HOW TO GET UP WHEN YOU ARE DOWN
STEPHEN M. CROTTS
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hid from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? 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. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, 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.”
In the Museum of Rome there is a row of coins covering a 70 year period of the Roman Empire. The first coin, made of silver, is full of splendid detail and exhibits the same fine craftsmanship, but is not pure silver. And the final coin, released 70 years after the first, has hardly any silver content and reveals very poor craftsmanship in its images. One may see in these three coins and 70 years the rapid decline of the Roman Empire. Its economy, its art, its power is all seen to diminish in its coinage.
Something of the same thing may be witnessed here in the United States. For when one compares a 1928 Silver Dollar with a 1970’s Eisenhower Dollar with a 1980’s Susan B. Anthony Dollar, you see the size, the silver and the art all diminish.
Now, all of this is what the text is about today: the rise and fall of power, in individuals as well as in entire civilizations.
So, let’s get into it and see what word there is from God for our situation.
“THE NATURE OF MAN”
First, the text has a rather clear message for us as to the nature of man. In describing human nature it uses words like “faint,” “weary,” and “fall exhausted.” It says this happens even to “youths.” And in so describing us it points up our frailty and our limitations.
There is a primary law of physics that states “All power steps down.” For instance, an explosion causes debris to fly up in the air, but not forever. For as its energy is spent the debris falls again to the ground.
The same law applies to your fire in the fireplace. Just as you get comfortable on the sofa, it’s time to get up and add another log. The fire is stepping down. It’s losing its energy.
And have you ever noticed how your flashlight batteries grow weaker and weaker instead of holding their own or growing stronger. Power steps down.
And this is what the prophet is pointing out in the text. As part of nature, human power also steps down. We grow weary and eventually fall. This is true of every individual, and so far in history, it has been true of every civilization from Egypt to Persia to Rome to Germany.
Power steps down. It’s a law written in physics and the word of God. But it is a law the proud humanist cannot accept. Our generation likes to brag about its ability to take round-trips to the moon, create test tube babies, and implant artificial hearts. We pride ourselves that things are getting better all the time, we are gaining in power, yet we fail to realize that technology is often but a means of moving backwards at a faster pace. And the grave awaits us all.
And I believe the truth of our human frailty is just now beginning to dawn on us.
Back in the early 1970’s I was a student in England. And the thing that impressed me out about the British culture was that they were a sober culture, tired and not so sure of anything anymore. You see, they had just come through two major wars, witnessed the breakup of their empire, and were mired in tumultuous domestic issues, strikes, and inflation. An atmosphere of despair, of human limitations prevailed. They were a nation more aware of their past glory than they were of their future.
You can imagine how exciting it was to return to the United Sates and find this young, virile nation so optimistic, so full of excitement about her future. A “can-do!” attitude was expensive as man trod upon the moon, Richard Nixon was elected President, and Americans made friends with the Chinese around ping-pong tables.
But it’s not so anymore. After Vietnam, herpes, AIDS, Watergate. Three Mile Island and 200 billion dollar deficits, we are not so sure anymore ourselves. Confusion, despair, and fatigue are spreading.
We now call our industrial Northeast “the rust belt.” Eighty-one percent of Americans polled say they dislike their jobs. Our institutions are becoming increasingly tired and forlorn— courses, schools, foreign policy, the welfare system. And our culture is proving we are even growing tired of marriage as we divorce in record numbers. Dr. James Dobson says fatigue is the number one household problem today. Thirty thousand Americans will commit suicide this year. Another 250,000 will try.
All of this is nothing new to history. The Bible says the same thing happened to Israel. Under Moses and Joshua the Jews emerged from slavery and began to grow. There were the pioneer days of the judges and King Saul. Then under Kings David and Solomon the nation peaked. But from then on out it was a downhill slide into oblivion as immorality, injustice, assassination, revolt and military disaster took place. When Isaiah the Prophet addressed his people in the text, they were a confused people, tired of trying, and feeling forsaken.
“THE NATURE OF GOD”
That, according to the text, something of the nature of man. Now, this, something of the nature of God. Isaiah, in this passage, uses words like “everlasting,” “creator,” “not faint,” “not grow weary,” and “unsearchable understanding” to describe who God is. He is contrasting limited
humanity with the limitless deity. He is contrasting our power which steps down into exhaustion with God’s strength which remains constant.
Such a view of God as constant and creative is etched in every page of Scripture.
Genesis 1:1 opens, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And how did he create? Not like us who merely make something out of something. He made everything out of nothing. And he merely spoke the word and it was so!
Consider that mere fraction of God’s creative deeds which we call the insect world. Entomologists estimate were to be more than 1.5 million different kinds of insects in the world, a diversity which exceeds all other living categories put together. And when one considers the astounding capabilities of some of these little bugs one has a greater appreciation of God’s power. For instance, take the simple honey bee. It has a brain the size of a pinhead, yet it organizes itself with others into a hive. There it builds 10,000 cells for honey, 12,000 cells for larvae, and a special throne room for the queen bee. When the temperature becomes so warm the wax hive begins to soften, squads of bees beat their wings creating a cooling system which protects the hive.
And if that is not enough to convince you of God’s creative genius, consider, if you will, that loathed bane of every household, the common fly. Have you ever wondered how a fly can walk on the ceiling without falling off? On a fly’s six feet are approximately a thousand tiny hairs. Each hair is hollow and has connected in it a small sack containing a sticky substance. When the fly lights on a surface, the pressure on is feet forces out a tiny bit of “glue” through each hair thus enabling it to hold tightly to anything even when it is upside down.
“O, Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all.” (Psalm 104:24)
You’d think that after creating 1.5 million different insects, along with seven seas, the mountains, myriad species of birds, mammals, reptiles and flora, God would be spent.
But no. He walks in the cool of the evening inspecting His creation. He looks on all He has made and judges it “very good.”
Then when Adam and Eve sin and creation falls into ruin, God doesn’t quit. He’s not an old man whose dream is crushed and who has no energy left to fix it. Instead God proves fit to launch his divine redeeming strategy of the ages.
I was reading a Bible story to my daughter once. We’d read about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, et cetera; when Claire looked up at me and inquired, “Daddy, does God ever get tired?” And Isaiah answers, “He does not faint or grow weary.”
From creation to Eden to Noah to Abraham to Moses He was not weary. His strength continued as He made Israel a nation, destroyed their enemies and made David their king. But what of Israel’s apostasy and subsequent national collapse and Babylonian captivity? After all those years was God spent? Had He thrown His arm away? No, with energy He raised up Ezra and Nehemiah and built it all back. Then when Rome came and trod it all down, God energetically and creatively sent for Jesus Christ to preach the Good News. And even when we murdered Him on a cross and
threw His body into a grave, God proved able. He raised Jesus from the dead and ascended Him into Heaven.
Are you tired yet, God? You’ve done mightily for many generations. Most of us live briefly, do one or two things well, grow old and tired and die. How about you, God? Moses is in his grave. So are Gideon, Herod, Peter, Paul and hordes of others! Aren’t you tired and ready for death like us?
No. For God endures 2,000 years of church history. And He still has’t had it. For the Bible says Christ will return and judge us all and bring the righteous with Him to live eternally in a new Heaven and a new earth.
This! This is the kind of God we have in this universe! 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.
So far the news is good and bad. The bad news is that man’s power fails. It steps down. But the Good news is that God’s power is constant. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And now the third point, the best news of all, And that is this: the almighty God is available to us and there can be an exchange of natures between us.
In the text Israel is in a depleted state. She sits upon a stump and wearily broods over lost and forlorn status. “I’m hid from God,” she whimpers. “He doesn’t care about me anymore. There’s just nothing to be done. Defeat, ruin and death are my only lot.”
This is where the Prophet Isaiah steps in with his questions from God. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord neither faints nor grows weary. But of man, why, even youths shall fall utterly exhausted! But here is the good news from God! He giveth power…He increases strength…He renews you so that you mount up with wings like eagles. You run and are not weary. You walk and you faint not!”
All this can God do.
But how? What’s our part in this divine-human exchange?
The text says we are but to”wait” on the Lord. It says, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”
So what does it mean to wait?
Over the years I’ve heard all sorts of interpretations here. Most have said that to wait on the Lord we must do something. Pray harder. Read the Bible more. Worship more. Give more. Witness. Get counsel. Go! Get involved.
I’ve even heard “waiting on the Lord” likened to being a waiter in a a cafe. To wait means to work. But honestly, if you’re tired, if even as a youth you have utterly fallen exhausted, how can you get back up and go to work?
The key to understanding this text is in realizing that Isaiah compares the renewing of our strength to that of an eagle. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
If you study the eagle you will quickly discover that it, along with all other birds, goes through a moving season one or two times a year. Usually right after the nesting period their feathers begin to drop out one by one. Flying often becomes impossible. So a bird will retreat deep into the forest and live in seclusion. Most birds stop singing during this time. They can become quite defenseless as even their beaks and talons are regrown. But as they perch upon their lonely branch and wait patiently upon God, their feathers are replaced and they emerge from seclusion strong, their plumage at its brightest, and their song it’s sweetest.
As with birds so with us humans. Our power fails, we are so often stripped of our feathers, our songs and defenses. And there is nothing to be done except to wait patiently for the Lord to restore our strength.
Bird watchers say that there is nothing more thrilling than to witness an eagle who has finished his molt and now steps to the edge of a cliff and plunges downward into the wind. The eagle doesn’t frantically bat his wings to stay aloft like to many birds do. He simply stretches forth his wing and soars effortlessly on the winds of God.
So many of the saints of God have experienced this. There is Saul, the Jew, who spent his powers so strictly adhering to the law and persecuting the church. A tough utterly fallen exhausted on Damascus road, he spent 14 years waiting on the Lord. He melted the worn plug of Judaism and God gave him the bright new feathers of grace by faith in Jesus. And when he spread his wings he soared to new heights as the first missionary of the Gospel.
Then there is David the teenager who killed Goliath and was anointed Israel’s king. He could play so skillfully on the stringed instrument. But he spent years in the wilderness of Engadi, a hunted man, a political exile. There he wrote the Psalms and awaited God’s plan when his molting would be completed and he would become king.
Moses, too, molted. Saved from the bulrushes, adopted as Pharaoh’s son, he fled his act of murder and lived forty years in the Sinai desert before he was called forth to lead the Exodus.
Peter, his discipleship spent after three years of miracles, teaching, trials, denials and crucifixion, returned to his fishing boat in Galilee. But he couldn’t even catch fish without God’s help. For 40 days he waited on the Lord. And at Pentecost the molting season was over and he emerged with wings like eagles to soar with God.
A pastor in Florida took a year’s leave of absence from the pastorate. During that time he didn’t preach or write or counsel or administrate. Mostly he just slept and thought and fasted and prayed. A year later he entered stronger than ever. And he had with him a new song God had given him, the hymn “Fill My Cup, Lord.”
Waiting on the Lord, you see, is just that, waiting. It is doing nothing that God might do something. It is fasting, human hands folded in prayer that God might unfold His hands to accomplish for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves. As Corrie Ten Boom’s father used to tell her during hard times, “Don’t wrestle, Nestle.” It’s fascinating to see that the Hebrew word for “wait” means this, too. Waiting literally to a Hebrew means to twist your life together with God’s. Sort of like braiding a rope. We nestle together with HIm.
When I went into the ministry at age 17, I started off with a bang! Like a sea gull I was flapping my wings just as hard as I could. It was a dozen small group Bible studies a week, mission ventures into Mexico, Jamaica, and the Caymans, preaching up and down the Southeast, authoring six books in five years, seminary, counseling, evangelizing, spiritual warfare without end, pastoring three churches, starting a new church, a wife and three children and more. And like the text says, “Even young men shall faint and grow weary. Youths shall utterly fall exhausted.” And I did. The past three years of my life have been years of exhaustion, defenselessness, and utter depression. And quite for the first time in my life I found that I could do nothing about it. All my optimism, guts, cunning and guile were absolutely of no use in reenergizing my life. So many of my friends were gone or had proven false. None of my books had any answers. So where else was there to turn but to the Good Lord and his book? And no portion of Scripture has been of more comfort through all of this than this text in Isaiah 40. For here God says that the failure of human strength is just a matter of time. But to dependently wait on the Lord brings renewal.
So well do I remember that moment in Worship a year ago when in the talk-back session after a sermon we were discussing fatigue. I’d asked how you the members of this fellowship get rest and re-energize. The conversation focused mostly on things we do. But, Billie Holt would have none of it. Wisely, she pointed out, “Rest is not something I do. It is something God gives. When I’m tried and driving to school to teach my class, I ask God to give me a divine exchange—my weakness for His strength, my indifference for His love, my ignorance for his wisdom. And as I wait on Him in prayer, I receive His power into my life.” And so it is. So it is!
Jesus Christ became what we are that we might become who He is. Like David and Jonathan who made a covenant tighter and exchanged coats, belts and swords, so we can give our nature to God and take His nature upon ourselves. And His nature is unsearchable, never faints, is creative and all-powerful.
This is true for individuals. If you are tired of trying to work it all out on your own, if you’ve fallen exhausted with dieting, trying to quit smoking, rearing children, maintaining marriage, sanity, budgets, and occupations, then go to God and ask for an exchange of natures. “He giveth power to them that faint.”
What’s true for individuals is also true for civilizations. England by 1725 had spent herself in the Industrial Revolution. She was tired and confused by the complexities of child labor, slavery, women’s rights, pollution, drunkenness, and prostitution. Learning had grown dull, churches stale, leadership visionless and it looked like a bloody revolution was about to begin. But then came George Whitfield and the Wesley brothers preaching the Gospel. And the people heard and believed and sought the Lord in humility. And the entire nation renewed its strength in Christ in what historians call the second great awakening. And for the next 150 years England was at its heyday.
We don’t have to die. We don’t have to limp through life exhausted. Individually, collectively, we can wait on the Lord and mount up again with wings. Like God, we can go from strength to strength.
British poet William Wordsworth speaks for us today when he wrote years ago,
“The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; …We have given our hearts away…
For this, for everything, we are out of time.”
If there is one of you here today that is worn and weary with the struggle of life why not begin right now to wait on the Lord. Come to Him in humility. Come giving His all that you are for all who He is. Come willing to be emptied. For God can’t fill what first isn’t poured out.
How about you? Are you ready to receive? Ready to exchange with God?
When one goes into a cafe to eat he turns his coffee cup right side up indicating to the waitress that he wants his cup filled. Would you like your life filled? Oh, how many of us still have our lives turned upside down from God. Turn your life over to Him right now, wait on Him, and ask Him to fill you with His power. He is there and He is able when you are ready.
Stephen M. Crotts April, 1984
Lord, I am ready to receive you in Christ.
In your time, in your way, do in me what you will.
For Christ’s sake, Amen.