New Season, New Start
The Bible is full of new starts. Not only at the beginning of something but repeatedly through the process as things that have drifted are brought back into line and into the centre of God’s plans once again. This can be clearly seen in individuals like Moses, David and Peter, and corporately in Israel as God sent Prophets to call his people to return to him and align themselves with His will. One such prophet was Isaiah who lived about 800 years before Jesus when the nation of Israel was divided and who spoke to the people of Judah, warning them of God’s judgement against their disobedience.
On New Years Day 2012 we looked at three aspects of Isaiah’s message in Ch. 43 where God offers Israel a fresh start and promises fresh blessings:
1. Deliverance in the past
God reminded Israel of his faithfulness in the past as a promise of faithfulness in the future. It was he that created them and redeemed them, therefore they should not be afraid (v1); Even as God led them through the Red sea, he promises now to be with them as they ‘pass through the waters’ (v2); God’s people are ‘precious in his eyes, and honoured, and loved’ (v4); Again, God’s people need not be afraid because God is with us (v5) and so on. They could, and we can, look back at how God has been with us in past difficulties and promises to be with us through future difficulties.
For some, 2011 was a year of joy & blessing – you got married or had a child or found a new job, or perhaps you became a Christian in the past 12 months; and yet for others it was a tough year as friends and family faced financial pressures or redundancy or bereavement or sickness. But whatever we go through we should remind ourselves God is with us. Difficulties are not a sign that God has abandoned us and although we may not understand the reason behind the trial, we must know this: whatever we go through, the Lord is with us in it – working out his plans & purposes. As we look at the past it brings encouragement & faith for the future.
2. Frustration in the present
Secondly, in this passage we see God expressing his frustration with Judah’s behaviour, their failings and lack of progress. While we celebrate God’s love and grace toward us, we should not conclude that he therefore approves of all we do. We are the same with our children, loving and accepting while at the same time expecting growth and progress. Perhaps we even feel this frustration with ourselves – wishing we were more than we are, making more progress and bearing more fruit.
Notice there are both things they don’t do & things they do that God challenges; (v22) ‘you haven’t called upon me...’ (v23) 'you haven’t brought me ... sacrifices’; also, (v24b) ‘you have burdened me with your sins’. For us, as for Israel, there are things that we need to stop doing: losing our temper, lust, gossip, laziness, jealousy and so on; and things that we need to start doing that perhaps we have neglected: meeting with God’s people as a priority, prayer, giving, sharing, forgiving and so on. As we enter 2012, what is God calling us to address? What do you need to stop or start?
3. Hope for the future
While there is in this passage difficulty in the past and frustration in the present, there is also lots of hope for the future. As we have seen, God is with his people & God will deliver his people once again. An interesting pair of verses are (v18-19) because having looked at the rescue from Egypt in (v16-17) God then says ‘forget the past’ – but hang on, it was you that reminded us! But the point is not, should we consider the past but how we consider the past, because looking at the past can either help you or hinder you in the future; regardless of whether the past was good or bad. As we have seen, if the past was bad, rather than allowing concerns about the future to becomes fears, we should look for how God has been with us and what he has taught us to give us faith for what is yet to come.
Similarly, if the past is good, we should thank God for it but we still need to look to the future. In Ecc. 7:10 we read 'Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions.' As we get older we can easily become sentimental about the good old days, and it easily tends towards negativity about today! ‘The church is not what it used to be’, ‘the worship is not what it used to be’ which is of course true! Today is different from yesterday; we are different, God is doing something different. The question Isaiah asks is whether we perceive it or are open to it.
This coming Sunday we will be starting a new preaching series called ‘THIRSTY’ about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Do you long for more of God in your life? Perhaps then, in preparation, there are things we need to leave behind and things to press into that we have a neglected. Let’s look to God for a new season; not just out there ‘in the church’, but a new experience of God in your life because as Isaiah puts it, ‘we are God’s people, bearing his name and made for his glory’.