The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
Though they are the biggest and most powerful of creatures, it takes little strength to keep elephants with wanderlust in one place. All you have to do is, when they are young, occasionally put a bracelet attached to a ground stake on one of their legs; and then, for the rest of their lives, they’ll associate the feel of the bracelet with the inability to stray – and they won’t even try to walk off when they’re big and strong enough to pull out any stake, without half an effort. You can even get an elephant to stay put with a bracelet unattached to anything!
In the same way, we often let our past experiences limit, for no good reason, the possibilities we will seriously consider. We presume we can never do what we could not do before. We tell ourselves, for example, that we can never break free from some long-term habit, or never experience God’s presence and power as some do – even when our faith tells us that, with God, the past can’t keep us from the future He has in mind for us.
What is interesting is that it is not just our frustrations and defeats from the past that debilitate expectant hope for the future. Sometimes it is our greatest experiences of God’s grace. For we are then prone to tell ourselves that that’s as good as it ever will get – as if a no-limit God would ever be unable to top Himself! In other words, we lock ourselves in the remembrance of some past glory even in the face of God’s trying to convince us He’d like to bring about something we’ve never seen before!
In truth, to believe in God is always to believe that our best days are still ahead of us – and not only by virtue of our ultimate destination – but also in our journey there following the Lord who keeps moving our lives forward into greater freedom and value.
Seven hundred years before today’s scripture, back when God’s people were suffering under Egyptian slavery, God did something so marvelous to free them from it that many of them thought they’d never see the likes of again. God made for them a path to liberation through the waters of the Red Sea and then brought those waters down upon the Egyptian charioteers closing in on them to kill them.
God wanted them to remember that great deed; but God also wanted them to believe that He wanted to continue to do such deeds. God here promises that once more He would make for them a path to liberation, only this time it would be from Babylonian and not Egyptian enslavement, and this time it would be not by God’s pushing aside water to save them but by God’s bringing water to save them in a miraculous provision of “rivers in the desert”.
God is never done with being good to His people and never done with working wonders to free them for a better future. That’s why He tells them here not to “remember the former things or consider the things of old”. For, He says, “I am about to do a new thing”.
God is always about to do a new thing to move us forward and better our lives. Thus, we must never let the remembrance of past things suppress our pursuit of unprecedented possibilities for our future.
Let us never underestimate God’s ambitions for our life. God is right now dreaming such wonderful dreams about our coming into a new and better life that, if we saw them, we’d think He’s out of His mind. But nothing is out of the question for the God for whom nothing is impossible!
When Gordon MacDonald started running track in high school, his coach sat him down and showed him a notebook on which Coach had written Gordon’s name. Coach turned to the very last page which carried, as a header, a date four years from that day, and below which Coach had written a number of things. Coach pointed to them, and said, “Gordon, here are the races I’m going to schedule you to run in your senior year, and here are the times you are going to achieve.”
Gordon looked at those times, and his jaw dropped. They were impossibly fast for someone with the running capability he possessed at that moment. Noticing his disbelief, Coach started turning the pages of the notebook, page by page, showing a 42-month schedule of workouts and races, with faster and faster running times. It was Coach’s graduated, accelerated plan for developing Gordon’s speed as the months and years went by. Coach had a vision for the fulfillment of Gordon’s athletic potential and a long, steady plan for his getting there.
God has a vision for our becoming more and more like Christ in character and conduct, and a long, steady plan for our getting there. The end result may strike us as not just unprecedented, but preposterous. Yet, it is possible if we just keep trusting in God’s leadership and following God’s plan. Sometimes it is one step forward and two steps backward. Sometimes it is a giant quantum leap ahead in an instant. Most of the time, it is one step after another, year after year after year.
I love how U2 lead singer Bono describes His hope and commitment to become more and more like Jesus. He says, “Your nature is a hard thing to change; it takes time….I have heard of people who have life-changing, miraculous turnarounds in an instant, people set free from addiction after a single prayer, relationships saved where both parties just ‘let go and let God’. But it has not been like that for me. For all that ‘I was lost, and now I am found’, it is probably more accurate for me to say, ‘I was really lost, and now I am a little less lost for the time being.’ And then a little less, and then a little less after that. That to me is the spiritual life: the slow reworking and rebooting of the computer at regular intervals, and the reading of the small print of the service manual. It has gradually built me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”
It is so easy to get discouraged in this long, hard process of coming more and more to reflect the character and conduct of Christ. We dishearten ourselves with thoughts of how far we have to go, how little progress we’ve made, or how meager potential we possess.
We need to listen more to God. The Lord is telling us, “I am about to do a new thing in your life, if only you’ll trust me enough to let me. I am about to effect an unprecedented change in your character and conduct. Don’t sell me short – or yourself. I am like a coach who exhausts his runners in order to expand their endurance, and who breaks them down in order to build them back up better and stronger.”
God doesn’t give up on us. He has a vision of our future, and a plan to attain it. Let us trust Him and hope for unprecedented growth. Let us pray.