Sometimes all a person needs is a kind word or a hug. The day’s been long, the world’s been cold, the spirit’s been wounded. Then someone walks up and out of the blue says something encouraging and you can breathe again.
God has made humanity with the ability to lift others up. Christians are called to be those lifting up kind of people. Christians are mandated by God to be encouragers. Jesus expects anyone who has experienced His encouragement to be a person who passes it forward. We can hear it in His words “come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:29). We see it in His actions when He would reach out and touch the untouchable.
In Isaiah 40, the prophet offers a lengthy exhortation from God on the topic of comforting others. Take a moment and read Isaiah 40. As you do you will hear God call for His people to be comforters and then share with them how they have been the comforted. These words may be 2600 years old but they are sorely needed in this cruel and less than hope-filled world. When this study is over may you make the commitment to be a doer of Isaiah’s words and not just one who hears them.
The prophet begins his call to be comforters with a mandate, “’Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God.” (v.1) The word comfort in the original language meant to show pity or to feel sorry in such as way as to desire to help the hurting and the comforter is not satisfied until help was rendered. So Isaiah begins with the understanding that God’s people are to look on others through the eyes of God, to love with the heart of God. The word comfort repeated adds emphasis to the call.
He also shares one of the best ways to render such help, “Speak tenderly…” (v.2); tenderly comes from two Hebrew words translated “speak by the heart.” The tender words are words that cheer: hard service completed, sins have been paid for, the way through the desert and through the valleys and over the hills has been made easier to travel (vs.2-4).
So God’s people are called to reach out into the lives of those who have reached the end of their rope. God’s people are to use their words to persuade others not to give up or let go. Christians are to invest their hearts into the lives of others who need to know that someone cares.
How and why are Christians to do this? The way is addressed by the prophet. God’s people do as God does because they are simply passing on what God has done for them. God has given His word that endures and cures (v.8). God sends the good news out that He is here and He is available (v.9). The prophet reminds people that God is both Master and Care-giver (Sovereign LORD) with the power to accomplish all that He sets His mind and hand to doing, and He rewards people for doing what they do (v.10). But most of all the why of the Christian’s act of comfort is found in verse eleven: “He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”
Did you catch the three things in the verse that God does? He tends which means to take careful care of. He gathers the lambs, the most defenseless of the defenseless, and carries them close to His heart…what a picture. And, He gently leads those who cannot move quickly, like a ewe that has just given birth. Ask any mother who has had a baby and you will find that they did not immediately jump up and pick up where they left off. It takes some time.
The prophet says that God is like that. He gently moves the person forward. Now, they cannot just stop. No they have to move but He moves them slowly. Remember, God calls us to comfort as He does.
So, why should you comfort like God does? First, He has comforted you so we should at least desire to do the same for another. Secondly, since you have experienced the comfort of God, you then should know how to comfort and the great blessing it is to receive comfort from another. In other words, do unto others as God has done unto you.
But how can you do this? Simply put, if God mandates it He also supplies the means from which you can accomplish the command. Isaiah shares that God is more than capable to enable you to be a comforter. Look at the list of words that describe the character and ability of God: He measures all the water on the earth in the palm of His hand; that’s a big hand (v.12). All the dust that dust of the earth fits in His basket and the mountains on His scales (v.12). He needs no one to given Him advice; He does not consult others for understanding or directions. No one has anything to teach Him (v.13-14). The nations are no more a threat to Him than dust on a scale skews the weight of the bananas (v.15).
Need more? All the wood in the world is not enough to light His altar fires, the nations are less than nothing, no one compares to Him in power, glory, or wisdom (vs.16-20). That should be enough to convince any thinking person that God can do anything (vs. 21-26). And, since He calls us to do what He does, He surely can make it possible for us to do what He says to do.
Here’s the bottom line of Isaiah 40: Be an encourager not a discourager. Be one whose words comfort and not condemn. Reach out to others as God has reached out to you.