I woke up with a nagging feeling that I’m not doing something I should be doing, as if what’s wrong is up to me to make right. I’ve been studying this issue for quite some time, and the only thing I’m sure of is that whatever’s causing it, I’m unable to figure out, let alone fix.
Regardless of who’s at fault–or who’s more at fault–just yesterday I read that when I’m groping in the dark, God says to trust, “For anyone out there who doesn’t know where you’re going, anyone groping in the dark, here’s what: Trust in God. Lean on your God!” Isaiah 50:10, MSG.
But here I am, groping all over again, as if these words weren’t just said to me. As if God didn’t mean them. The truth is, I’m unable to trust and lean. I’m a bootstrap puller.
But today, other words come barging in and grab my attention, “Listen to me all you who are serious about right living and committed to seeking God…,” Isaiah 51:1. I sure want to be listening, when God puts it like this.
And what God says is: look at Abraham and Sarah–what did they start out like? What did they become? As believers, these are the grandparents we’ve all come from. If you’ve read much of their story, you know it’s not about their being worthy; it’s about God’s mercy, Isaiah 51:1-2.
As good as God was to them, he promises to be this good to the rest of his people, too, comforting them in their “mounds of ruins,” transforming “dead ground into Eden,” their moonscape into a garden where laughter and joy sprout, Isaiah 51:3, MSG.
Abraham was just an old man when God first got hold of him, and Sarah was barren. It was because of God’s blessing that they were able to bear children, not because they were deserving. God overlooked a lot of shenanigans on their part to be gracious to give them Isaac and to keep his promise to make a great nation from them, just because he wanted to, (for their story, see Genesis 11:27-25:11).
I want joy from this dead ground I’m standing on. I’m taking notes.
And what reaches out and grabs me is this–God is the one who comforts. He’s the one who transforms. He doesn’t say it’s up to me to do it. He says, “I, God, will comfort…I’ll transform her dead ground…” This is relieving, because basically I’m hearing, Relax. I’ve got this. This is my job, Isaiah 51:3, MSG.
I don’t know about you, but this is really good news for me. I haven’t found a group for it yet, but when I do, at the beginning of every meeting, I’m gonna say, “Hello, I’m Eve. I’m a bootstrap puller.”
Besides the good news that I can lay my bootstraps down, God says his rescue arrives right on time. I don’t have to worry about how long it’s taking or how old I’m getting. God’s in charge of bringing life from death and Eden to earth, and it will be in his good timing, whenever that is, Isaiah 51:4-6.
While I might want to rush into a happily-ever-after for all of life’s troubles, God knows best how to direct them. He’s not afraid of being unprepared or accused of dragging his feet. He’s not worried about being late. And right here is another reason to take a deep breath: not only has God got this, whatever my this is, it will come about at just the right time, so I can unwind and trust.
And there’s more relief next. God tells those “who know right from wrong” and who are filled with his words, not to pay attention to insults and mocking, not to let it get me down. Those words won’t hold up since they come from “brains that are termite ridden….” God sets things right, and it’s his words that last. His are the ones to hold onto, Isaiah 51:7-8.
I think I just heard God whisper, “Delete their message,” from behind his hand, but he practically bellows this one: have you forgotten who I am and what a person is made of? Are you afraid of “some poor wretch destined for dust?” I’m the one who spreads out the skies and grounds the earth. Stop “quaking like an aspen before the tantrums of a tyrant…” Look to me instead! Isaiah 51:12-13, MSG.
After all, only God is God, “your very own God, who stirs up the sea and whips up the waves, named God-of-the-Angel-Armies.” He’s the one who teaches me what to say when I’m in trouble. He’s the one watching over me, “even while [he’s] unfurling the skies, setting earth on solid foundations,” not some angel he’s passed me off to, Isaiah 51:12-16, MSG.
Fear can tempt me to forget who’s in charge. I look at the storm I’m in or the mistakes I’ve made and lose faith, afraid that all is lost. I forget God’s the one looking out for me, and that he’s doing it, “even while” he’s running the universe.
Those words warm me. They tell me God doesn’t miss a beat. He sees and he knows, and while I may forget who he is, he doesn’t forget me. Even while he’s taking care of the whole, wide world, he’s attentive to me in my little piece of it. He’s not too busy, and he’s not distracted. God’s got this, and he’s also got me.
Everything I’m reading feels personally written because of how I felt when I woke up this morning. And while I know these words have an historical context that doesn’t include me, I feel bolstered by them anyway.
And this is why: God reminded me at the beginning of chapter 51 that I’m related to Abraham and Sarah, who first got in on his circle of blessing, a circle God repeatedly says he lets anyone in on who listens and pays attention, Isaiah 51:1, 4, 7, MSG.
So why wouldn’t his words be just for me? And just for you?
Then Isaiah gives the best reason there is for letting go of my bootstraps and trying to pull myself up by them–Jesus has already done all the work that needed doing. There’s nothing for me to do but believe it and receive him. And while I’ve done it before, I keep needing a rescue, so I go to him again and again, just like this morning.
Seven hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah wrote about the One who would come as a servant and suffer. He would bear sin and shame, be beaten, tortured, and buried. But his death would kill death, and he’d walk out of his grave, Isaiah 53.
It was God’s plan all along to bring life from a dead womb, a rock tomb, beloved children from black sheep, faith from unbelief. It took God himself to do what all the bootstrap pulling in the world could never do: woo me into love with him.
I’m wanting to stop right here as this is more than enough, but Ephesians is next. I’m guessing the good news keeps piling up.
Watch what God does and then do it, Paul says. “Mostly what God does is love you.” Hang out with him and learn how. Jesus’ love was extravagant, not looking to get but to give. “Love like that,” Ephesians 5:1-2, MSG.
The rest of the chapter reads like a list of Do’s and Don’ts for the Christian Life, but summed up, it’s about paying attention to God and loving him and others. Paul advises us to love with all we’ve got and not to give up. God’s love never stops; ours shouldn’t either, especially in marriage, which is at the end of this chapter, Ephesians 5:3-33.
What I’m hearing from Paul is this: it’s never a matter of who’s more right or more wrong in conflict. It’s who will love, regardless of who’s right or wrong. Who will care more about the relationship than winning? Who will take the hit, like Jesus, and come up loving, not swinging?
Love isn’t something we fall into or feel. And it’s not what we find, a “long lost love” out there somewhere and mythical. No. Love is what we do. It’s what we give. Love is gritty; and it has teeth. Love never quits.
And in case you’re tempted to bootstrap this like I am–you know, try really, really hard this time–let me point out to us both that Paul says the secret to loving is in keeping company with God, Ephesians 5:1-2, MSG. The more we experience his love for us, the more we have to give.
That takes the pressure off.
David’s words are the ultimate cherry on top and the best prevention I know against bootstrapping, which is praising and praying:
“Let me shout God’s name with a praising song,
Let me tell of his greatness in a prayer of thanks,”
It’s God who saves. It’s God who rescues. It’s God who took an ordinary Tuesday morning and turned it into a treasure hunt into God’s words.
Thank you, Abba, for your kindness, and so timely, to bring all these faith-building, bootstrap stripping, words-of-love to me.
Isaiah 51-53, Ephesians 5, and Psalm 69:19-36 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.