Here’s a story of an event in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that transformed his life:
“I remember a mini-Paradigm Shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly — some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
“The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, and even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
“It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
“The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’
“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Covey concludes: Everything changed in an instant.
People all around us are hurting. To these hurting people, God can be the God of all comfort as Paul described God in 2 Corinthians 1:3: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.”
I love to use this verse at funerals. I always pray to the God of all comfort in behalf of the bereaved family. I pray that they will find God to be the God of all comfort for them as they say farewell for the last time.
Not only is God the God of all comfort but also He wants us to be His means of comfort to hurting people. This is what Paul writes in the next verse in 2 Corinthians 1:4: “Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them who are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
This is Isaiah’s message in Isaiah 40:1-2:
A. The command to comfort (40:1) “You comfort, you comfort my people, says your God.” Notice, God doesn’t say, “I will comfort my people.” But, “You must comfort my people.”
B. The reason for the command (40:2). Israel was facing their most difficult days which Isaiah has already warned about in 39:5-8. Isaiah predicted the devastating Babylonian Captivity, which would not be over for a century and half.
“Speak comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her.” Notice this comfort will come when someone speaks God’s message of comfort to those who are finding life hard.
1) Life is hard because life is like living through a war “her warfare is accomplished” (40:2). Have you noticed that life is a battle every day?
2) Life is hard because of sin “her iniquity is pardoned” (40:2). The hardness of life is sometimes a self-inflected wound.
3) Life is hard because of the problems that sin brings (40:2). Sin brings double punishment. In Exodus 22:4, there is the double restitution of thief. Hosea the prophet said, “You sow to the wind, you reap the whirlwind.”
The Book of Isaiah is God’s message of Salvation to everyone who is reeling under the hardness of life:
In chapters 1-39, Isaiah preaches God’s judgment on sin to the older generation of parents who had sinned and brought on the coming hardship.
In chapters 40-66, Isaiah preaches God’s comfort to the future, younger generation. Hard times are coming because of the sins of your parents, but I will deliver you and comfort you before deliverance comes. But this comfort has strings attached.
I. Qualifications for God’s Comfort (40:1-11)
The qualifications for God’s comfort are spoken. God commanded “speak” and the three qualifications come from the “voice” of someone in verses 3, 6, and 9. The voice spoke the first qualification in verses 3-5.
A. We must prepare for God’s Comfort (40:3-5)
Isaiah uses a common example of one nation preparing for a visiting dignitary from another nation. Raising the valleys and lowering the mountains refer in hyperbole to workmen leveling or smoothing out the roads on which a dignitary would travel when he came to visit an area. They were fill in the potholes, etc. Today an equivalent is, “roll out the red carpet” (BKC).
John the Baptist fulfilled this qualification for God’s people in Matthew 3:1-3 when he called for God’s people to prepare by repenting for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
When God’s people repent, God will come and reveal Himself to His people and “all flesh shall see it” (40:5). This is ultimately fulfilled when in the future, Israel repents and the Messiah returns and every eye shall see Him (Revelation 1:7) as He comes to Jerusalem. But it can happen in our lives now.
God’s wants us to be His “voice” to speak His message of comfort. Paul told us that is one reason God allows us to go through trials in 2 Corinthians 1:3.
Becky’s mom died around Christmas over 15 years ago and I preached her funeral was on Christmas Eve. She can comfort you if your mother has died much better than I can. She will listen to your pain, sympathize and weep with you.
B. We must claim God’s Promises in HIs Word (40:6-8)
Again, it is a voice that speaks this qualification for God’s comfort. God’s people were asking, “How can we survive such war like hardships?”
You can’t in your weakness (40:6-8a). You are as frail and temporary as grass and flowers under the wilting blast of the hot Palestinian winds. David makes a similar comparison in Psalm 103:25-26.
But God’s Word is powerful, not weak, and eternal, not transitory, and enables us to stand in the greatest of storms. God’s people faced a fierce storm. But God’s Word will enable them to stand and not be cut down like grass and flowers.
Listen to a similar promise from Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “There has no testing taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will permit you to be tested above that you are able; but will with the testing also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.’
C. We must Focus on God (40:9-11)
Notice, God’s people were to lift up their “voice” to comfort others. Before, it was “the voice.” But here it is “your voice.” In verse one, God commanded Isaiah to comfort Jerusalem, but now, Jerusalem, having been comforted, is to use their voice to comfort others.
Joseph Parker, another pastor at the time of C. H. Spurgeon, made two statements in his preaching that have stuck with me: “Every pew in church has at least one broken heart.” Maybe this morning you are the broken heart on your pew. He also said, “God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.” Maybe you are the comforter on your pew for that broken heart.
How can we comfort others? By helping them focus on God or as Isaiah commanded God’s comforted people to tell others, “Behold your God!” Or, “Look at your God.” Get your eyes on Him. Get your eyes off people, off of your problems, off of your enemies, and off yourself.
When we see our God we will see a mighty warrior who can fight our battles (40:10). God’s mighty arm is all-powerful to defend us. God’s mighty arm will defeat Babylon in 48:14. In Psalm 8, David in a moment of worship looked up at the heavens at night, perhaps as he was tending his sheep at night, and burst out in praise, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, What is man?” If God created the universe with His fingers what can His arm do for us in the midst of our troubles?
God is the arm wrestling champion of the world. He is stronger than any of your enemy. He is more powerful than any of your problems.
When we see our God, we will also see a loving shepherd (40:11). The same arm that can crush your enemies, can carry you next to His heart like a shepherd carries his wounded sheep. Not only are we like grass and flowers that are frail and wilt under the heat, but we are like sheep who must be led by God and sometimes carried by Him. We are not only sheep, but lambs or recently born sheep who are the weakest of the weak.
We are weak and frail, but in the arms of the Almighty Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the Universe we are as strong as He.
I called Gladys Dezern this week. She and Bob joined a few years back and Bob got sick and after a protracted illness finally died. Gladys stayed by his side the entire time of Bob’s suffering. They were married 62 years. She told me yesterday that his death was like losing a part of her body. She was now incomplete. But she said, the Lord was helping her. She also said how much she appreciated how much our church has helped her through her great heartbreak. I remember after the funeral, her son said he could believe all our church had done for his mother and if he lived closer he would come to our church. This is Isaiah’s message fleshed out. God wants to comfort us in our trouble so we can comfort others in their trouble.