Isaiah 40: 28 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. 29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31 but those 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.
The 2018 Winter Olympics open Friday, February 9, and conclude on Sunday, February 25. Almost 100 nations will participate, competing in 102 events. From alpine skiing to speed skating, and from biathlon to ski jumping, athletes will throw themselves down slopes, off ramps and across ice in attempts to be faster, higher and stronger, in line with the official Olympic motto (Citius, Altius, Fortius — Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger”).
Athletes will get pumped up and put forward their best efforts, while trying to keep things as simple as possible. In the last Winter Olympics, the goaltender of Finland’s hockey team was asked to reveal his strategy. “My strategy,” he said, “is to stop the puck.” Well now, that makes sense to me! Reflecting on her Olympic performance, a ski crosser from Switzerland gave this concise analysis: “Everything went smoothly until I crashed.” Don’t you hate it when that happens? One of the most unusual events at the Winter Olympics is the biathlon, a race in which athletes ski through a cross-country trail system and stop to shoot rifles at targets. The event is rooted in the traditions of Scandinavia, and is an ancient way to pay respect to the Norse god of skiing and hunting. In modern Norway, the biathlon has been used to promote civilian marksmanship in support of national defense. The prophet Isaiah has his own type of biathlon, but it doesn’t include skiing or shooting. Instead, Isaiah promises that “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary” (v. 31). You’ve heard of the IOC, the International Olympic Committee. Well, this is the IOB, the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon. In Isaiah’s Olympics, the biathlon includes flying and running. Athletes “shall mount up with wings like eagles” and “run and not be weary.” But success in these events is based on preparation and training which requires waiting. Isaiah says that “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” Our Lenten Spiritual Olympics begin with our Ash Wed service 14 Feb at 7:00 PM and continue each Wed until Holy Week next month. Here is an invitation to enter ourselves into the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon by waiting, flying and running. We’re going for the gold!
First, wait. Of all the things that Isaiah challenges us to do, waiting is probably the toughest. We absolutely hate to wait. When we buy a product online, we want it to show up at our doorstep immediately. When we pay for same-day service, we don’t want it tomorrow. When we order fast food, we get frustrated when it comes to us slowly. But Isaiah says that good things come to those who “wait for the LORD.” To wait for God means to step off the daily treadmill and stop moving for a minute. To take a moment, slow down and feel God’s presence. To listen for what God might be saying to us without expecting a particular answer. Psalm 46:10 is a verse that provides a simple meditative exercise that can help us to wait for the Lord. It puts us in touch with the presence of God as we repeat the verse slowly, omitting a word or two with each repetition: Be still, and know that I am God Be still, and know that I am. Be still, and know. Be still. Be. When we slow down, we discover that God is the source of all that is, the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). When we wait for the Lord, we are confronted by the questions raised by the prophet Isaiah: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? … Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers … who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing” (vv. 21-23). When we wait, we discover that our lives are in God’s hands. We are like grasshoppers in a field, cared for by the Creator who provides everything we need for life. The rulers of the earth have no real power in comparison to Almighty God, and their schemes quickly blow away like dust in the wind. “To whom then will you compare me,” asks God, the Holy One, “or who is my equal?” (v. 25). No one, of course. When we wait for the Lord, we see that no one compares to God, and no one is God’s equal. We can rest in God’s presence, and trust God to work for good in our lives.
Next, fly. To “mount up with wings like eagles” (v. 31) does not mean that we will soar through the air like ski jumpers at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Stadium in PyeongChang. No, to fly in the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon means that we rise above our earthly perspective and see the world from the vantage point of “the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (v. 28). So what does it mean to see things from this eagle-eye perspective? The gospel of John offers us this particular point of view, and it is no accident that John’s traditional symbol is the eagle. He begins his gospel by describing Jesus as the Word of God, the one who was “in the beginning with God,” creating all things (John 1:2-3). This Word of God “became flesh and lived among us,” says John, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (v. 14). To mount up with wings like eagles is to see the world from the perspective of Jesus, the one who is full of grace and truth. Jesus offers grace to all people, seeing them as friends instead of enemies. He practices hospitality, breaking bread with tax collectors and sinners. He heals the sick, feeds the hungry and welcomes outcasts — just like the God of Isaiah. Jesus “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (v. 29). In addition, he speaks the truth to all people, challenging them to seek the kingdom of God. Jesus invites us all to fly with him, and to see the world with his eagle-eye perspective.
Finally, run. After waiting for the Lord and flying with Jesus, we can “run and not be weary” (v. 31). You can bet that Olympic athletes have been doing a lot of running in preparation for the Winter Games, in addition to squats, lunges and weight-lifting. This is demanding physical work, and Isaiah is right to say that “even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted” (v. 30). But God is more interested in our spiritual stamina than our physical strength. He wants us to be able to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). With our eyes on Jesus, we can run and not be weary, even when we face obstacles such as job losses, relationship problems and moral failures. When we stumble, Jesus picks us up, dusts us off and helps us to start running again. The secret to winning gold in the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon is understanding that your strength comes from outside yourself. Success does not come from making your body as powerful as it can possibly be, but from turning your life over to the God who wants you to run successfully the race that is set before you. As Olympian Gabby Douglas has said, “If you see my mouth moving at the Olympics or before any other competition … I’m praying. It’s all up to God. He delivers us from so many obstacles.”
Deliverance from obstacles. That’s what God does, in the Winter Games and in everyday life. When we wait for the Lord, we find that our strength is renewed. We are able to see the world from the perspective of Jesus, and run the race that lies before us without falling down exhausted. In the end, we may not get a gold medal around our neck, or even a silver or bronze. We won’t get a thrill from having billions of television viewers watch us stop a puck, ski down a mountain or perform a figure skating jump. But that doesn’t matter. The biathlon that Isaiah asks us to enter is a much more private event. Whether at home or in PyeongChang, you can wait, fly and run. And with God’s help, you’ll win!
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isa. 43:18-19
Faithfully, Yours in Christ, Pastor Gary