"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They will SOAR high on wings like eagles…" Isaiah 40:31a
I feel as though I've been waiting... I've yet to see the eagle part. So high, so effortless, so majestic and regal. Eagles ride the wind, creating a visual treat for us observers below. Kind of intimidating? Waiting upon/ hoping in the Lord causes us to mount up just like those beautiful birds of prey. If you're soaringin such a fashion, bless you! You're the one the rest of us are watching and marveling at. If you're like me, you might feel as though you're "mounting up" on wings like a penguin; the only air you're getting is when you fly over a snow mogul on your belly.
"Eagle" comes from the Hebrew word, nesher, meaning "a tearer with the beak." They can live as long as 50+ years. (The record for a wild sparrow is 23 years.) God created these birds with a unique inner eyelid that allows them to see in extreme brightness and much farther than we can. When they mate - they mate for life, and the duo then shares equal responsibility for building the nest, caring for the young and gathering food.
Eagles are mentioned over 30 times in the Bible, sometimes describing how God cares for His children [Exodus 19:4, Deuteronomy 32:11-12], and often describing metaphorically the growth of a Christian.
If we wish to soar like the eagle, we must be willing to go through the molting process. While painful, it is necessary. It's true that some don't survive it, but those who do are stronger and more resilient than ever before.
The eagle's survival is largely linked to its feathers. They rely on their plumage to identify, insulate, protect and fly. As time goes by, oil and dirt will coat the feathers of the eagle, causing them to fray and inhibit them from flying like they once did. Calcium builds up on their beak and talons causing them to dull, thus altering their ability to hunt and provide food. While they build their nests high on mountain ridges far away from danger, for an eagle to endure this process of molting, they descend to the valley; to a cleft of a rock or cliff; to a cave.
Starting from the head down, the eagle will pull out up to two-thirds of all its feathers; removing the heavy, damaged ones and allowing room for new feathers to grow. Without its regal plumage, the eagle is rendered unable to fly. Returning to their youthful, eaglett-like appearance [Psalm 103:5], the bird can only hop around like a turkey. The process of shedding and regrowing can take five months.
Obviously, this process makes the eagle incredibly vulnerable. Because of their weakened state, they make easy targets for predators and are less able to fight disease or combat stresses. Some experts report that in such a weakened state, the bird who can normally spot dinner up to three miles away, loses its ability to tear - drying out its eyes and drastically diminishing vision. After removing their damaged feathers, the eagle will take his calcified beak and bang it against the rocks, chipping it until the weight is removed - he now must allow it to regrow and sharpen. The same goes for his talons.
Researchers have observed this rare event and noticed that in the weakened eagle's state, there was another eagle, always appearing older, who would bring food to the location of the molting one. The would scream as they circled over the site, alerting danger and shouting encouragement. De-feathered, de-clawed, and with a broken beak, unable to fly/hunt/provide the eagle then seeks out sunshine. The vitamins it soaks in from the warmth of the sun allow it to heal more quickly.
To soar with the renewed strength of the eagle, we must be willing to endure this painful and tedious process called MOLTING.
Go to the Valley
Many of you have quickly discovered that being a Christian isn't always a mountaintop experience. Molting always takes place in the valley - the cave - the cleft of the rock. Sometimes due to pride or self-sufficiency, we are unaware of our desperate need to descend. We feel as though we are fine just the way we are and don't recognize our need to be pruned so that we might be strengthened. Humility is key to this process, surrendering our strength to His purposes. Becoming vulnerable. Be willing to go to the valley.
What to Prune
During our molting process, we must be willing to let go of/pluck out of our lives the things that hinder us and weigh us down. Sometimes it's an obvious sin or temptation that inhibits our ability to soar. Other times, the thing we must be willing to surrender is our comfort zone - a relationship - a dream. Are you willing to remove whatever is holding you back and trust that God will make you better as a result? Although it's painful, will you pull it out?
This process isn't pleasant. It will be long. It will be painful. It will be lonely. At times, it will be scary. You will be completely aware of your vulnerability - of your "inadequacy." You will be defenseless to the predator, stripped of your former glory. Molting isn't for sissys. Sure, there are some who are content to be as they are, but if you desire to be stronger, better, more beautiful, healthier - then the pain is necessary. Paul speaks of such trial in Romans 8:18 and when he declares, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
More mature birds, the ones who've been-there-done-that-have-the-tee-shirt, are the ones who provide nourishment, warn of danger and convey encouragement. Seek out these old birds in your life. In your vulnerable state, draw on their victory. Allow them to help you. Consider what lessons you can learn from them and their time of molting in the valley. The Oldest, Wisest Bird of all is made stronger in your weakness. Allow Him to minister to you during this time. Note that the weak eagles didn't blame the strong one for their condition. They knew it was a necessary process they willingly entered into. When you're molting, don't blame The Bird for your condition. He is allowing what hinders you to be removed so that something new and better can grow in its place. He is shouting encouragement as He watches over you. Thankfully, He's never vulnerable or defenseless. Draw strength from spending time resting in The Son.
Renew Your Vision
As the old birds drop nourishment, the food makes the weak bird stronger. The nutrients help them regenerate more quickly. As a result, the tear ducts in their eyes begin to lubricate again. Vision is restored. After a period of darkness, I would imagine they look at things a bit differently than they ever did before. Maybe they appreciate things more. Maybe they see things they've never taken the time to notice. Maybe the draw in the tiny hand-drawn by God details of their mate. Don't allow the darkness to cloud your view of who God is, rather, allow it to sharpen your vision - realign your focus - renew your purpose - enhance your life. Celebrate the new vision (of life, ministry, testimony, family, etc.) God restores to you when the darkness is lifted from your eyes.
You will be renewed. You will be restored. You will be greater and stronger than you've ever been in your life. When you see with hindsight the end result, you will be in awe of God and forget the length and pain of the process. He always uses pain to reveal His strength and power in our lives (the life of Jesus was no exception.) While molting may take weeks, months or even years, rest assured that God is faithful and will complete the work He began in you. You won't be in the valley forever.
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If you feel like God is missing from your valley - consider the idea that He is circling over you in your vulnerable state, providing protection from danger and searching for ways to provide you nourishment that you can digest. He wants you to grow - to not settle for being the way you are - growth is a process and the process hurts. (Don't you remember those growing pains as a kid?)
I'm in the valley with you my friend. Do you feel ugly, ashamed, vulnerable, de-feathered? That's good… it means you're being pruned! I feel like a de-feathered chicken at the moment, but I trust God is doing a work in spite of it all. I wouldn't trade the end result for the world.
I challenge you this week to look for God outside of your valley (with blurred vision, it may be harder to find Him), but I reckon He's above you - watching out for you as you endure this process. If you dare, don't pray that the process gets easier or is over quicker, but that you grow stronger, faster, better, more complete in Him.
On wings like eagles,
You WILL Soar.