editor notes: “For the last nineteen years of his life, E.M. Bounds devoted himself to intercessory prayer. He was deeply burdened because of the backslidden condition of the Church, the corruption and self-interest of his fellow ministers, the moral decay of the government and for the lost souls of his people” (The Classic Collection on Prayer, E.M. Bounds, page xviii).
Listen to one comment that Bounds’ makes: “Religion has to do with everything but our hearts. It engages our hands and feet, it takes hold of our voices, it lays its hands on our money, it affects even the postures of our bodies. It does not, however, take hold of our affections, our desires, our zeal, and make us serious, desperately in earnest and cause us to be quiet and worshipful in the presence of God. Social attractions draw us to the house of God, not the spirit of the occasion. Church membership keeps us to some degree decent in outward conduct and with some shadow of loyalty to our baptismal vows, but the heart is not in the thing. It remains cold, formal, and unimpressed amid all the outward performance, while we give ourselves over to self-congratulation that we are doing wonderfully well religiously…Why is the modern type of religion so much like a jewel case with the precious jewels gone?” (The Classic Collection on Prayer, E.M. Bounds, page 111).
That last sentence describes the empty and false religiosity of Israel that eventually ended in their judgment and, truth be told, aptly describes much of the “modern type of religion” that we experience today.
Like Isaiah, we need to pray: “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness” (26:8, 9, NIV). This is Isaiah’s prayer though he is quick to acknowledge that even death and destruction don’t always result in the desired changes in mankind’s spiritual understanding (26:10, 11).
Still, the praise is there and the knowledge that if anything is to change, God is the One who has to make those changes. “Lord, you establish peace for us, all that we have accomplished you have done for us…We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world. But your dead will live; their bodies will rise, You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead” (26:12, 18, 19, NIV).
The promise remains, as truth as the One who made it. There is hope. We can't, but He will. From the dark hole that is now the light is barely seen. But the light IS there and whether or not its brilliance banishes the dark today, tomorrow, or ten years from now, it WILL banish the dark.
Because God always is God.
“Sing about a fruitful vineyard; I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it…In the days to come Jacob (or your and me) will take root, Israel (or your church and mine) will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit” (27:3, 6, NIV).
I feel better already.