Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to Find Comfort in God's Strength

Leslie Basham: We don’t often associate the idea of comfort with strength, but Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains that God does.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: When we are fragile and frail and limited, God has all the strength we need, and He comforts us in our weakness and in our affliction by giving us His strength.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, December 28.

If you’d never felt a need of some comfort, you’re probably not human. From the tiniest newborn to the most fragile senior; from the most accomplished athlete to the successful career woman, our days are full of heartache and difficulty. But before you reach for some chocolate, Nancy Leigh DeMoss wants to remind you to behold your God, the God of all comfort.

Here’s Nancy:

Nancy: Over the past several weeks, we’ve been going through some challenges in our ministry and in actually different areas of my life, and I’ve been feeling pressure coming at me in different directions. That’s not unusual, but the pressure seemed a little more intense than normal.

A few weeks ago I went to church one Sunday morning and then in the Sunday school class, the teacher is teaching through the book of Isaiah, and he happened to be in Isaiah chapter 40. The passage, the message that morning was really used by God to minister to my heart in such a powerful way that I pulled out my Bible after the Sunday services, opened it up to Isaiah 40, and I’ve been camped in that chapter ever since. In fact, I’m in a new Bible, and so my Bible now pretty much opens to Isaiah chapter 40. I have been reading this passage over and over and over again. I’ve been memorizing it, meditating on it, and the Lord has used it to minister such grace to my heart.

I was actually headed in a different direction for this recording series, but a few nights ago I just felt like the Lord wanted me to share with you out of the freshness of what He’s been doing in my life in Isaiah chapter 40, so that’s why we have this new series that I’m calling, Behold Your God.

As we get into the text, you’ll see that phrase comes right from Isaiah chapter 40: “Behold your God” (verse 9).

Let me give you a little bit of context about this chapter. It’s a very well-known chapter in the Scriptures. In fact, the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah has different pieces of music that are based on fifteen Scripture texts. Ten of those Scripture texts are from the book of Isaiah, and five of those are taken from Isaiah chapter 40. So when you sing Handel’s Messiah or you hear it sung at Christmas, many of those texts are coming from this chapter, Isaiah chapter 40.

Now the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah are mostly messages of warning—warning to the people of God that judgment is coming because of their sin. They’re heavy chapters. There are a lot of “woes” in those chapters, a lot of burdens being expressed.

When you get to chapter 40, there’s a change of tone. There’s a new direction. And from chapter 40 through the end of Isaiah, you have messages of comfort, messages of hope, promises of deliverance. The burden that is seen in the first 39 chapters is being lifted.

Those chapters have an immediate application that we’ll talk about in a few moments that would have been true for the people in Isaiah’s day, but they also have a long-range application because they point to Christ. They point to the Messiah, our Burden Bearer, our Comforter, our Deliverer, our Savior, our Shepherd, our Hope.

They point to Christ who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

So in this text we’re going to see the burden lifted.

Now, I want to spend just a few minutes first, before we jump into the text itself, and talk a little bit about the historical context—what was happening in the nation of Israel and Judah at that time.

The current threat to the nation, to God’s people was the Assyrian power. The Assyrians had already taken control of the northern kingdom of Israel. They had taken the northern kingdom into captivity, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah was now looking ahead 100 years to the day when the Babylonians, the next world power, would take the southern nation of Judah into captivity.

The Children of Israel were going to be chastised for their sin. They were going to be punished by God, and God was going to use the Babylonians as He had already used the Assyrians. The nation of Judah was going to be taken into captivity—for how many years? Seventy years.

Now the Babylonians were just instruments in God’s hand. They were a foreign nation, a pagan, idolatrous nation, but they were instruments God was going to use to chasten, to discipline His people for their sin. But God promised that after they had been disciplined, they would be returned to their land.

So Isaiah’s prophecy is looking ahead 100 years to when the Babylonians would come and take over and 70 years beyond that to when the captivity would be almost over.

So he’s speaking to people in a future day, a coming generation who are discouraged. They’d been in captivity in a foreign land for 70 years. They’re fearful. They’ve lost heart. They’ve lost hope. What do they need? They need encouragement. They need hope from the heart of God.

Now to further complicate matters, not only is Isaiah looking forward 170 years, but he’s also looking beyond that to the first coming of Christ to the earth—the incarnation. Sometimes you’ll see references to the Messiah.

Then he looks beyond that to a day that is still ahead of us, and that’s to the ultimate return of Christ to rule and to reign over the earth.

  • There’s going to be comfort to those who are in captivity 170 years from now.
  • There’s going to be comfort when Christ comes to earth as the Savior of the world.
  • There’s going to be comfort years ahead when Christ comes back to rule and to reign over the earth.

So sometime in Isaiah’s prophecy these different views get mixed in with each other, and you’re not always sure which one he’s talking about, but keep all that in the context as we talk about this passage of comfort.

What a reminder it is that even though the return of Christ seems very far away to us, as the return from captivity seemed far away to those in Isaiah’s day. You say, “One hundred seventy years from now, that seems like a long way away.”

It seems far away to us now that Christ will return to earth. We don’t know how long it will be, but we need to remember that God seems from the advantage point of eternity, and a thousand years with Him is but a day. There is no length of time for Him. He sees the whole picture.

When He speaks to us words of comfort, it’s for our immediate situation, but it’s also for whatever lies ahead.

It’s for the days that we will face, those hard last days until Christ comes back to earth. These are words of comfort that we can apply to our situation.

So we look at verse 1 of Isaiah chapter 40, and just this phrase: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”

This is a message from God. This is God speaking through Isaiah the prophet to His people, these people, who will by this point been in captivity for 70 years. God says, “Comfort them. Comfort My people.”

It’s repeated for emphasis: “Comfort, comfort." That’s what they need. Give them comfort.

The word comfort, comforted, comforter, those words are used 13 times between this point and the end of the book of Isaiah. It’s the theme of these chapters, beginning in chapter 40.

Our English word comfort actually comes from two Latin words that mean "to strengthen," "to give strength and relief in affliction," "to make strong," "to fortify." We’re going to see in this passage that God has strength when we are weak. When we are fragile and frail and limited, God has all the strength that we need. He comforts us in our weakness and in our affliction by giving us His strength, by infusing us with His strength.

Now notice who this comfort is for. It’s for people who have a covenant relationship with God.

“‘Comfort my people, says your God.” You cannot expect to have comfort in the midst of your weakness and in the midst of life afflictions, the kind of deep comfort you really need, if you don’t belong to the Lord. This is a message for God’s people.

It also suggests that He is the Comforter. We’re going to see that through this passage. I think of that verse in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, where the apostle Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions” (verses 3-4).

Where do you look for comfort? When you’re weak, when you’re fearful, when you’re depressed, when you’re discouraged, do you look to the God of all comfort?

Don’t we tend to look to other places first?

  • Food—comfort foods?
  • “I’m just going to go shopping, I’m so depressed.” Well, you’d be really depressed when you see that bill that you spent—all those things you bought when you were depressed—makes you really depressed.
  • Maybe you turn to a friend.
  • Maybe you expect your mate to comfort you.
  • Maybe you look to your work to provide comfort for you.
  • Some kind of recreation—maybe you escape into movies or music or crossword puzzles—some kind of recreation.

Where do you look for comfort?

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all those other things, but if you really want comfort, you want to get to the God of all comfort, the one who is able to comfort us in all our afflictions.

Isaiah is challenging his listeners to look beyond the captivity, to look beyond their years of affliction, to look beyond the chastening to the end of the story.

What’s the end of the story? The chastening will end, the affliction will end, and God will bring comfort.

One of my favorite verses in the Scriptures, Psalm 30, verse 5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (NKJV).

Now, we don’t know how long that night may be. That night may go weeks or months or years, perhaps a lifetime of weeping. Circumstances that make us sad, that are hard, that are challenging to face. Some people face physical afflictions, financial afflictions, job afflictions, family afflictions—circumstances over which they have no control. Weeping may endure for a night, and the night may be long, and the night may be dark, but joy comes in the morning. There will be joy. God promises comfort.

Isaiah is giving these words to people who are in captivity in a foreign land. They are far from home. They are under adverse circumstances, but he wants them to know that God has plans to bless them.

You may be in a point of captivity right now in your life, a season of darkness, a season of discouragement, but God has plans ultimately to bless you.

We’ve heard it quoted so often, that verse from Jeremiah 29 where God says, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for wholeness and not for evil, [plans] to give you a future and a hope.’”

So if you’re in the middle of a captivity and your eyes are filled with tears, lift your eyes up and know that God wants to promise you comfort. He’s going to give you comfort even through this passage.

But you may be doing great right now. Your husband loves you; you’ve got money in the bank; the sun’s shining; your kids are doing well. Well, hold on! Affliction is coming! If you’re a child of God, you can count on that happening, but count on the fact that God knows what’s coming, when it’s coming. God knows what lies ahead for you, and He has already made provision in advance for your deliverance and your comfort.

God has comfort prepared for you, stored up for you, not only in your current affliction, but whatever affliction you will face tomorrow—the one you don’t know about that you’ll face next week, next month, next year. God knows what afflictions you will face when you’re 93 years old and in poor health and being cared for by your children or in a retirement or nursing home. Don’t live there now—you aren’t there now. Just know that when you are there, whatever the affliction will be, God has comfort prepared for you.

Does that encourage you? I know it does me.

So God says, “Comfort My people. In their current afflictions, in their future afflictions, there is comfort.”

Here are the words of comfort, beginning in verse 2:

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

God says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”

Now keep in mind the first 39 chapters, there have been a lot of warnings, a lot of judgments promised, a lot of woes. There’s not a lot of tenderness in the first 39 chapters of Isaiah. God’s promising chastening and judgment. But God says now, “I want you to speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”

That phrase means "to speak to the heart," "to reassure," "to soothe." We’re going to see in this chapter the tender heart of God. We’re going to see His loving, compassionate heart.

God says, “Speak tenderly to her.”

But then He says, “Cry to her.” That word means "to cry out," "to call out loudly in order to get someone’s attention. “Cry out to her.”

So, “Speak tenderly to her,” but this is a message that also is earnest. “You need to hear this.” If you’re going to be comforted, you need to know what God has to say.

Don’t we need that balance as we minister to others?

I deal with this as I think about Revive Our Hearts. There’s some programs where I feel that God just really puts it on my heart that a strong word of warning is needed. We’ve recorded some series like that—there’s just some pretty strong exhortation from God’s Word. And where God confronts my heart with a passage, I pass it on to you. I don’t like having to teach those strong passages, but it’s part of God’s Word, so I have to do that.

But then there are those times when God encourages my heart with these tender passages of His Word, and I want to pass those on to you as well.

In this passage we’re going to see the balance of those two—the grace and truth; the tenderness and the crying out, the calling out.

Now what is the prophet supposed to tell Jerusalem with his tender crying out voice? Tell "her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, and that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

First, “her warfare is ended.” That word warfare suggests hard military service. It’s referring to her captivity. Her captivity is over. Her years of bondage, her years of being in servitude to a foreign nation, there’s an end to it. Her captivity is ended. Her warfare is ended. Her severe trials are over.

What’s the word of comfort? There will be an end to your hardship and captivity. There will be an end.

Now, it may seem as if the end is taking forever to come, but that’s where we need God’s perspective. If we could look down on life as God sees it, we would realize time is so short. If we had a whole lifetime of suffering on this earth, it would still be just a moment in the light of eternity. There will be an end.

Then here’s another word of comfort: “Her iniquity is pardoned.” Her sins that resulted in her going into captivity, those sins have been forgiven—forgiveness.

Sometimes we end up in affliction and problems through no fault of our own, through circumstances that were utterly beyond our control. It’s just the reality of living in a fallen, sinful world. Am I right that sometimes we end up in a mess because of our own wrong choices, because of our own sin? God loves enough to chasten us, to discipline us, to reprove us.

We can live under this burden of guilt. “I know I’m in this mess because of my sin. I’m just such a mess. I’m such a worm.” And God says, “Wait a minute. There’s an end to your affliction, but there’s also forgiveness for your sins.”

You don’t have to live under the bondage of that guilt, that shame, that failure. Yes, you may have failed. Maybe you married outside of God’s will and now you’re living in a difficult marriage that was the result of your own rebellion, your own wrong choice. Maybe you abused your body, and now physically you’re carrying the consequences of that.

God says, “You can experience forgiveness.”

I know there are women who have had abortions, and there’s been such guilt and such bondage over their sin and the difficulty in feeling and sensing and believing and receiving the forgiveness of God. Sometimes those women have experienced some consequences—physically or in their families—as a result of their wrong choices. God’s Word says, “Comfort My people; her iniquity is forgiven; her sin is forgiven.”

You don’t have to go on in bondage to past guilt, past sin. Yes, there may be consequences. Yes, there may be scars, but your sins can be forgiven, and there will be an end to your affliction.

“Tell her that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

That just means the debt has been paid. Sufficient payment has been made for her sins, for the sins of My people.

Of course, we know that forgiveness is possible for us because of Jesus. This is pointing ahead to Christ, pointing ahead to the cross, the great Guilt-Bearer, the Sin-Bearer, the Substitute for our sins. He’s the one who paid the penalty, made the payment, gave His life for our salvation so that we could receive from the Lord’s hand sufficient payment and pardon for our iniquity.

So the comfort that God offers to His people is proportionate to the pain they have experienced. You’ve experienced great pain, great affliction, but there’s great comfort coming.

Notice that the source of the comfort is not that all your problems disappear. We think, “I can only be comforted if I have no more problems.” But what’s the source of comfort God promises to His people here? Being right with God, having your sins forgiven, being free from guilt, being set free from captivity—that’s what gives you comfort.

You may have problems—you will have problems from now to the point you get to heaven. Count on it! But you can have peace with God. You can be free from your spiritual bondage. You can be free to love and serve the Lord with all your heart. You can have forgiveness of sins.

Let me just say this word again, by way of repetition because I know there are so many women who live under the cloud, the weight, the oppression of past guilt, past sins. You have sinned. I have sinned. But God is saying here—here’s His word of comfort: “You do not have to live in bondage to that guilt.” You don’t have to. You can be free from that.

The God who chastens us to purify us is also the God who redeems and delivers and comforts us. Your warfare is ended; your iniquity is pardoned. Payment has been made through the sacrifice and the blood of Christ. Believe it! Receive it! And be comforted.

Lord, I want to just lift up to you a woman who’s listening who has been living, perhaps for years, under the weight, the guilt of shame over past sins. She’s confessed; she’s repented, but she’s still living under the bondage and under the burden of that sin.

Lord, I pray that she would just receive Your Word and Your Truth for her heart this day, that she would believe that her warfare is ended; her iniquity is pardoned; that the payment has been made through the blood and the cross of Christ; that she would receive your forgiveness and receive your comfort. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Everybody needs comfort. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been pointing you to the true source of comfort that will never let you down.

Today’s program is part of a series called, Behold your God. It’s the kind of teaching that’s been impacting women around the country and around the world.

Nancy’s here to tell you one way God’s been using the teaching on Revive Our Hearts.

Nancy: “This is the perfect way to start my day.”

That’s how one listener described Revive Our Hearts. God’s been using the program to encourage her. She’s made some important choices to stay at home to focus her energy on serving her family.

This woman emailed us this fall and said,

As I dropped my children off for their first day of school, I saw some women beautifully dressed, ready to go to work, and I thought of all the things I have waiting for me at home. I felt my day wouldn’t be as important as others. Then I listened to Revive Our Hearts, and I’ve been renewed. I have the most important job in the world—to serve my Lord and to serve my family. Thank you so much.

Well, it is a great privilege to encourage women just like that mom, and it wouldn’t happen without the prayers and the generous gifts of listeners like you. Our potential for ministry has increased significantly this past year since close to 200 new radio station partners have joined Revive Our Hearts. God provided this wonderful opportunity, and we believed that He would provide for the increased costs associated with being on more stations.

If your heart has been renewed as a result of listening to this program, would you help us out? Help us invest in the lives of women like the mom we just heard about. Close to half of the donations we need each year arrive during the month of December, so we need to hear from you during this last week of the year, as we make our ministry plans for 2010.

I know that each year at this time I take another look at my own ledger and look at my giving for the year and what God has provided and how He has blessed and ask Him if there are any further ways that I could invest in His kingdom. I have found it is such an incredible privilege to give to support the Lord’s work as He has given to meet my needs.

So as you’re considering your year-end giving, would you ask the Lord how He might use you to support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: You can make your donation by calling 1-800-569-5959, or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Can you imagine how nervous you would be if you had a meeting scheduled with a king? Well, you are going to meet a King, and Nancy will help make sure you’re ready. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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