There are seasons in life where everything seems to be difficult and troublesome; times where everything is like an uphill battle or a trek through murky swamp land, and it is a fight to make the smallest step forward. They are those times in our Christian journey where, like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, we trod through the valley of despair and we face giants that are far too threatening. There are these seasons of life, of that we can be certain. In those places, it is easy for us to feel that we are alone and that God has abandoned us. Logically, we know this isn’t the case. But what our head knows, our heart has a hard time feeling. If only we had a story about people going through troublesome times…
A few weeks back, we read from Isaiah chapter 43. It contains God’s words to the people of Israel as they experience the darkness of exile. And yet, into that dark despair, the voice of God pierces with blessed words of comfort and promise. I believe sometimes we miss the wonder of God’s voice coming to a people deep in exile. The previous chapters of Isaiah are quite blunt when it comes to describing the manner in which Israel had rejected their God and turned to other deities. Time and time again, Israel carved out their own spiritual path—a path that often ran contrary to the way of God. This led them into exile, and we can imagine that as a people feeling the crushing weight of oppressive power, a people removed from home and temple, they would have deeply internalized their feelings of divine abandonment. And yet, God’s voice comes. Not only does God’s voice come, but it comes in love and promise.
Even when Israel could not see the presence of God, even when they felt they could claim no blessing or possibility of favour, and even when they would have felt that everything in heaven and earth spoke of their cut-off-ness, God speaks a promise of grace. They are still God’s people. They are still the people fashioned by the Lord, and for the Lord. Despite any waywardness, despite any trouble, despite all inner and outer darkness, God looks upon them in love, affirming their God-given identity: ‘”Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you.” (verse 4)
If you are in a place where you are tempted to question God’s view of you, if you have ever been tempted to question how the grace of God could possibly make it’s way to you, if internally, the devil seems to be whispering all sorts of doubts into your ear—then rehearse this verse over and over and over again.
You are precious. You are honoured. You are loved.
The promise God whispers to us, even as we go through our dark nights, valleys of despair, or uphill battles is that all the troubles of life can never take away that deep truth of who we are in the presence of God. True, the presence of God does not make the troubles cease. We live in an imperfect world that is filled with imperfect people. God has never promised us a life of rainbows and roses for each and every step. But God does promise, again and again, ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep you over. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze.’
Did you notice that God says “when”, and not “if”? God states plainly to Israel, and all of us, that times of hardship and struggle will occur. And yet, such times are not merely defined by the presence of the struggle. The promise of God for us in these times is that we do not walk through them alone. As strong as the waters are, and as forceful as they appear to be, we have one whose strength will hold and secure us. Yes, you may walk through the fire, but the flames will not touch you because you have one who stands with you in the midst of the flames. You may feel the heat, and the smoke may get thick and dark, but you will not be consumed because Gods’ presence surrounds you.
God reassures the people of Israel, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” It is one of the most common declarations of God in scripture. Some have claimed that “do not be afraid” occurs 366 times in scripture—one for each day of the year (including the leap year). Whether or not that is true, fear is cast away under the blessed promise that we are never abandoned. God’s voice cuts through all the storms of life, speaking the assurance that no matter the water, fire, oppression, or distress, we are God’s own beloved child, and God is with us. Those are the promises which nothing can take away.
Do we think you were created just to be swept away by the rivers of worry? Do we think you were fashioned just to be consumed by the fire? God says he has redeemed you and summoned you. God’s loving claim for you is complete, Gods presence around you is all encompassing. Let you heart lay claim to these promises. Own them. Rehearse them. Feed upon them, and allow them to speak words of life, hope and comfort into your soul.