Trusting God along the Eagle Trail: Isaiah 40:31

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“How hard could it be?” my husband and I joked, downplaying the warning of hiking difficulty at the head of the Eagle Trail. We were morning fresh, caffeinated, and ready to explore the beauty of Door County, Wisconsin.

A park ranger had suggested a half mile loop, starting high on a hill and winding along the scenic Green Bay shoreline. We started down a set of perfectly laid stone steps, expressing our approval for the gradual descent and nicely paved path.

Just a few side notes worth mentioning here before we continue. One, never mock a difficult trail sign. Two, no matter what amount of distance you estimate hiking, an empty hand should always carry a water bottle. And, three, for me, if an eagle is involved there is usually a reason. 

It did not take long for us to realize that those easy, well-kept steps were simply a deceiving welcome mat of sorts. After our descent, we crossed a threshold. Our man-made steps ended and we entered a home in disarray – a beautiful mess of a home called the forest. As the new definition of “difficult trail” dawned on us, a favorite Scripture verse replayed in my mind. I smiled, knowing God had just opened up his classroom door for us.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 New Living Translation (NLT)

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

Life is a lot like this Eagle Trail, I think, as I gingerly maneuver through piles of moss-covered rocks, climb over fallen trees, and stumble over a network of roots. Like this trail, life presents an obstacle course, and we have to figure out how to maneuver through it.

We naturally lean towards cutting our own path because we think we can control the outcome that way. But, a lot of the time we end up more lost, tired, and confused. Often, it is then, at the end of our own resources, we look up and see God’s signage marking a trail.

Trusting God to supply new strength requires studying his Word, conversing with him through prayer, and patiently watching for his direction. We cannot expect results overnight; sincere relationships take time, practice, and awareness. God waits. He waits for us to make the choice to diligently seek him, and when we do, he provides us with new strength to follow his lead on life’s difficult trails.

In the Bible, the eagle often symbolizes God’s renewal of strength. It is uncertain how many distinct species of eagles there were in Biblical times, but at least four types exist in Israel today.* Eagles, in general, are some of the largest and most powerful birds of prey. Eagles are also unique from other birds in that they molt or shed their feathers in old age, thus appearing to renew their youth. In Biblical times, the commonality of eagles, coupled with their notable characteristics most likely yielded the comparison of God’s strength to the eagle.

They will soar high on wings like eagles.

Following the trail toward the water, I imagine what it would be like to soar like an eagle. Certainly, God would love for us to feel that free. Trusting God with our worries and fears, allows us to soar above trouble and freely discover the purposes he has planned for us. 

The eagle uses a lot of energy when it flaps its long wings, so catching wind currents and gliding are very important for conserving strength. Eagles patiently wait for warm updrafts of air before lift off. Using their powerful wings, they climb 10,000 to 15,000 feet high then soar for hours with minimal effort. The eagle trusts the wind to carry him; this Scripture reminds us to trust God to carry us. 

Eaglets learn to fly by hopping around in their nest and then taking short flights to neighboring branches. Some eagle parents force their babies to fly by messing up the nest until they tumble out. Opinions vary on whether the eagle parent sometimes swoops below and catches the fluttering eaglet on the platform of their long wings. Whether or not this happens, the eaglet continues returning to the nest to try again until it learns to soar. The nests of our lives certainly get messed up sometimes. Maybe God allows this so he can teach us how to fly as well?

 

They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Reaching the rocky shoreline, we marvel for a moment at the strength of the waves and listen to them crash mightily at our feet. Our best guess tells us we have accidentally strayed at least a mile past the park ranger’s half mile loop suggestion. Our morning freshness and caffeine have worn off. We wonder if we will come across a porta potty in this forest.

Continuing on, we occasionally meet other humans navigating their way on the trail. To my chagrin, most carry water bottles and walking sticks. “Did you come from the parking lot?” we feebly ask. “How long did it take you to get to this point?” “Does the path get any easier?” Looking at the cliffs above, we expect a steep climb up to the parking lot. What seemed like a hill starting out now appears to be a mountain!

We laugh at ourselves, and with the other hikers at our predicament. We know we will eventually reach our destination, find a bathroom, and drive to town for a slice of Door County’s famous cherry pie. There are times in life, however, when the length and the outcome of suffering is not so certain.

There are times when the only thing we can do is pray hard for strength to continue through each day. Strength to run and not grow weary. Courage to walk and not be faint. When we experience difficult days, we pray God will send us a trail sign or hope to cling to. On this Eagle Trail, I think about how in my life, when I needed strength and reassurance, God sent me to the Scripture verse Isaiah 40:31.

I love birds, especially eagles, so maybe that is why this Scripture captured my attention when my daughter became very sick with Crohn’s disease. Repeating it in my mind when I felt at a loss for how to help her pulled me through some tough days. Once, after visiting her at college and having to leave her there seriously ill, I merged onto the interstate and my eyes flooded with tears. I repeated Isaiah 40:31 under my breath, then happened to look up and see an eagle flying overhead. My tears stopped as my mind worked on comprehending this. I felt reassured that I could handle the drive home and whatever else I needed to do that day.

Eagles continued making appearances in my life during the worst of my daughter’s illness and since then. Last spring we moved into a town home with a walking trail behind it. One of the first evenings my husband and I went for a walk, a new neighbor pointed out an eagle’s nest high in a tree behind our house. “Be sure to watch for them,” he said. “Their babies will be hatching soon.” Coincidence or God’s reassurance for me?

The way I see it, a relationship with God helps lift us above this obstacle course we face on earth. He helps us learn to soar without worry. He is the wind that carries us so we do not tire. He asks us to trust his keen eyesight which sees miles ahead, foreseeing danger and assuring our good. If we have faith, we will always be strong enough to find our way along the Eagle Trail.

 

P.S. The day after our hike on the Eagle Trail, we received a troubling phone call from someone in need of our help. I was on the phone as we drove down an empty stretch of winding Wisconsin highway. My husband tapped my leg and pointed to the sky. An eagle, wings stretched out strong and wide, drew soaring circles in our sky. 

A Prayer for Your Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for your reassurances when life gets hard and messy. Your Word speaks to my heart and brings me strength to continue. Help me to remember that you see what is ahead, and that your plans always work for my good. Plant your hope firmly in my heart and lift me up when I am tired. Show me how to soar above concern and find joy through knowing it is all under your control. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

A Few Other Scriptures Referencing Eagles

  • “He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” Psalm 103:5 New Living Translation (NLT)
  • “..like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” Deuteronomy 32:11 New International Version (NIV)
  • “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19:4 NLT
  • “How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! They were together in life and in death. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.” 2 Samuel 1:23 NLT
  • “Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar.” Job 39:27-29 NIV

Inspiring Eagle Resources 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eagle facts here 

Bald eagle frequently asked questions and answers here

Are eaglets really carried on their parents’ wings when learning to fly? Some say yes, some say no. More here

Commentaries on the Bible verse Isaiah 40:31 here

*Species of Eagles in the Bible here

Related Posts on Trusting God for Strength:

Prayer Walking in the Wilderness

Where is God when Life Hurts

Learning to Pray

Riding on God’s Back

Learning to Pray

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They’re prayers. Post-it note prayers – folded brightly colored squares, inscribed with a date, and tucked away in a simple wooden box. They tell a story, those prayers, of the pain and the struggle inflicted upon someone I fiercely love – my daughter. Only God remembers the exact words my broken spirit scribbled on her behalf and placed in that box several years ago.

When someone you dearly love is hurting, you go to the ends of the earth to save them. You buckle in and ride the scariest roller coaster of your life with them. You look to everyone and everything you can think of for answers. And, you may even surprise yourself by fervently learning to pray.

Shortly after starting college, my daughter began a slow decline in health. She became extremely fatigued and her joints ached. She felt anxious, depressed, and sometimes her stomach hurt. Concentrating and making sense of assignments became very difficult. She suffered from the effects of vertigo and anemia. Doctors assessing the symptoms offered a wide range of diagnoses and sent us to an even wider array of specialists. We tried natural and prescription treatments. She took a medical leave from school. It took a full year and an intestinal stricture (narrowing of the colon) to finally discover the right diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease.

Crohn’s is an elusive bandit. It sneaks up on you and robs you of your capability to live a normal life. Difficult to catch in its early stages, it tricks even the most seasoned doctors into blaming different culprits. Eventually, however, its damage can no longer hide – all the clues make sense. Gastroenterologists properly identify it, and then the slow process of managing it can begin.

If you ask my daughter now about the months when her symptoms were their worst, she would tell you she does not remember much about that time. And, I would tell you that is one of God’s blessings to her – erasing the depth of her pain. God’s blessing to me – learning to pray. When someone I love started hurting, I suddenly became a very eager student. A few things I have learned about prayer:

  • There are no magic words. Nobody prays better than someone else. God is not waiting for the perfect prayer; he simply wants to hear from us. Talk to him like a friend. If it hurts too much to find the words, then just be quiet with him. He hears what hurts too much to say.
  • Give him the details. When my kids were babies, I came up with a mantra of sorts that I would sometimes say to them as I tucked them in, “May God bless you and keep you happy, healthy, safe, and kind.” While there is nothing wrong with offering up a general statement like this in prayer, God also wants to hear the nitty gritty details and desires our lives.
  • Pray throughout the day. Prayer is often seen as a reverent activity, reserved for a specific time and place, and carried out in a formal manner. Ritualistic prayers are meaningful, but may not bring us as close to God as informal, ongoing conversations throughout the natural course of our days.
  • Pray in different ways. Prayers can be written on post-it notes, spoken silently or out loud, written down in a journal, or thought about on the treadmill. There are sites online to request prayer from others and prayer ministry services offered at local churches. Reading the Bible, memorizing Scriptures, or applying daily devotionals also spur prayer in different ways. Trying out various approaches helps us discover which ones we are drawn to.
  • Think about the A.C.T.S. prayer model.  A.C.T.S. is an acronym for a prayer model referenced by many Christian authors. It is not a set formula to follow for every prayer; it is simply a guide for remembering important elements to include in our prayer life. A.C.T.S. stands for:

Adoration = praising God for all he has done and all he provides

Confession = expressing regret about words, thoughts, or actions which do not please God, while asking for forgiveness and strength to improve

Thanksgiving = thanking God for his love, grace, protection, and many other blessings

Supplication = asking God to help meet the needs of yourself and others according to his will

  • Listen for answers. Tossing up prayers seems simple, listening for answers is hard. God speaks in a multitude of quiet ways – through nature, other people, events, feelings, and gut instincts, to name a few. Hearing his answers, and not our own assumptions, requires stillness and practice. Allow time for an answer to become clear. Watch for confirmation in your daily interactions and happenings. Consider questions like these: Is the answer consistent with the teachings of Scripture? What do people I trust have to say about it? Do any actions required line up with my God-given gifts? Is it an answer that is God-serving rather than self-promoting?
  • Wait patiently. There is no guarantee that prayer will deliver the answer or timing we desire. God does not promise to take away our problems, but he does promise to bring us through them. He does promise to work all things together for good. Prayer helps us wait patiently for hope to arrive.

“Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.” -George Matheson   

Learning to pray sounds easy, but for many of us it takes something very hard to make us start.

I don’t plan on unfolding the post-it note prayers. That story was written from my heart to God’s heart, and it belongs to him. I pray and thank him for so many things now, everyday kind of things. And, I try harder to listen to what he has to say.

Learning to pray was a process that came out of desperation for me. I tried every solution my rational, but fearful mind could think of first. Assurances of well-being for my daughter and myself came only when I stopped trying to run the show and asked God for help.

My words were not fancy. Woven from the ache of a mother’s heart, they were written on sticky paper and placed in a box. Looking back, in my mind’s eye, I see Him unfolding my notes and reading each one with care – much like I would with one written by my own child. He presses them close to his heart and pulls me near. His embrace brought me comfort. His Word brought me faith. Somewhere along the way, I learned to pray.

IMG_0689Scriptures about Prayer:

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12 New International Version (NIV)

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26 (NIV)

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12 (NIV)

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for being patient as I learn to pray. Help me find words to express my joys and my struggles.  Remind me that you are interested in the details of my story, not just a summary. Be present with me throughout the day, in every way. Guide me in finding new ways to pray and encourage my worship through the elements of prayer. Teach me to listen intently so that your direction becomes clear. And, please bring me strength when I wait patiently for hope. To you, all glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Additional Information:

Connect to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America Website here

Information about the diet which helps manage my daughter’s symptoms here