Verse 31 of Isaiah 40 is a well-known muchly quoted one:

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.

Which is great and has become a huge source of strength and encouragement… BUT if you skip the lead up into that verse you miss out on so much more:

Isaiah 40.27-31

Isaiah 40.27-31

The first part to note is the context of this passage. This is being given to a people who are frustrated by God and feel like He has not been there for them:

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?

It is helpful to be reminded of that as this is a place where many of us find ourselves from time to time and often don’t have the words to express it. We feel like ‘God doesn’t care about me’ and yet we might be too scared to express it and instead put on a happy face as if we are feeling close to God and all is well. What that does though is prevents God from really reaching in to that place of loneliness and desolation and responding with His felt Presence and hope.

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

So firstly there is this reminder of Who we are dealing with and just how huge and capable He is. Which can be really helpful when we tend to put God in a tiny box based on our experiences of Him and think that He can’t or won’t do much more than we have ever experienced before. But IF the God we are in relationship with is ‘everlasting’ and the ‘Creator of the ends of the earth’ then we can be very confident that ‘He will not grow tired or weary.’ At the same time, it is helpful to be reminded that we won’t necessarily always understand His way of working. Sometimes situations that look like they are against us can be very useful for strengthening us or working character in us and by removing those situations or helping us escape them, we might miss out on the growth that God has intended for us in the midst of them. We should constantly be living life with the refrain of ‘God is bigGER’ in our minds, especially when we don’t understand. That’s where trust and faith come in big time, but at the same time we are still able to ask God for guidance and wisdom to understand the confusing times we might find ourselves in.

And that’s where the big finish comes in:

29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

In the light of our complaints and feelings that God has deserted us, and with a reminder of exactly how big our God is and what He has already accomplished, that is where this final piece becomes so powerful. It is also encouraging to be reminded that in our world the response to the weary and the weak is to push them to the side or to drive right over them. Not so with God. The other misstep the church has often made is to expect God to remove all hardship and challenge, and prosperity doctrine gives the strong idea that we will never need to face tough times [God wants us to be happy and comfortable and rich and strong] but what this passage seems to indicate is that IN times of struggle or stress or pain or weakness, God’s response is not to protect or remove from, but rather to give us the strength within…

So in our tough situations, God gives strength when ours is fading… 

When life feels all stacked up against us, God gives power to us to see it through…

When we feel like we have nothing left to give, God draws near and renews our strength…

And not just to the extent that we can crawl through and get a hand over the finish line…

We will soar, we will run [without getting tired] and we will walk [without fainting] – God has promised us life to the full and when we put our hope in Him [that is a key part – see also John 15 and remaining in the vine] we will see that lived out in the most incredible way.

[For the growing list of all my favourite verses, click here]