“Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” (Isaiah 33:2)
How do you respond when life is difficult?
That’s a great question fo any of us to grapple with at any time in our lives. In the midst of a global pandemic it only becomes more relevant. What do we do when times are tough? How do we react when we face trouble?
Much of the Bible was written to people in difficulty and trouble. Isaiah chapter 33 is one example. The people who Isaiah was speaking to faced pressure and attack from outside. They were under threat of imminent attack from the army of Assyria. So what is their response to tough times? It is to pray.
Isaiah models prayer as he cries out to God: “Lord, be gracious to us … our salvation in time of distress.” Isaiah shows a response that turns to God for help and safety when times get difficult.
But this verse not only models prayer, it reveals the heart of prayer too. The foundation for prayer is not most of all about what God can do, but about who God is. “We long for you” says Isaiah’s prayer. More even than God’s miraculous salvation, he longs for God himself. He prays for God’s power, but even more for God’s presence.
Isaiah’s prayer in not just a one off, crisis prayer either. “Be our strength every morning,” he asks. This is a prayer for someone is trouble, certainly. But it is also a daily prayer, a prayer for every moment and every situation.
It is the foundation of prayer in verse 2 that leads to the confidence in verse 6:
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; (Isaiah 33:6)
When we pray to know God as well as know God’’s action, we have our confidence and hope increased. We know that God is our sure foundation, our place of safety and a sure place to stand. We know that we find in him great riches, not financially but in wisdom and knowledge. He is the store of salvation who gives generously out of his abundance.
In God we find a vault full of treasures, even in times of trouble. And how do we unlock this treasure vault? Isaiah tells us that “the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”
This fear is not terror, because we know God as our Father. This fear is not danger, because we know God is our safety. This fear is an acknowledgment of God’s greatness: his power, wisdom, strength, might and glory. Fear of the Lord is awe in the face of a majestic God. It is recognising that he is much bigger and more glorious than we are.
This is what makes prayer possible. It is precisely because God is bigger than us that we can come to him in prayer and ask for help. The foundation for prayer is who God is; the fuel for prayer is the fear of the Lord – knowing that he is far bigger than us and our situation and our troubles, and so knowing his mercy and goodness and grace.