20. Leaving the Wreckage of Yesterday

“New Days” Meditations 20: Leaving the wreckage of yesterday

Lam 3:22,23 his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.”

This thought is too big to leave with one comment. Yesterday, the prophet says, may have been the most terrible day in your life. Today may seem equally bad, BUT the word through this aging prophet is, “God is still here with you in the middle of this mess, His goodness and His kindness is still here for you today.”

Now I am aware that it is easy to write or say such words but when we are gazing on the rubble of our demolished hopes, anguishing over the loss of a dream, scrabbling against the despair that accompanies apparent loss of hope, as we gaze on a seemingly black canvas of a future, to say “God is still here with you in the middle of this mess, His goodness and His kindness is still here for you today,” can almost seem trite.

But there is something else that can possibly help us; it is the truth that the apostle Paul wrote when he described God as, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,” (2 Cor 3:3). The cry might come out of the aching heart, “Why God can be this?” and the answer is because He has been through the most heart rending anguish and is not a stranger to it.

If we sometimes think, “No one else knows what I am feeling,” that is the untruth of anguish for, yes, others have gone through this for we live in a fallen world where pain and anguish (yes, all because of Sin through the centuries) are common experiences. Yes, this is the downside of being a human being and sometimes we have to grasp for verses to stop us sinking, such as, Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning,” (Psa 30:5) as we peer through the mists of pain and look for a light at the end of……

But God has been through this anguish. I think there was anguish in His heart when the Son left heaven to be born on earth. I think there was anguish in His heart every time He watched and saw His Son being rejected, and especially when He saw him being falsely accused and tried and executed. But I think the greatest anguish must have been when the Sin of the world fell on him on the cross and momentarily at least uniquely separated Father and Son as from the human perspective the Son cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34) Whatever we might have received from Him yesterday, today there is a new delivery! His goodness comes new every morning. Grace from heaven never runs out, as the modern song says. ”Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.” (Listen to “One Thing Remains” on YouTube and sing it strong!) We start singing weakly but as the truth sinks in, our spirit strengthens and revives. Hallelujah!

19. God’s faithfulness

“New Days” Meditations 19: God’s faithfulness

Lam 3:22,23 his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.”

In our considerations of all things ‘new’ in the Bible we turn away from the strong declarations of the Lord about His intentions to consider a most unlikely source of blessing, that of the anguish of a writer thought to be Jeremiah, in the aftermath of the terrible devastation of Jerusalem after its fall in 587BC. In the midst of his anguish comes this amazing faith declaration.

Our verse above speaks of ‘compassions’. Some versions speak of the Lord’s loving kindness and of this never running out. As we said, Jeremiah was writing in the aftermath of the total disaster of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Lamentations presents a most terrible picture of this battle-scarred landscape, the broken and burnt walls of Jerusalem littered with dead bodies. As he gazes into this carnage having seen the victorious Babylonian army carting the people of God off into slavery, the PROPHET (who sees the truth) declares, “How great your faithfulness!” as one version puts it.

What????? What is he saying? He is saying God’s kindnesses can be found new every morning – however bleak the future looks. This has to be one of the greatest statements of faith and of trust in God that can be found. To fully take it in we must consider some of the descriptions that come in Lamentations. Chapter 1 is about the people and the sin that brought this about. Chapter 2 focuses more on the fact that this is a work of God. Chapter 3 focuses on the prophet himself and the anguish he feels: “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me, again and again, all day long,” (3:2,3) and “He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. He has walled me in so that I cannot escape,” (v.6,7) and so he continues on in similar vein until v.21 “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope”, and then comes our starter verse: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Incredible!

Even more surprisingly he hardly mentions the physical state of the city. All we get is, “our eyes grow dim for Mount Zion, which lies desolate, with jackals prowling over it.” (5:17,18). No, it is all about people and the desolation they feel. Why? Because it all happened because of the people, because of their sin. It is in the face of this that he declares that the Lord’s kindness, based on His love, is new every morning. The incredible lesson is that however much we fail the Lord He is still there, looking to draw us back to Himself and continue to bless us. It doesn’t matter how tough the discipline has been, it is not Him rejecting us but changing us in order to restore us. Amazing!    

18. Confused Values

“New Days” Meditations 18: Confused Values

Isa 43:18,19 Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

If there is anything that we CHERISH from the past that hinders the Lord moving in us in the present, it is time to let go of that thing. Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37) When we come to Christ anyone and everyone, anything and everything, become second to allegiance to Christ. We ARE to love our spouse and our children, we are to love others, but the love for Jesus is to exceed all other loves.

When we do that he blesses us and our love deepens for others and for enjoying his world. When the person or thing acts as a brake on moving on with him into his new things, we need to readjust our values.

How does this fit these thoughts about not dwelling on the past? Well, so much of our apparent security – what we take to be our security – comes from what we have experienced thus far in life, i.e. our past. So it may be people, it may be position, it may be experiences, anything from yesterday that brings security in today.

Now of course much of the past may have to do with the Lord and the longer you have known the Lord, the more this applies. We were presented with the word of God and we responded to it, and we were blessed. We have come to know that we can trust the Lord.

Again and again in the psalms of David we see this – him declaring his trust in the Lord because of what he has learned of Him previously – and that is all good and proper. David’s greatest declaration of this trust in the Lord comes when he confronts the giant, Goliath. (1 Sam 17:37]. So yes, we are to hold on to what we have learned of the Lord in the past but the key question must always be, do I trust him and rely upon him now, today. Is the security of today that I have, now here with me in this moment in Him? Can I say, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” ? (Psa 118:24)

Do I have that sense of security, that today is a gift from the Lord and that as Paul told us, “we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” (Rom 8:28 Amp) Am I secure in HIS plan and purpose, that whatever good comes, it is Him working it for my blessing, for the blessing of the world, and for His glory and honor? Ponder those three things for they establish not only a sense of security in His calling but a sense of direction and purpose for every day. Today is a NEW day as we considered right at the beginning of this series. Let’s rejoice in it. 

17. Tradition can be a curse

“New Days” Meditations 17: Tradition can be a curse

Isa 43:18,19 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

I realize in treading the path I am on at the present, I may be causing some to feel uneasy, especially if you were one of those I referred to yesterday as a rule-following believer. Rules – or the Law – brings death the Bible teaches, while grace and the Spirit brings life. As a Bible teacher I want to affirm the Scriptures but our lives are to be word AND Spirit and if we put the emphasis on either one to the neglect of the other, we will be missing out and ‘life’ will be absent. Now I have to touch on another of those things from our past that may blight our present and stop us entering into ‘the new thing’ the Lord wants to do. It may be summarized as ‘tradition’.

“We’ve always done it like this” is possibly one of the biggest hindrances in church life to allowing the Spirit to move and bring new life. Tragically, I believe, this is so often linked with denominationalism – ‘it’s how OUR denomination does it’, and you see it across the whole spectrum of ‘the Church’. Tradition can be good and can act as an anchor sometimes, but when it comes to the life of the Lord through His Spirit, it is a killer! Distinguish between ‘tradition’ – manmade rules – and spiritual disciplines enlivened by the Spirit.

Tradition says, ‘this is how WE do it’ but what that does is cause a subtle division within the church – often not so subtle! Now I am absolutely certain that many really good spiritual leaders of groups, streams, or denominations or call them what you will, would be horrified to think this is what they have doing but, if by their emphasis on their own group, they create a sense of superiority that verges on pride, it is so often associated with the appearance of ‘high walls’ that make others feel inferior. It is very subtle this tradition thing. It can also exist in the one church standing alone, the church that is not subject to covering from apostles or prophets or in many denominations today, to modern-day ‘bishops’. Anything we hold on to which originates from our past that divides us off from other believers and makes new believers ‘narrow-minded’, has got to be harmful for the bigger purposes of God who sees no such divisions. In my own life, having passed through times referred to as the Charismatic renewal and later the Toronto blessing, tradition showed itself in some churches as that demand for ‘order’ so that if the Spirit was doing anything out of the ordinary – which meant anything contrary to what we’ve done before – then there was a clamping down on the moves of the unexpected Spirit. If we still hold such attitudes we will again miss whatever ‘new thing’ the Lord want to bring.   

16. Self-reliance or God-reliance

“New Days” Meditations 16: Self-reliance or God-reliance

Isa 43:18,19“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

We have taken the subject of forgetting the past into the realm of the way many have lived rules-based lives and in the previous study considered how we can do this to win acceptance and approval, as we see it.

Now we need one more hit at this subject of legalistic teaching, a thing to be put behind us. Why? Well, apart from the things we’ve already considered, because it makes us rely upon ourselves and our own efforts – and they so often fall short. Three points here.

First, it is exhausting having to constantly try to keep the rules, to constantly try to win acceptance and approval, it just brings an inner weariness that we come to accept as normal but is not supposed to be in the believer.

Second, apart from being unclear exactly what the rules or expectations are, as we saw in the previous study, it is often impossible to know when we have actually attained the required standard. I have witnessed the style of law-preaching that asks impossible questions of the congregation. e.g. “How much do you love God?” or “How committed are you?” Silly questions because you can’t give a definitive answer.

Third, not knowing ‘you have arrived’ or knowing you have earned the required acceptance or approval by attaining a certain standard, means that there is always this underlying – just below the surface – sense of failure and with failure, guilt.

These sorts of things were at the root of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The Message version puts it most eloquently: Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?” (Gal 3) and goes on about God’s work, “does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? i.e. trust in your own efforts, or trust in Christ’s work and the leading of the Spirit. The alternative? To be filled with the Spirit so we may become open to being enabled, changed, and gifted by the Spirit. This means to live and serve the Lord with all of His glorious enabling in a new supernatural dimension, a new world of inspiration and vision and hope where the blind are enabled to see, the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. Spiritualize that if you will but it still spells supernatural transformation. That, for most of us, although the New Testament norm, will be a ‘new thing’. 

15. More on Rule-Keeping

“New Days”  Thoughts 15: More on Rule-Keeping

Isa 43:18,19 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

We are continuing to observe things of the past that need leaving behind lest they hinder us in the present and stop us entering anything the Lord might be bringing that we may consider ‘new’. We have considered resolving issues from the past and went on to consider the legalistic rule-based teaching that many of us have received.

But we need to continue to confront the past legalistic teaching some of us have had (and maybe still receive) a bit more. The funny thing is (though it’s not so funny in its outworking) that some of us enjoy being given rules to follow (and the Bible has plenty of them) but ‘TRYING to be righteous’ is the ‘former thing’. Accepting you ARE righteous and living in the Spirit and in the joy and FREEDOM of that, is perhaps for some, the new thing that He wants us to enter into. Be thankful for your Bible-based upbringing but where it stunts your growth, your joy, and your freedom, ask the Lord to open your eyes to see grace-living.

One of the problems of rule-based living that needs to be left behind, is that the ‘rules’ aren’t always clear. Yes, they may be rules that are clearly declared by the preacher but they may also be cultural rules, things that as a community we not only find acceptable but require for acceptance within our community.

Ananias and Sapphira fell into this trap in the early life of the church seen in Acts. In Acts 2:44,45 we read, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  There seems to have been no instruction given, “You ought to sell your property so others can benefit” but a number of people of property were selling off property they did not need (not all of it, we would suggest otherwise that would have created another problem).

Those people were obviously held in high regard in the community generally and so the feeling became – in Ananias and Sapphira at least – that if you want approval and acceptance, you would be seen to be a generous giver. So they sold some of their property but held on to some of the income but not saying they held back some – which was fine in itself if they then hadn’t lied about it. This is the thing about rule keeping – it wants approval and acceptance and doesn’t realize that we ARE approved and accepted by Christ and, within the community of God’s people, although none of us gets it right all the time, we are to be accepted as we are – works in progress. Keeping the rules doesn’t make you more righteous in God’s sight, you ARE seen as righteous by Him because of what Christ did on the Cross.

14. Leave Rule-Keeping

“New Days” Meditations 14: Leave rule-keeping

Isa 43:18,19 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

We are pondering on this thought of not dwelling on the past but there is another aspect of our past I feel we need to consider. In fact it is a matter of life and death for some. That may sound dramatic but when it comes to examining this more carefully, we should see this is so.

A number of us, who have been brought up in good evangelical circles, struggle to cope with things of the Spirit, and maybe accepting new things the Lord might be doing, because we grew up in a ‘rules environment’. Indeed many churches still teach ‘follow the rules and be righteous’ rather than ‘here are the possibilities as we follow the Spirit’ because it is easier to follow rules – and easier to measure failure and feel guilty! Preaching-teaching that seeks to develop faith reveals possibilities in Christ. For many that is the ‘new thing’ we need to enter into before anything else new comes along. ‘TRYING to be righteous’ is the ‘former thing’. Accepting you ARE righteous and living in the Spirit in the joy of that, is perhaps for some, the new thing.

Let me come back to that comment about life and death I made earlier. I know some lovely Christian people whose background is evangelical and the strength of evangelicalism is that it holds such a high view of scripture and the calls upon us of the teaching found therein, especially in the New Testament. The weakness of this view, however, as I have suggested above, is that it becomes rules-based, i.e. this is what you ought to do or this is what you should do. Now as an end product those suggestions are correct, but it is how we get to that rules-based behaviour that is all important.

For instance, the Pharisees were rules-based but at one point Jesus referred to them as dead tombs; they lacked the life of God, indeed what they brought was spiritual death. Some of my evangelical good friends struggle with guilt because they have this list of things they ought to do but so often forget or fail, and guilt follows. I know of a minister who preaches righteousness by following the rules. He would never refer to it like that but that is exactly what it is – good lives by DOING the right thing and the evangelicals of the congregation love it – but it does nothing to further their joy in being a disciple of Jesus because a) they are so busy trying to get it right and b) they struggle with the guilt of not getting it right ALL the time. Those I observe growing in Christ are those whose lives are focused on their identities, of BEING a child of God. As they flow in the Spirit so the joy of the Lord accompanies them as life flows. If you are a rule-follower then balance it with knowing and having joy in who you are and the rest will follow

13. Painful Past

“New Days” Meditations 13: Painful past?

Isa 43:18,19“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

We need to stay with this thought about the UNRESOLVED PAST, issues that hinder the present. We mentioned hurts or failures. It is easy to talk about such things but not so easy to face them and, even worse, do something about them.

No, the fact is that we will want to shy away from such things, we don’t want to bring them up again. That is a natural response and it will only be with God’s help in God’s timing – and timing is important – that we will be able to do this.

Pain or guilt are things we could do without and if we have managed to suppress them until now, what’s the point of digging them up again? The fact is that if there is still pain and guilt lurking in the background of our minds, in our subconscious maybe, we may be holding it in and pretending it is not there, but a) that requires effort that weakens us and b) we are not allowing the healing Holy Spirit to do what He wants, we’re holding God at arm’s length in this context anyway.

Did you note the TWO things I mentioned just now, a) facing the fact of an unresolved issue in my life and then b) doing something about it. Both require courage because the natural defensive response we will have will, as I said, shy away from this painful area of the past.

I once knew a lovely Christian man in his middle age who, most of the time lived life with no problem, but every now and then something happened to trigger a major defensive response in him that meant he withdrew for a time from his wife, his family and his church. The truth was that he had been severely abused when he was younger and when that past rose to consciousness every now and then, he fled.

As this came to light and I prayed about it, the Lord gave me a picture. Suppose one day you accidentally fell against something very hot and burnt the upper part of one arm. You are in agony. Then some enthusiastic, over-faith-filled person comes and says, “Let me pray for your healing,” and goes to reach out a hand to touch the burnt area. What is out natural response? To leap away and scream, “Don’t touch me!” Past hurts can be like that and so, we have to not only pray but also ask the Lord for the right time to deal with such things and the wisdom to go about it. If you feel there is such an unresolved hurt in your life and you feel the time is right to deal with it, why not see if you can find a close trusted and mature Christian friend, explain these things, and together give these things over to Him and allow Him to heal as only He can. If necessary find a counsellor/leader who is sensitive in these areas

12. Resolve the Past

“New Days” Meditations 12: Resolve the Past

Isa 43:18,19“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.See, I am doing a new thing!

“Do not dwell on the past.” Well for some of us that is not a problem. Why? Because there are some of us who try to forget the past because of the bad things that happened, and that is natural, but there is a different danger here – that we struggle in the present with UNRESOLVED issues from the past. Maybe they were hurts or failures and we’ve never got God’s grace for Him to bring us to peace over them, and the truth is that as much as we’d like to forget them, we DO dwell on them from time to time, so they keep rising up.

We do need to resolve such things with His grace: hurts need forgiveness, failures need confession, and both need to hear again those words from heaven, “Fear not, I love you, I am with you and will never leave or forsake you.” The forgiveness issue is always clouded with having to regain trust, and that takes time, effort, and God’s grace. But we do need to face such things otherwise they continue to blight our present and our future.

For those of us who have never managed to resolve such things – and it often needs the help and prayers of another – we will struggle to receive God’s ‘new thing’ because there is so often that nagging doubt – ‘will God bless me with something like this in my life?’ The answer is yes, but we will be less inclined to reach out for it.

There is another aspect of needing to look back before we can look forward and that is summed up in the word ‘restitution’. Where our past lives have involved harming someone, probably financially, we may need, if it is possible, to seek to recompense that person or business for whom we have caused loss.

Zacchaeus is a good example of this. When he found the wonder of acceptance and had Jesus in his home, he declared “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Lk 19:8) Now there is no indication that Jesus had instructed him to do this, it was just a natural, spontaneous response of Zacchaeus to being loved and accepted by Jesus. He knew that in his role as tax collector and then chief tax collector, he had not always been scrupulously honest (probably a gross under-statement) and so now, he knew that if he was to respond whole-heartedly to this love of Jesus, he must seek to put right his past, as far as he was able at least. Hence the words we have above. Before we can move on into the future to receive all of God’s blessing, we need to do what we can to ensure we are right in our standing before Him, right now in the present – and in respect of the past.

11. Things to Forget

“New Days” Meditations 11: Things to Forget

Isa 43:18,19“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.See, I am doing a new thing!

I find myself drawn back to that word from Isaiah we considered before but now the words that preceded it, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” This is strange because there are so many things of the past that were good – how we came to Christ, for instance, the many blessings we have received in the past, all the good memories we have – and we have lots in the mix of our past lives. The truth often is that we don’t want to forget the past but we need to if it will hinder being open to something new the Lord wants to do today. Perhaps we need to pray for grace to let go of the past sometimes.

We will look at some of the things from the past in the next few studies but for the moment I want us to ponder on the action of letting go the past. It is – and I suspect you’ve never heard someone put it quite like this – a requirement to be a disciple of Jesus. Why do I say that? Think about what happened when Jesus chose his disciples in the Gospels. When Jesus calls the fishermen we read, So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Lk 5:11) We take it for granted but ‘everything’ includes the past.

For this unique little group of four fishermen it meant walking away and forgetting their livelihoods as fishermen – yet it is clear that later after the Cross, they still had a hankering to do it (Jn 21) and so it was only later events that swept those things away. For us Jesus doesn’t call most of us to walk away from our livelihoods, our jobs, careers, college courses etc. – although for some he will. Our call is to surrender our present to him for him to be Lord and Saviour and that therefore means a new way of doing things, forgetting how we used to live out our lives.  

But that’s the difficult bit isn’t it, breaking free from old habits, old self-centred thoughts and actions. We’re told the power of sin has been broken but the thoughts and habits hang around and we constantly have to grab the moment and, with his aid, declare I will not act like that any more, I will let grace and goodness flow, I will not think negative thoughts, I will be kind and gracious. In one sense we have to remember that we are born again but even more we have to remember that we are now vessels of the Holy Spirit who indwells us to help us. Perhaps the best way to forget the past and let go who we used to be, is to focus on today with the reminder, which we’ll look at in later studies, that we are new creations and with new goals, and that takes us into focusing on the future, where I want to go in life – and that applies as much to those of us who are a lot older as well as to those of us who are still young.