O my God,
grant that I may so wait upon thee,
that when quick decision and action are needed
I may mount up with wings as an eagle;
and when under direction of thy will
and the needs of the people
I have to keep going under pressure,
I may run and not be weary;
and in times of routine and humble duty,
I may walk and not faint.
For all my fresh springs are in thee,
O God of my strength.
George Appleton (1902-93)
THE vivid imagery of Isaiah 40.31 resonates through this prayer, beckoning the weary to find renewed strength in God. It is not a prayer that flows easily: rather, its lines reflect the relentless effort of just keeping going.
It rings true to human experience, as we all grow tired and strained, sometimes through the drudgery of routine, sometimes through the burden of supporting those who are in our care.
It speaks to us when the expectations of others are high, and the consequences of decisions are great. How beautiful, then, is the vision of soaring as an eagle, running without weariness, and walking without being faint.
George Appleton understood these pressures; more importantly, he knew where to look for help. As a priest in the East End of London, a missionary in Burma, and as an archbishop — latterly in Jerusalem, at a time of religious tension and the Yom Kippur War — he would have known that his own strength was insufficient for the tasks at hand.
Peace-making demands an unbiased compassion for those on opposing sides. It requires the sharpened perspective of eagle eyes that cover all angles with unclouded vision; and it is marked by a brave willingness to upset vested interests, and to act decisively, but with reserves of patience and grace.
The latter verses of Isaiah 40 have always been popular with the Royal Air Force. The eagle is on the cap badge: flying higher than other birds, it signifies speed, effortless agility, penetrating focus, and fearlessness. Yet the spiritual truth outlined by the prophet is equally relevant across each of the Services.
All sailors, soldiers, and airmen or -women recognise times when they reach the limit of their own resources, and when to go the extra mile (again) is almost too much.
Their work on operations, seeking to bring security and stability as a force for good, calls for a high degree of moral and physical courage. The need for a sense of urgency, the very real danger, but also the summons of “humble duty”, while serving in a potentially hostile environment, sharpens for many the spiritual antennae, in a way that must have been understood by the early Desert Fathers.
It follows that our young troops, although not especially religious, are generally open to all the help they can get. The experience of military chaplains is that, in times of conflict, when the chips are down, there exists a deep spiritual undercurrent among our troops which recognises the value of faith, and the power of prayer, especially at times of fear and loss.
The great challenge for military chaplains — but true in other fields of ministry, too — is to wait for the Lord: to wait like the watchman of Psalm 130 and Ezekiel 33, calling out, reading the signs, speaking into lives and situations with God’s word, watching and praying as Jesus directed his disciples.
Of course, to wait on God can be hard and lonely work, especially when there is unwelcome news. It may seem counter-intuitive to listen for his voice when the heat is on, and pressures of work, health, or relationships appear to be all-consuming. The temptation may be to fly away, or to run before we can walk.
This prayer, however, speaks confidently of God’s grace in the midst of tension, and of reviving springs, even in arid times. It reminds us to draw strength from the one whose understanding is infinite, and who never grows tired or weary.
The Ven. Jonathan Chaffey is the Chaplain-in-Chief of the RAF.