"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"
Isaiah 43: 18-19
Some people suppose that looking at what has happened in the past is a good indicator of what might happen in the future. After all, the ancient Greek idea of history is that history repeats itself. History is a circle. Same stuff, different day (or is it same stuff, different year?). Much of what happens in church life and even family life is seasonal and tied to the everyday events that we experience year after year.
But I have been struck by the passage above in the book of Isaiah (the second part, from chapters 40-55, was written while the Israelites were in forced exile living 800 miles away from home in Babylon). The Persian ruler Cyrus is even called the Anointed One here, as he is the one who eventually will release the Jewish captives to go home. At a time when spirits are down (and whose spirits among us today haven't been down this bitterly cold winter!) the people are called to face the future with hope. And during these Servant Songs in Isaiah (chapters 40-49), the prophet even gives us a further look forward, not only to his servant Israel returning to its homeland but to the road that will lead to the ultimate Servant and Anointed One, Jesus.
The Hebrew idea of history is not like the Greek notion; rather than a circle, it is like a geometric ray (if you can remember back that far to high school math!). History is directional - it is pointed forward, not looking back. There is a destination and goal in mind, and the Lord is the author of our destiny. We catch glimpses of it as it "springs up," but it still remains mostly hidden as it unfolds over time. The future of our lives is unfolding and it is largely one that we could not have predicted several years ago. But I am also aware that our future lies squarely in the Lord's hands. The message of the exile prophets, called to proclaim a word of hope during desperate times, is that God is a future oriented deity. God is always getting us to look forward, not backward in lament, or around us in despair. The Lord is concerned about opening up new possibilities for us, not on watching us dwell on the past, or brood about the present. Listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah: '"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer. 29:11).
So while you are waiting for the calendar to quickly turn to days of warmth and spring, may you also keep your eyes open to watch and see the Lord doing a new thing in your midst. God wants us to focus on what God is doing now, not on what the Lord did in the past ("the former things"). Just as God was preparing a New Exodus from Babylon for the people of ancient Israel, God is preparing to deliver His people today. The Lord wants us to expand our vision to see that a new miraculous act of God lies ahead. Are you ready? Do you not perceive it?
- Manzinger is the pastor at The First Baptist Church of Williamsport, an American Baptist Church