Isaiah 40:2-4. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
“Am I prepared?” When has that question crossed your mind? It recently crossed my mind at the start of a race—a half marathon, to be exact. Those who know me know that I run a lot and tend to win awards at races. But this one was a bit different. It was different because I had a goal in mind, a personal record to achieve, and a pace-per-mile in mind that I wasn’t quite sure I actually would be able to do, especially with some pretty steep hills thrown in there. As I lined up for the start, rehearsing the first few miles in my head, I spied a quote on the back of another runner’s shirt that spoke to me: “A marathon is hundreds of miles. The finish is the last 26.2.”
The miles we run, the hills we repeat, the chilly and sultry mornings when you’re out there while everybody else is asleep—THAT is just as much part of the race as what happens when the gun goes off. What comes before the thing—whatever your “thing” is-- is always the preparation. It’s the stuff we do intentionally, the time we spend, where we invest ourselves, and who we listen to that are means of preparation. But it’s also how we handle the things outside our control, what happens that we did not train for-- the things that prepare us.
The prophet Isaiah was a quite ordinary human being who was chosen by God to prepare the Israelites during their time of exile in 6th century BC. The people had been on a rollercoaster of following God, then doing their own thing, and so on for quite a while, until they were conquered and sent into exile in Babylon. But God gave words to Isaiah to speak, for the Israelites to listen to, to let them know God was still with them and a new chapter was up ahead. Though they might not have realized it, during this time of exile, God had been preparing them. And now it was time for them to prepare for God to come to them in a totally new way.
New chapters begin because of the preparation that has taken place in old chapters.
When we listen to the story of Scripture, from the Hebrew texts to the gospels to the letters, we hear a story whereby God is always preparing his people over the course of miles and miles. Even the messy, hurtful and harmful stories are woven into a grander story that tells of God using less than perfect people. Of course God sometimes makes people wait a while—as for Jesus’ coming—but no chapter and no mile traveled ever goes to waste.
Look back on your previous chapters, the miles you’ve traveled, and listen for God’s voice in the chapter you’re in now. What is God preparing you for?
Are you listening?