Isaiah 41:1, “Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.”
This morning, discretion becomes harder and harder to find with each passing day. Modern society – now more than ever – has lost the art of dealing prudently and discreetly. The motto today is: if you want to say it, say it. More unfortunately, the addendum to the motto is: whenever you want to say it, say it. People speaking their minds with little forethought or even any consideration to the ramifications of their speech is more and more commonplace. In fact, the instant messaging and instant communication that defines our modern society has left most people uncomfortable at even a moment of silence. A quiet room makes today’s most introverted soul quite unsettled. However, time and place must be given to quietness and discretion, for they keep us from having to retract so much of what we do and say as well as fulfilling the Scriptural injunction of being swifter to hear than to speak. (James 1:19)
Many times when I read the Bible, I have to forget about the divisions that were placed in it for our convenience. While I do not despise chapter and verse divisions (as some do), sometimes they do serve as roadblocks to our reading and study rather than an aid and help for retrieval of information. While many verse divisions break up long sentences (as in Paul’s epistles), verse divisions do not trip us up nearly as often as chapter divisions in the middle of thoughts. Quite frequently, I visit the 40th chapter of Isaiah, as it happens to be one of my favourite passages with a wide range of comforting thoughts that are chock full of the goodness, power, mercy, and great hand of God. Many times, we like to ponder the first two verses and think of the rich tenderness of our Lord for delivering us who were without hope and unlovable. We like to ponder the greatness of His strength in the middle portions that describe the smallness of the creation in relation to its Creator. Then, we like to ponder His strength in our lives as the chapter reaches its conclusion with the culmination of mounting up with wings as eagles when waiting upon Him and doing what even youths and strong men at times fail to do.
The last verse of Isaiah 40 is almost as popular as the first two verses to Primitive Baptists. Among professing Christians in general, it may be even more popular. Considering the rich truth that our spirits are revived by the strength of God so that walking can be done without fainting and running without weariness, how comforting is that to those looking at all the gloominess in this old, cold world? How comforting to know that His hand is not just with us in eternity, but His hand is here now to help us and give us strength for the days ahead? No matter what comes in life, we can bear it and get through it, for He is ever with us. (Philippians 4:13, I Corinthians 10:13) Yet, how often is the thought stopped at verse 31? More personally, how often have I stopped at verse 31?
While there is a chapter division placed there for convenience, the thought progresses into the next chapter. Many times, ministers get asked what to do in a certain situation. The most common and best answer is to take it to the Lord. If the inquirer tells the minister that they have done that, the most common and best answer is to wait upon the Lord. Oftentimes, Abraham is used as an example as he had to wait many years until the fulfillment of God’s promise to him in the birth of Isaac. The apostles are used as they had to wait upon the Lord in Jerusalem until the power from on high came upon them at Pentecost. These answers are good and Biblical to be sure, but Isaiah further writes, in our verse, about how waiting upon the Lord can and should be accomplished.
While many of us fail as we should daily to talk with the Lord, walk in sweet communion with Him, and feel that warm presence when in prayer and supplication to Him, how much more often do we fail to stand daily in silence before Him? Verse 31 plainly declares that waiting upon the Lord yields the result of renewed strength. Our verse just as plainly declares that renewed strength comes from keeping silent before Him. The prophet Habakkuk describes our position of silence before Him when He is in His holy temple. (Habakkuk 2:20) Why is silence so important before God when we are told to pray without ceasing? (I Thessalonians 5:17)
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that asked you a question for what seemed like an impure or improperly motivated reason? Did they ask the question seemingly to open the door to talk about what they already wanted to talk about? Maybe they even wanted the excuse for the conversation to try to “convince” you of their way of thinking? Have you also ever conversed with someone that spent most of the time while you were talking seemingly waiting for their turn to speak instead of actively listening to what you were saying? Indeed, most could attest to having been in these types or similar situations.
When we come before the Lord, pour out our supplications and prayers before Him, and earnestly desire help in our present distress, we need to be ready to listen and hear His reply. We should not approach God with what we already think should happen in the situation. Such prayers are not really prayers at all but demands of the Almighty. Our prayers should always contain the thought and sentiment of “Thy will be done.” (James 4:15) By humbly beseeching His will be done, we show forth the readiness to accept His answer rather than how we already “visualized” or “planned” for things to be. Showing this voluntary readiness and humility before God, our supplication should logically be followed by a ready and listening ear for the answer.
As mentioned above, ministers get asked quite a bit about the problems of life and what to do about them. Most claim to have prayed about it and even might claim to wait on the Lord about it. However, how many of us actively listen in silence to Him? Countless times, I have had people say, “Well, I have prayed and prayed. Waited and waited. But no answer.” My simple question quite often is, “Have you waited in silence?” Since the Lord’s reply quite often comes in a still, small voice (I Kings 19), our silence many times is necessary to understand the communication from the Lord. While He has no problems transmitting the communication, my receiver is sadly out of tune quite often to understand what it is that I should do in my life.
When silence is successfully and properly maintained at the acceptable and suitable time, then it is that we are truly waiting upon the Lord. This does not imply that we do nothing while in silence, but our silence should be marked by a quiet willingness to receive the answer, whatever is may be even if that answer is “No.” By keeping silence before Him – thereby waiting upon Him – we find the most happy benefit of renewing our strength. This renewal of strength many times comes in the knowledge and answer of what it is that we ought to do. Nothing is more unsettling to the constitution of these old frames than a restless mind that does not know the right path to pursue at the time. Peace beyond measure is enjoyed when an impression of the correct path is revealed. This knowledge grants strength of mind and body that no matter the path or journey, we will gladly and cheerfully take it. Some of these decisions may be difficult life changes, hard course corrections, or even daily alterations of habit. However, knowing that that the Lord would have us do those things yields renewed strength to go through them.
Notice that the prophet shows the proper place for speaking again. While we speak with God through prayer and give diligence in silence, quietness is not always the course for the time. Sometimes we should move and other times be still. Sometimes we should speak and other times keep silent. (Ecclesiastes 3:7) After we have kept silence before God and renewed our strength, then it is that we speak again. This speaking should be done in a twofold manner.
First and foremost, our speaking should be done with thanksgiving to God for all of His benefits to us. He is merciful to answer our prayers and hear our petitions before Him. His mercy extends further to answering those requests and supplications, for which our silence should give place. When knowing what the Lord would have us do, what should be our first and immediate thought? When asking for direction and guidance, what should be our initial speech when receiving those things? The first and initial should always be thanksgiving to God for the direction, guidance, and impression in life. Without those things, our wanderings would be aimless and unfruitful. With those things, we can sow in the right place and right way and reap great spiritual blessings in this life.
The second reason this speech should be done is exhibited by the last phrase of our verse “come together to judgment.” This judgment is proper discernment that we are in the right way. We cannot come there on our own, but we must come there “together” with our Lord. That means that we are alongside Him. Our steps must travel sweetly together. This means that one cannot justly claim to be following the Lord’s direction when his steps walk contrary to Scripture. The Lord never contradicts or violates His own purposes and moral laws. However, coming to judgment together with the Lord also means that we understand that this is the right way to go. Not only so, but we can conclude and prove that we are going about it in the right way. The Lord does not call us to towards the right conclusion in the wrong way. Rather, His inclination and answer to our pleadings directs the right way in the right manner.
Therefore, our judgment that we come together unto is that “this is the way, walk ye in it.” (Isaiah 30:21) To come to this judgment (perception or observation), we must necessarily wait upon the Lord. To do so, we must necessarily keep silent before Him and listen for and to His reply. Then we take the strength that He renews to fervently and rigorously follow after His guidance. Our hearts should burn with the Godly passion to fulfill what He has said do, for the judgment we come to with Him shows that indeed He has directed. We should therefore follow. Maybe the minister needs guidance on what to preach. Maybe the hearers need guidance for important life decisions. Maybe the paths at work, in the community, or otherwise seem filled and headed for gloomy disaster. In these cases and more, may we wait upon Him – silently and listening – to discover what it is He would have us do, and then be found heartily doing that which He has called us to do. (Colossians 3:23)