The Lament of a Delayed Promise

Listen to me, all you in distant lands!
       Pay attention, you who are far away!
The LORD called me before my birth;
       from within the womb he called me by name.
He made my words of judgment as sharp as a sword.
       He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand.
       I am like a sharp arrow in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel,
       and you will bring me glory.”
I replied, “But my work seems so useless!
       I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
       I will trust God for my reward.”
And now the LORD speaks—
       the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
       who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The LORD has honored me,
       and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
       I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
       and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
The LORD, the Redeemer
       and Holy One of Israel,
says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,
       to the one who is the servant of rulers:
“Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.
       Princes will also bow low
because of the LORD, the faithful one,
       the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:1–7 NLT)

Many of us have felt the pain of Isaiah’s lament: “I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.” When the joy and fruit of our labors are so far removed from the work itself that it can be difficult, or even impossible, to see them, we can easily lose heart and give up. Take, for example, the work of Jadav Payeng, a native of the Indian island of Majuli, the largest river island in the world. Since 1979, Payeng has been planting at least one tree a day on the island, specifically an area of the island that over the decades had become a large, desolate sandbar, gradually giving way land to the river through erosion. With this monumental task in front of him – building up a sustainable habitat and preventing further erosion – he has remained focused for the past forty years.

Fortunately, he has been able to see the fruits of his labors. What was once an empty sandbar has become a forest larger than New York City’s Central Park. Better yet, the animals have also returned. A herd of roughly 100 elephants spend a portion of the year in this forest, which is also home to Bengal tigers, rhinos, deer, rabbits, monkeys, and a variety of birds. Because of this one man’s dedication and daily efforts, 1,360 acres of barren landscape is now a lush forest teeming with wildlife.

When we are feeling Isaiah’s lament, it’s important to hold onto the entirety of verse 4: “Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” Isaiah was not privy to see the restoration of Israel to God or the Lord’s salvation reaching the ends of the earth, but he remained faithful by trusting in God and his promise of the Messiah. We would do well to do the same, especially since we already know and have experienced the power of the promised Messiah and his Kingdom, even if the fullness of his reign is still yet to come.