Isaiah 43:18-19 “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?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.”
This is a dearly loved passage, set to music multiple times, but it still deserves meditation. When passages are very familiar we tend to take them for granted and not really think about what they mean for us personally. To me, the big thing about this is that virtually everyone carries emotional baggage to some degree. That’s actually part of what makes us who we are. When that emotional baggage provides a nice soft cushion when life knocks us down that can be a good thing, but far more often it’s a weight that holds us down, so we won’t be knocked down again (or so we think). The problem is, that ignores the Creator of the universe, our loving Father God who has good plans for us. When we remember the past, we need to focus on all the times God met us where we were and blessed us far more than we deserved. Everyone has such times, however much they might try to deny it. Part of the problem is that we tend to feel entitled to a trouble-free life, and when that doesn’t happen, we feel short-changed and resentful. Jesus told us flat out, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) Once we really get that through our heads, we can be pleasantly surprised that we have no more trouble than we do! God is saying here through Isaiah that He still does creative miracles, converting desolation to abundance. When we really get it through our hearts and minds that He can and does do such things, we start living life on the edge of our seat, looking forward to whatever God is going to do next.
This passage may be even more loved by Japanese Christians than by those elsewhere, because the history of the Church in Japan to this point is hardly glorious. When the Gospel first came in through the Catholics about 500 years ago it met with amazing success. Some of that was doubtless from wrong motives, but there were certainly many thousands who surrendered their lives rather than surrendering their faith. Because of such things as the Latin mass, which was memorized but not understood, just as Sanskrit Buddhist sutras are today, the “Hidden Christians” of the period of persecution didn’t propagate their faith, and syncretism and compromise took their toll. When the Catholics were allowed back in during the Meiji period, some of the Hidden Christians indeed rejoiced to recognize they had the same faith, but others focused on the differences and preferred to stick with their own traditions. Around that same time Protestant missionaries arrived. There were flashes of brilliance, but repeatedly, what seems in retrospect to have been genuine moves of God were shut down by people in authority who wanted to maintain control. That was exactly the motive of the Pharisees in opposing Jesus! My own family history of missions in Japan goes back to 1934, and it will continue at least as long as the Lord keeps me in this body. My parents did some fairly remarkable things, but even my father prostrated himself on the floor and cried out to God, “Lord, if I am standing in the way of revival in Japan, then take me out of the way!” I have total empathy and agreement with that sentiment! This church has been operating as a church for over 35 years, and yet current Sunday morning attendance is often less than 10. I have baptized over 50 people of various nationalities, and some are serving as pastors even now. However, if I focus on the “sparse fruit” of the past, I am likely to miss what God is doing right now. I want to be able to recognize the “new thing” that God is doing and participate in it, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for His glory.
Father, thank You for this Word. Frankly, at 71 the idea of “new things” doesn’t have the same ring it did when I arrived in Omura at 33, much less than when I got married at 20. Help me indeed remember and be grateful for Your abundant past mercies, but not let even them hold me back from what You want to do now, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!