“Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God!” –Isaiah 40:1
I recently watched a documentary on Amazon titled “The Bikes of Wrath.” It’s a story about five men from Australia who, fascinated by John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” decide to bike westward across America following the same route the fictional Joad family traveled to escape the 1930s Dust Bowl. (It is also the real-life route thousands upon thousands of Okies and migrant workers took to find work out west.) Starting in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, they take 30 days to ride west to Bakersfield, California. The men take as little as possible with them on their bikes to make the going easier and to make them more dependent on the generosity of people along the way. They hoped to find the help and comfort they needed from strangers on the journey—they would need it as they faced searing heat, driving rain, mechanical failures, injuries, and hunger.
Watching that documentary reminded me of our need for “help and comfort” on our journey—not necessarily on our vacations, though a state’s Welcome Center is a nice stop, but help and comfort for our journey of faith. That along this life-long route of following Jesus, there are times when we need to know we are not alone and that aid and support are there for us. Isaiah 40 does an excellent job of reminding us how the Lord brings us this much-needed comfort. Consider the opening verse, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God!” What a beginning! A “doubly” sure sign of the comfort to come.
Where are we to find comfort as God’s people? Well, first and foremost in God’s love for us. Isaiah 40 goes on to remind us that instead of receiving a double punishment for our sins, we receive double grace—that our sins are pardoned and that, crazily enough, we as God’s people become the reward or recompense for the Victor (Jesus). Isaiah also comforts us with the assurance of forgiveness but also the guarantee of provision. Three different heralds or voices are heard in the chapter describing the different comfort we will receive. Finally, he finishes off the chapter by shifting from God as a king to God as a shepherd caring for his flock—we get double arms of strength (king) and care (shepherd). Nothing will rob us as God’s people from what we have in and through Christ. We are secure in this reality, and this reality brings us great comfort.
But what else? Is there more comfort for us to find? I think so. As God’s people, the text reminds us that we have one another for aid and support. (This is also a common theme of Paul in his letters to the churches. For example, Galatians 6:2-5) Called to bear one another’s burdens, we have this ministry of presence in one another’s lives. We may not always be able to fix the problem or heal the wound, but the mere fact that we know we are not alone or that someone else understands what we are going through is a powerful shield against despair and hopelessness in the journey of faith. If the five men needed one another and the help of strangers along the way for 30 days, how much more so we need one another for life-long discipleship.
I was fascinated to see in “Bikes of Wrath” that many of the encounters the cyclists have along the way are with Christians. They pray for the men, and many give them generous amounts of money as well as food, shelter, and medical assistance. I don’t know if any of the Aussies have faith in Jesus, but I can say with certainty that their encounter with the Church in their journey was one of the major reasons all five could make it the entire 30-days. Where they expected to find the “wrath” of the locals like the Okies and migrant workers of the Great Depression, they found grace instead.
Here’s the challenge for you and me: in what ways has the Lord been comforting you and me? Specific passages in his Word? To what has the Holy Spirit directed your attention, so you know and experience the presence of God in your life? What other believers are around you, encouraging you and bringing a ministry of presence to you? To whom are you bringing a ministry of presence to? Just as the Australians documented their encounters along the journey, are you writing down the verses and people the Lord comforts you with? Remind yourself of what is yours in Jesus!
“Comfort, comfort” is a double promise of grace to us. First, as it comes to us in Jesus, and second, as it comes to us in the ministry of the Church. This is what makes the journey of faith possible. This is what makes the journey of faith not one of wrath, but one of grace.