Not that, but this: preparing for 2021

Happy New Year! And I really do hope that this new year is a happy, blessed, encouraging year for you. We need it!

I have to be honest – it felt really good to type 2021 at the top of this blog, rather than 2020. What a year! Every year brings change – good things and bad, challenges and blessings, victories and defeats, but wow … 2020 selfishly packed more challenge into it than any year should do in a lifetime!

But what I find most important is that we learn how to interpret our circumstances through the lens of God’s character rather than interpreting God through the lens of our circumstances. That is, God is faithful – all the time, and He is good. When we go through these difficult periods – or years – we are often tempted to question God – Lord! Where are you? Rather, we should question our circumstances.

Remember, Corrie Ten Boon reminded us that we can entrust an unknown future to a known God. In truth, we don’t know what will happen in 2021, but we do know that our God is good.

Not that, but this

As we kiss this past year goodbye, I’ve been thinking about what we should be thinking. That is - what should we be thinking as we say ‘good riddance’ to 2020, and what should we thinking as we say ‘hello’ to 2021? As we come to the end of this year, and as we stand on the threshold of the new year, what thoughts should be going through our minds? How should we interpret the past? How should we prepare for the future?

Thankfully, scripture does not leave us guessing but provides good guidance for processing that which has been and preparing for what is coming.

Don't think like that

Isaiah 43 is a great chapter of testimony to God’s faithfulness. More than beautiful words, these are covenantal promises of protection (vv. 3-4).; God is reminding his people about his perpetual faithfulness to them, especially when through judgment he sends them into exile in Babylon, though he promises to bring them back (vv. 5, 14).

But then, to top it all off, to highlight his present power, the Lord reminds his people of his greatest act of deliverance in the Old Testament – the exodus form Egypt:

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick (vv16-17).

It is in this context – in light of God’s GREAT deliverance from Egypt, that the Lord says:

Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? (vv. 18-19).

After reminding his people of the greatest deliverance they had ever known, he tells them not to think about it. What's up?

The point is that God is going to bring about a deliverance GREATER than the one He accomplished in Egypt. And for his people, especially once they were carried into captivity in Babylon, this is really encouraging. There are many places in scripture where God tells his people to remember his deliverance, but here he is reminding his people than He can do greater things than what he’s done. And he eventually does – through Jesus.

And this is a word that God’s people need to hear today. Sometimes Christians look back on some previous period, some mythical ‘golden age’, thinking of these as the glory days, doubting that God will ever do anything so great again, at least in their lifetimes. And that’s when the Lord says – don’t call these former things to mind. God’s point is simply this: Don’t limit him by what he’s done in the past. There are new things God is going to bring to pass. Trust him.

Think like this

And this brings us to the thing that we should be thinking, the instruction God gives us of what to proactively bring into our minds. Lamentations is a dark book, filled with pain and lament at the destruction of Jerusalem when God judged Judah because of their incessant idolatry, eventually sending them into exile. For example, Jeremiah says, ‘My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people’ (3.48).

In 3.17-20, Jeremiah describes the dark condition of his soul: ‘my soul is bereft of peace’; ‘I have forgotten what happiness is’; ‘My endurance has perished’. Upon remembering all his pain, he finally says But this I call to mind... And what does he call to mind? This is the beautiful thought that fills his heart in this midst of his pain:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3.22-23).

In the midst of his darkest darkness, Jeremiah trained his mind to gaze upon God’s goodness and to remember the Lord’s faithfulness. God’s mercies are new every morning: ‘The Lord’, says Jeremiah, ‘is my portion; therefore I will hope in him’. And the good news for us is that, like the manna perpetually available in the wilderness, God as our portion is a feast daily spread before us.

Circumstances may cloud our perception, but they don’t change God’s character: the Lord’s steadfast love is a banquet to which we are invited every morning; his mercies never cease being available for us to enjoy. But sometimes our circumstances blur our perception of God's provision. Our challenge is to turn our gaze beyond the dark clouds in our soul to the brilliant rays of God’s faithfulness, waiting to break in with hear-warming encouragement.

What to do

So what do we do this? Very simply, as we enter a new year, we learn what not to think, and what to think. We learn not to think that God is finished being great in our lives; we learn to think that God is perpetually showering us with his love and mercy.

Whatever else may or may not happen in this year of 2021, we can take solace in God’s promise that through Christ, and in Christ, He is our portion – the good portion, the best portion – perpetually available as a daily feast to nourish and strengthen and encourage us. More than that, we move forward with faith in the God who promises to do new things, daring to believe that He has more, he has better, he has new for us this year.

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