“I am doing a new thing…”

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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 43:19)

The Bible begins with the story of God creating a new world; It ends with His plans to make “a new heaven and a new earth.” And even though He is called “Ancient of Days” God is forever new. And Eugene Peterson made the inspired paraphrase (in Psalm 103), that we are “Forever young in His presence.

This quality of His existence is something He shares with His children. He is a “good, good Father” who desires that we each grow into the fulness of our own individual potential – and also that we discover together what it is to be the Body of Christ, growing as one. The point is, God wants to do new things in the lives of His children. He desires to teach us new truths about Himself, provide new opportunities for ministering to others, take us to higher levels of worship and deeper levels of trust.

However, as Dianne Neal Matthews writes: “Too often we’re like the Israelites when they were traveling in the wilderness. God promised to provide for them by raining down bread from heaven six days a week. He instructed them to gather only enough manna for each day, except for the day before the Sabbath when they were allowed to store up two days’ worth. When some of the people disobeyed and tried to hoard extra manna, it became rotten and full of worms by the next morning.

I’m like that sometimes. God wants to do new, fresh things in my life and in my ministry for Him. But often I try to hold on to yesterday’s stale manna. I don’t want to let go of what is comfortable and familiar—some old way of thinking, a certain way of doing things, my usual area of service to Him. I may miss new and exciting things God has planned for me if I don’t fully trust His guidance, even when He seems to be leading me down unfamiliar paths.”

So how do we stay fresh?

A real key is to start every single morning with the Word of God and to ask God to speak to you fresh from the Bible. God’s “compassions are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23), and He  longs to speak to you, to offer new understanding, fresh insights, and renewed strength.

The Psalmist tells us to “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Ps 33:3). Ezekiel announces God’s promise to give us “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek 11, 18, 36). Paul reminds us that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  And God says  “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5)

I believe that’s a powerful promise for us today.  Today on Day One of the New Year, I choose to put my trust in the God who makes all things new, and to acknowledge and receive that I am “always young in His presence”!

I know people like that. Their whole company is a radiance of smiles, a basket of freshly baked happiness. You want to be with them. It’s like the laughter at a restaurant table, just over there. Don’t you want to join them?

When Jesus was invited to parties, it was not so that he could be scathing or condemning but because he was happy and loving and generous with the reality of who God is. And “the common people heard him gladly”. Those who were  full of the sense of their own importance and religious self-worth just missed out completely.

As Sidney Carter put it, unforgettably, “I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees but they wouldn’t dance and they wouldn’t follow me.”

The invitation has gone out -It’s party time!- but few there are who get the joke and join in the laughter. We are invited into this wonderful experience of being “forever young in His presence.”

It’s seeing beneath the surface. Franz Kafka, despite many introspective and depressive traits, knew it full well: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” E.E.Cummings made a whole career out of that one insight.

“I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness.”

So exuberantly young in His presence!

But let’s face it, every follower of Jesus feels, from time to time, the need of restoration and renewal. The Apostle John told a church that they had “lost their first love.” Do you know how that feels?

We speak of “normal wear and tear,” when pricing a second-hand car, but in every aspect of our spiritual lives, there comes a time when you feel you have lost your “shine.” Sometimes there are seasons where you cannot praise, or pray… and some crazy visiting preacher bids you dance and you roll your eyes!

Ah, as William Cowper put it, in a lovely old hymn: “Where is that blessedness I knew when first I knew the Lord?”  Once upon a time, in the first flush of our relationship, I knew joy in the presence of God, but today, I’m just worn out.

He renews my youth…”

The verse here speaks of the renewing of something. I need a renewed vigour to face temptation; to take my stand against the currents of society. I need to return to the well and drink again.

In Mark 6:31, “ Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.

Isn’t that a wonderful picture of delicacy and understanding? Jesus totally understood the need for rest and renewal.

Besides the need for physical renewal, our emotional batteries need recharging. We may grow depressed, nervous, fearful, timid. We may grow cynical or world-weary.

Perhaps it was in such a context that Jesus told an old and sophisticated intellectual that he needed to be “born again.” The Kingdom of God belongs to children! And the free and natural attributes of the child are the very opposite of depressed, nervous, fearful or timid.

Sure, it makes you vulnerable. What baby isn’t the very epitome of vulnerability?  Jerry B. Jenkins said, “We don’t like to be seen as vulnerable, but isn’t vulnerability far better than cynicism?”

The answer is yes.

But, finally, that renewal of youth is said to be “like the eagle’s.” And that doesn’t sound vulnerable at all!

Was it a simile? Well yes, of course. We may say “crazy like a fox” or “slinking like a cat.” So did the Hebrew poets say “As youth-renewing as an eagle”? If so, what did they mean by it?

The same metaphor crops up in Isaiah 40:31, where “strength” is renewed and it is promised that we “shall mount up with wings as eagles.”

According to the South-Western Bald Eagle Management Committee (honestly): “In their five-year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird.” White fluff gradually greys and becomes spiked with brown and black over the first few months. The beak changes from grey-black to yellow. The early mottled plumage serves as camouflage, and the later white head and tail announce puberty. Fascinating.

So the key reference, it would seem, is to appropriate change. 1 John references how we grow from children to young men to fathers (1 John 2:12-14), with appropriate changes for the different phases. God provides for the renewal of his children as they mature. He renews us as He does eagles.. God reminds us that our new plumage (new feathers of maturity) is part and parcel of our natural growth cycle “in Him“; that He indeed is the one doing the work within us.

David prayed for this, in the wake of terrible disruptive sin, (in Psalm 51:10):  “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Paul acknowledged God’s hand over the whole maturing process: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  (Philippians 2:13) Philippians 4:13: “ I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

He also urged young believers to makes themselves available for the process of change: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. “Romans 12:1-2.

He prompted the church at Ephesus “…to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” (Ephesians 4:23) and the church at Colosse, to “…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Colossians 3:10.

 Let’s pray with John: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

Keep me Lord, in constant renewal and change, ready and willing, forever young in your presence.

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