In Repentance and Stress is Your Salvation? (Thinking Through Isaiah 30:15)

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

For many people, the Christian life does not seem like a restful life, but a stressful life. It is a life of continual guilt, and when you do not feel guilty, you feel guilt for not feeling guilty. It is a life preoccupied with sin.

Repentance can be defined as remorse over wrongdoing or sin, feeling shame and regret. We might assume that the Christian life is to be a life of constant remorse, regret, and shame.

And so some have found Christianity to be stressful. Isaiah 30:15 may as well read, ”in regret and stress is your salvation.”

Is this the way it should be? Is the Christian life best described as a life preoccupied with sin?

Thinking through Isaiah 30:15 will help. So let’s dig in.

The prophet here is speaking to a specific situation in Old Testament times when God’s people in Judah were under threat of invasion by Assyria. When small nations are under threat from bigger, more powerful nations, the most natural thing to do is make an alliance with another big nation. We do this as Canadians, seeking national security by being part of NORAD and NATO. If anyone wants to mess with us, they will have to mess with the collective might of so many other nations including the military might of the Americans.

So God’s people in Judah did what small nations do, they sought an alliance. What did God think of that?

“Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;
who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.
Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,
everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace. ”

Isaiah 30:1-5 (NIV) 1

Making an alliance with Egypt? Bad idea!

The right thing to do, would be to seek God, to remember the covenant with God, to lean into that covenant with greater passion, trusting that God is faithful and will carry out His covenant promises. To sum up God’s covenant promises, “stick with me and I’ll stick with you and you will live and flourish in the promised land. Don’t stick with me and you are on your own (and remember you are a small nation stuck between big bad enemies, so invasion and exile is how that will go).” Therefore turn to God, and not Egypt.

This is where verse 15 comes in:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

To paraphrase; in turning, or rather returning, to God for help, rather than turning to Egypt for help, and in resting, putting your future as God’s people in God’s hands, rather than trying so hard to ensure safety through an alliance, will be your rescue from the Assyrians. In a quiet confidence in God and trusting in him rather than the Egyptians will be your strength.

The Hebrew word translated “repentance” here in the NIV is not the word meaning “feel ashamed of” or “regret.” It is the word for turning as recognised in many translations, including the NRSV: “In returning and rest you shall be saved”.

So in context, repentance here is not so much a feeling of regret or shame over sin as we would normally think of it, but a decisiveness, a decision to depend on God rather than Egypt. Yes, feeling guilty over not sticking with God and his ways would happen, but the more important thing than the emotions involved is the decision to stick with God. As my wife and I have often said to our children, “it is not an apology we are looking for, but a change in behaviour.”

Given that Isaiah 30:15 was written for a specific occasion, what does it have to do with us?

Does this mean that we as Canadians should not turn to allies like we do with NORAD and NATO for security and defence? Does this mean that we should not turn to doctors when we fall ill, or scientists and their vaccines when there is a pandemic? Does this mean we should trust no one but God alone?

Well, no. Remember the prophet was originally speaking to a specific people who were under a specific covenant with specific promises, about a specific patch of land, during a situation that was specific to them. We are not that people, those are not our promises, Canada is not that land, we are not living under that covenant.

That being said, we too have the opportunity to be in a covenant relationship with God; the new covenant through Jesus. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. God’s promise to us is eternal life with God, beginning with his presence in our lives now. When it comes to these spiritual realities that are a matter of eternal life and death, what can be said about the old covenant, can be said about the new covenant:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

Isaiah 30:15 (NRSV)

In turning to God and in resting in what God has done for us in Jesus is our salvation, in quietness and trust is our strength. We don’t depend on ourselves, on our own capacity to impress God with how good we are. We live in relationship with God, trusting Him, trusting in His love for us. We rest in God’s love, we live in a quiet confidence. The Christian life is not a life of preoccupation with our sin, and our imperfections, but of preoccupation with God and God’s perfect love.

There may well be things in our lives that we should feel ashamed of, that we should regret. Repentance is part of the Christian life and an opportunity for growth. However, framing the Christian life as a life of constant shame and regret, as a never-ending preoccupation with sin, is itself regrettable.

The Christian life is a life of trust and living in God’s love, of resting in God’s loving embrace.

It is not “in regret and stress is your salvation” but “in turning to God and rest is your salvation.”

Six Things to Do When Life Ain’t Perfect. A Reflection on Philippians 4.

There is sometimes an expectation that since God loves us, and since we have responded in faith, then life should be pretty much perfect from now on. But then what follows in our experience is, well, far from ideal. When we realise that things are far from perfect we might be surprised. We might even fall to pieces.

Life is a reality check. Paul’s concluding words to the Christians in Philippi are also a reality check. The reality is, that things are far from perfect.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are reminded that the apostle Paul’s life was far from perfect. Here we are given the reason for the letter. It is a thank you note from Paul for the gift the Christians in Philippians sent him because he was in prison. Yes, this encouraging letter was written while Paul was in troubling circumstances. He may even be executed! We have good reason to believe that he eventually was executed following another imprisonment. Paul’s life was far from the perfect experience we seem to expect Christians to have. His life was no picnic.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are also reminded that the Christian church is far from perfect, since Christian people are far from perfect. In verses 2 and 3 we discover that there are troubled relationships. Euodia and Syntcyche are two leaders who are evidently mature Christians. Yet they are not getting along. They are not the perfect people we seem to expect Christians to be. Getting along was no picnic.

As a side note, if you ever find a perfect church, where everyone is perfect, don’t bother telling me about it. I don’t want to wreck the perfection by showing up.

Here we have evidence, of less than than perfect people in less than perfect circumstances. In fact you could say, messy people in messy circumstances. Perhaps you can relate . . .

So how do we handle the mess?

First, we do the best we can:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

Euodia and Syntyche are to iron out their differences and be reconciled. We can wonder if Paul in our day would encourage the Anglicans and the Baptists among others to iron out our differences and be reconciled. At any rate, we are to just do the best we can as individuals and faith communities and to help each other out the best we can too.

We celebrate God:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

Most translations go with “rejoice” or “be glad,” but I like those that say “celebrate.” It can be hard to just switch our emotions, to suddenly just go from grumpy to joyful. It is not like our emotions respond like a light to the flick of a switch. Think of going home grumpy from a hard day at work. We may still be grumpy when we get home, which is no fun for our loved ones. But if you go home to a celebration, a birthday celebration for example, your emotions may well catch up to your celebrations. When we regularly celebrate Jesus, celebrating all that is real and true in Jesus, then our awful emotions will eventually catch up with the awesome facts.

We grow in gentleness:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

How often have you heard a sermon on gentleness? If you attend Calvary, not very often, for I have not often preached on it. I suspect that across our land there are many sermons on holiness, and very few on gentleness. Yet gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is an important mark of following Jesus. I promise to speak about it more often. Perhaps we should all promise to grow into it more.

We give our anxiety to God through prayer:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

Simply turning off worry can feel like an impossible thing to do. It likely is. Thankfully, we are not so much encouraged to simply turn it off, but rather to trade it in. Through prayer we trade it in for peace.

We focus our minds on good things.

I like Eugene Peterson’s rendition of the next few verses:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)

We are so good at being focused. Unfortunately we focus on the dirt. We focus on the negative. We focus on what is worst about others, and ourselves. News and social media often doesn’t help in this regard. Let us learn to focus on all that is good, in God, in life, in our world, in our church, in others, and yes, even in ourselves.

We learn contentment with the reality of things:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)

Here we are, back to a reminder that Paul’s situation was from from ideal as he sits in prison, dependant on others for the basic necessities of life. Yet Paul could speak of being content. Yes, things could be better. But yes, things will be better. The reality is that being a Christian is no guarantee of a perfect life. The reality is that in Jesus there is the guarantee of God’s perfect love. As bad as things could get, they can’t do anything but get better yet.

Things are less than ideal in our day. We have been living through an incredibly messy year. We should not act surprised. In fact we have been sheltered. Messiness is nothing new. One of the books I read this summer was “A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London,” by Daniel Dafoe. This book is a memoir about a plague that hit London, England, in the 1600’s. It put our current plague into perspective. Thanks to advances in society, we are in a much better situation now than then.

The first Christians knew what Paul knew; life gets messy. Following Jesus does not excuse us from the mess. In fact, as Paul also knew, following Jesus could get you into a bigger mess. Sadly, many believers around the world today know that all too well as persecution continues to plague many Christ followers.

Let us not fall to pieces when life is less than ideal, when the people around us, including ourselves, are less than perfect. Let us do the best we can, celebrate Jesus, grow in gentleness, trade anxiety for peace through prayer, focus on the good, and learn contentment. May we not fall to pieces, but as we walk with Jesus, let us watch how God picks up the pieces.

(The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)