Living The Christian Life With Style
June 17, 1984
From the thirtieth chapter of the Prophecy of Isaiah, I lift up but a single verse. That verse is numbered fifteen. Isaiah 30:15. “Thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel. ‘In returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh, God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I suppose that it goes without saying that we are living in very tense and trying times. In fact, if you were to ask me to choose a word or two to describe the state of most people’s hearts and souls these days, I think I would choose the two words “stretched taut.”
I see it every day. Just this last week, for example, a teenager came to me saying that her faith was being tested by both Christians and non-Christians alike. As a matter of fact, to be specific, she said, “There is a young man, supposedly a Christian young man, trying to tempt me to the use of alcohol and to an intimate physical relationship. How can I maintain my standards in the face of that kind of temptation?”
An older woman going into the hospital to face major surgery called by phone, seeking some word of confidence, some word of assurance that she could count on the fact that the Lord was going to be with her no matter what happens.
Business executive, middle-aged, came troubled, he said, because his work was taking him more and more away from his home. He loved his work and he loved his home. And the tension created by that circumstance was almost unbearable, and he didn’t know what to do about it.
Then a man shared with me the pain he’s going through as he undergoes a divorce, telling me about a marriage that once had meant much but now is all smashed to pieces, and he doesn’t begin to understand why or how it all happened.
These are tense people. Their souls and their spirits are stretched almost to the breaking point. They are searching anxiously for some sense of peace and power in their lives, which they do not possess at present. And they’re not alone. There are so many of us who are in the same shape.
But that’s where this verse from the prophecy of Isaiah comes in, from the thirtieth chapter there. Here’s the setting. The land of Judah was under attack by the kingdom of Assyria. And Judah, in order to attempt to defend herself, was frantically engaged in trying to build up her military forces, as it were. But the people in Judah were living under very tense and trying circumstances. As Isaiah describes it, it’s quite clear that the whole nation, as it were, was on edge, stretched taut. And it is at that point that Isaiah delivers a reminder to the people. He reminds them that for all of the frantic activity of their military buildup, they had forgotten to take care of the first priority. They had forgotten to tend to their relationship to the Lord. And so Isaiah becomes the voice of God saying to the people, “Remember, in returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and trust shall be your strength.”
I would suggest to you today that that is the formula for gaining a sense of peace and power in your life. I would suggest to you today that that is the formula for learning how to live the Christian life with style, even in the midst of tense and trying times. “In returning and rest, you will be safe. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Let’s put it down at its basics that it will be easy to remember. This is Isaiah’s formula. To return, to rest, to repose, and to rely.
The first thing that Isaiah says that we need to do is to return to the Lord.
So many people I see today searching for a sense of peace and power in their living are instead pushing themselves and driving themselves, constantly demanding more and more and more of themselves, throwing themselves into more and more activities of one kind or another in hopes that somehow, that’s going to provide the answer. It won’t do it. It never works.
Some years ago now, there was a great horse race at Aqueduct Park in New York City. The champion, the greatest horse of that day, perhaps the greatest horse of any day, was named Man o’ War. He was undefeated. On this particular day, he was pitted against a younger horse with blazing speed. The horse’s name was John P. Grier. The stands were packed. The place was abuzz with excitement and tension prior to the race. And then the two horses met face to face, head on. At the start, they broke cleanly. At the corner posts, they were neck and neck. Halfway, they were still dead even. But then gradually, John P. Grier began to exert his speed and began to lengthen out a lead over Man o’ War. Now, no one on earth knew Man o’ War better than his jockey did. That jockey had ridden Man o’ War in every race he’d ever run. He knew the horse. He knew the strength and spirit and the stamina of that great animal. And he also knew that never once in all of his career, never once, had to use the whip on Man o’ War. And yet, at that moment, at that crucial moment, the jockey took the whip and struck one great blow upon the flank of Man o’ War. And immediately, there surged forth from deep down within the midst of that magnificent animal a burst of strength, and his hooves began to beat like pistons, and he began to drive himself on and on so that he surged ahead of John P. Grier. And that carried him all the way through the wire. He won the race. Remains undefeated, the greatest of all the champions.
Now, I tell you that story not because it was a great horse race. I tell you that story because Man o’ War had to be whipped in order to win. Now, Man o’ War was a horse. You and I are not horses, in case you haven’t noticed. That’s why I’m troubled when I see people who are whipping themselves, pushing themselves, driving themselves, frantically throwing themselves into activity upon activity, trying to gain a sense of peace and power in their lives. But all that does, you see, is to stretch their already taut spirits even tighter. It’s no answer. Now, Isaiah had the answer. The answer is to be found not in activity, but in attention. The answer is to be found not in driving ahead, but in turning back, in returning to the Lord, who is the source of all peace and all power on earth.
Look, for example, at the Apostle Paul. Here was a driven man, if ever there was one. His great burning desire in his early life was to be the leader of the Jewish faith. And he set himself to that task, committed himself heart, mind, body, and soul in that pursuit. He gave himself to a relentless intellectual pursuit so that he became known as brilliant. He obeyed every jot and tittle of the law so that he became known as supremely self-disciplined. He began to consolidate his power about him very carefully. He even went so far as to begin killing Christians in order to demonstrate that he was a man of power. It didn’t work. He never found the peace and the power he so anxiously searched for.
Never found it at all until one day when Jesus Christ knocked him off his horse into the dust of the Damascus Road and cried out to him, “Paul, pay attention to Me.” And then Jesus picked him up and sent him for three years out into the Arabian Desert, there to think about God, there to think about his relationship to God, there to think about what God had for him to do in life. And it was only after that time in the desert, only after that, returning to the Lord, that Paul came forth to turn the whole world upside down. He understood what Isaiah had been saying so many years before, that the secret of gaining a sense of peace and power in your life is to return, to return to the Lord.
But then the second step that Isaiah says that we need to take is to rest in the Lord.
Now, when Isaiah uses the word rest, you must understand he is not referring there to taking a nap. Not at all. No, when Isaiah uses the word rest, he means becoming obedient to God’s purpose, becoming responsive to God’s will at work in our lives. And when Isaiah spoke in those terms, he was speaking straight out of his own experience. You see, when he was younger, the man he admired most on the earth, the king, King Uzziah, died tragically, and Isaiah was crushed. And in the midst of his pain and his anxiety and his despair, perhaps even his anger against the Almighty, Isaiah went to the temple. And there he was suddenly caught up in what can only be described as an overwhelming spiritual experience. There Isaiah saw God. The whole train of God filled the temple, and there Isaiah heard the voice of God say, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Me?” And it was at that moment that Isaiah plumbed the depths of his own spirit and then cried out in response, “Here am I, Lord. Here am I. Send me.” It was at that moment, you see, that Isaiah brought his will into alignment with God’s will. It was at that moment that he began to rest in the Lord.
The problem with so many of us is that our wills are running at cross-purposes to God’s will. And as long as that’s true, our lives are going to be marked by tension and conflict, by discord and disorder. But the promise of Isaiah is this: if we will begin to rest in the Lord, if we will begin to bend our own lives about so that they become responsive to the leading of God every single day, if we begin to rest in the Lord, then peace and power are going to become realities in our experience.
Now, understand me, please. I’m not talking here about some kind of false Gethsemane. I have to tell you that I get so tired of those individuals who seem to want to try to dictate to God what they want and what they desire in their prayers. And then at the end of their prayers, they always hook on those holy words from Gethsemane, “Not my will, Lord, but Thine, be done.” And they hook on those words almost as an afterthought, as a safety net, as it were, just in case their prayers aren’t answered the way they want them to be answered. I’m not talking about a false Gethsemane. I’m talking about a real Gethsemane. I’m not talking about accepting God’s will as an afterthought. I’m talking about making the pursuit of God’s will the center of your prayer life, and more than that, the center of your whole life. I’m talking about not accepting God’s will because it has to be, but pursuing God’s will because you want Him to be in your life.
That’s what Isaiah was talking about when he addressed these words to the people of Judah, and these words have now been addressed to us. He’s calling us to pray the Prayer of Augustine. “Oh, Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” That’s the second step in gaining a sense of peace and power in your life, to rest in the Lord.
But then the third thing that Isaiah says that we need to do is to repose before the Lord.
Isaiah uses the word quietness. We ought to learn the discipline of quietness. We ought to learn how to be quiet before the Almighty. I need to be reminding myself of that. When I go on vacation every year, I always take along with me several briefcases full of books and notes and papers and manuscripts, thinking that now that I’m away from the daily press of responsibilities, that I’ll be able to get so much done. And then a funny thing begins to happen. The sun starts to work on me, and then the hypnotic lap of the waves begins to ooze its way into my consciousness. And before I know it, I’ve quit thinking about those briefcases, and instead, started to become very quiet before the Lord, simply enjoying the abundance that He stretches out before us. Oh, it’s so hard, isn’t it, for us to learn how to be quiet before the Lord.
My wife has taught me to love a great book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh called Gift from the Sea. At one point in that book, she writes how we hate to be alone, how we try to avoid it. We seem to be so frightened of being alone today that we’ll do anything to keep it from happening. If our family or our friends or the movies should fail us, well, there’s always radio and television to fill up the void. Instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms and our own prayers, we choke it with constant music and chatter and companionship to which we don’t even really listen. It’s just noise to fill the vacuum. And when the noise is gone, there is no inner music left to take its place. “We need to relearn to be alone and quiet,” she says. She’s right.
But how do we do that today? Richard Foster helps us. He suggests that we begin by taking advantage of the simple solitudes of life, by taking advantage, for example, of the solitude that occurs when we wake early in the morning, before everyone else, or the solitude of a cup of coffee before beginning the work of the day or the solitude of sitting in your car in bumper-to-bumper traffic, waiting at stoplights during the rush hour or the solitude of slipping out at night before bed just to taste the silence of the night. See, we, even in the midst of this hurly-burly world of ours, we can learn the discipline of quietness. And that’s the third step in gaining a sense of peace and power in your life, to repose before the Lord, to discipline yourself to be quiet in His presence.
But then the fourth thing that Isaiah says that we need to do is to rely upon the Lord.
We’ve got to trust God completely. It’s a great thing to believe the things that the Scriptures affirm. That’s a great thing. But it’s greater still, I think, to believe the things that Scripture doesn’t affirm; that is to say the things that Scripture doesn’t argue about. If, for example, the Bible says “trust God,” that’s all it says. It doesn’t argue the case. It doesn’t debate the matter. It doesn’t even try to explain it. It simply says “trust God.” It throws it out as a bud in the hope that that bud will begin to blossom in your heart and in mine. And so I invite you to let that bud of trust begin to blossom in your hearts.
Martin Luther understood what it meant to trust God. In Martin Luther’s house, there were two stone chairs. He loved those chairs, but he loved one of them more than the other. Two stone chairs. On the back of one of those chairs – you can see it even today. On the back of one of those chairs, a carved single word in Latin, “vivit.” “He lives,” affirming, as it were, the present power of the resurrected Christ. But the chair Luther specially loved, that chair has carved upon it this word from Isaiah. “In returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” And Luther writes again and again how, whenever he would sit in that chair and think about those words, that his spirit would be buoyed up.
But mind you, that wasn’t the end of all of Luther’s difficulties. Oh, no. Luther knew temptation. As a matter of fact, the devil was so real to him that on one occasion, he threw an ink pot at him. Luther knew anxiety. How do you think he felt when he stood at Worms and had to say to the king at the risk of his very life, “Here I stand. I can do no other, God help me.” Luther knew pain and sacrifice. Are you aware of the fact that he was virtually in prison for a period of years in the Wartburg Castle, while his enemies sought to kill him? And yet in the midst of all that, in the midst of it all, he possessed an inner peace and inner confidence and inner reliance, a deep-down inner sense of expectant trust in God. He knew what it meant to rely upon the Lord, and that gave him the strength, and the strength gave him a sense of peace. He understood what Isaiah is trying to get us to understand, that the fourth step in gaining a sense of peace and power in your life is to rely upon the Lord, to trust Him completely in your life.
Well, there’s nothing more wonderful than a good heart-to-heart conversation between friends. We are friends, aren’t we, you and I? I mean, after all, I’ve been standing in this pulpit for two years now, week after week after week, pouring out my mind and my heart and my faith and my life. There is something between us now, isn’t there? So I say to you as a friend that the way to discover a sense of peace and power in your life is to return to the Lord, to rest in His will for you, to repose in quietness before Him, and to rely upon Him to be the center of your life. I say to you straight from my heart to yours that is the way to live the Christian life with style even in the midst of tense and trying times because, you see, the peace and the power you will discover is nothing other than the peace and the power of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray. Gracious, most merciful God, write it upon our hearts this day: “In returning and rest, we shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be our strength.” Through Jesus Christ, Amen.