Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
I know that the new year begins on 1st January, but over the years I’ve been involved in churches, September has felt as much of a fresh beginning as January, maybe more so. Perhaps that’s because so much of what we do, and the programmes we run, are shaped by the academic year more than the calendar year?
Anyway, I have had these words of the Prophet on my heart over the Summer, through which God was encouraging His people to “Forget the former things; [and] not dwell on the past.” (v.18) What were these former things? According to the preceding two verses, Isaiah is referring back to the exodus, when Yahweh “made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” and then “drew out [Egypt’s] chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick.”
Well, that all sounds pretty good to me, and certainly worthy of remembrance and celebration! Had they now to forget this momentous act of salvation? Not exactly. The Prophet is emphasising how amazing this “new thing” will be, that by comparison, the exodus will fade into insignificance. So, what is this “new thing”? In the immediate context it is, of course, the defeat of Babylon and the restoration of His people Israel from exile. But Isaiah’s distant gaze is always upon the coming Messiah, and the ultimate salvation for all people. Amazing indeed!
As the holiday period draws to a close, and we start into the new term, I wonder if we are excited by what God is going to do next? Are we launching into our programmes with eager anticipation, or with a sense of déjà vu? Are we optimistic that God is about to do a “new thing”, or desperately trying to keep the existing things going? I don’t doubt that our “former things” have been great, and really fruitful for the Kingdom. But maybe God wants to do something new?
My hope and prayer is that each of us would experience “streams in the wasteland”, that will give rise to new shoots and fresh pastures. And that we will see our Saviour, whose “mercies … are new every morning” (Lam 3:22-23), at work in a fresh move of His Holy Spirit, revitalising our churches and transforming our communities. Amazing indeed!
With love in Christ,
Neil Le Tissier