God does not change. God is the same today as He was yesterday; He is the same today as He was one million years ago; and He is the same today as He was into eternity past. When Jesus arrived on the scene in the New Testament and lived and dwelled among us, He did not come down to our world to provide a different identity of God; He was fully and entirely, Himself, God. And while there can be moments where we question what God is/was doing--whether in the Bible or in our own lives--it does not mean God’s character has changed at all. While there may be certain things we do not understand about God, that does not mean God has changed in the way He acts or in who He is.
One thing that God makes clear through the Bible is that He is a way maker. He provides a way for us that would otherwise be impossible. In the Book of Isaiah, we see this clearly through God’s word:
“Do not remember the former things,
Nor the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
I think this passage speaks on the nature of God in a profound way, and illustrates His ability of creating a solution when there seems to be none. These two verses provide an interesting perspective on what God’s way looks like in a visual sense, but also in a metaphorical one.
1) Present faith and obedience
First, it is important to notice that God prefaces what He says with, “Do not remember the former things, nor the things of old.” (Isaiah 43:18). In many ways, I believe the Lord is speaking on the tendency we have as humans to sit on our past achievements. For followers of Christ, our testimonies are part of who we are, and represent the power and the goodness of God and should be talked about and remembered. However, what we shouldn’t do is look back so often and so fondly on our testimonies (any good thing/blessing or miracle God has done in our life) that we let it obstruct our view of God’s work in the present moment.
The God we serve is a Living God, and while we should not forget the things He has done for us--like as David writes: “Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me.” (Psalm 66:16)--we should also understand that He is still at work and is looking for our participation (and, funny enough, that may involve sharing our testimonies).
Moreover, God’s call to forget the former things and the things of old--in this facet of understanding--is something I do not think we should take lightly. We humans are naturally prideful, and any victory God has given us in the past can easily become a place where we start glorifying ourselves instead of Him. This scenario can have many faces, but the bottom line, and the question we must ask ourselves throughout it all, is: does it glorify Jesus? While God does say He will exalt those who humble themselves before Him (James 4:10), He is not saying that we are involved in that process of exaltation or in how it comes about.
If we are striving to use God’s victories in our lives to boost ourselves up or make ourselves look better in people’s eyes, then we are not seeking the glory that God gives, but rather, the glory given from man. This is a dangerous road. Even from a non-theological standpoint, pride clouds a person’s judgement and is a hazard to a healthy life.
In summation, when we look back on the things God has done in our lives, let us be grateful and give Him alone the glory--not allowing ourselves to forget His goodness and graciousness. At the same time, let us be vigilant and mindful of what God is trying to do right now, and be active in co-laboring with Him to carry out His will in this very present moment. Jesus’s words in this verse can be interpreted in countless ways, but I believe they ring true in this regard of being vigilant--and in the context of the passage from Isaiah--and are important to keep in mind: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). Jesus is alive and actively working. If we are to find the path He is wanting us to walk, then we have to follow Him closely; we will not see the new thing He is doing if we are so caught up in the things that have passed.
2) God can make a way through anything
Traversing this journey between glorifying God for what He has done in our lives, and participating in what He is doing now, is something we learn only by walking with Christ. And when we walk in-step with the Savior and are abiding with Him daily, then He will work out how we should approach such things. And it is by His direction that we properly navigate the “former things” and the “things of old,” enabling us to perceive the new things God is doing in our lives. Like the mustard seed and a tree, our faith is always being called to grow; stagnancy probably means we have stopped plowing and are looking back at something, rather than looking forward and following Christ in His work.
For God to do His work within us, He will oftentimes allow suffering in our lives that seems to have no way out. Without these difficult moments in life, we would not be able to grow in faith in the way God wants us to--we usually only look for a way out when faced with a circumstance that seems inescapable. For the Israelites, the examples in the Bible can go on and on: God delivering them from slavery out of Egypt, God splitting the Red Sea, God stopping the Jordan river from flowing, God helping David defeat Goliath… etc. If we are facing a situation in our life that seems inescapable or impossible to overcome, it is actually an opportunity for God to do His work and demonstrate His power for good. And we have this assurance that God is at work: “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?” (Isaiah 43:19).
Through whatever challenge we face, and whatever difficulty that presents itself against us, if we abide in Christ and walk out our faith in Him, then there is nothing that God can’t make a way through. This, as God states, will be a “new thing”; a blessing that will come by His design, and be something that we could not have come up with by ourselves. Of course, this requires us to trust in Him and keep our focus on the One we are following. This makes sense as to why God then asks, “shall you not know it?” If we are looking away and getting distracted, or remaining complacent and stagnant in our faith, we probably won’t perceive the work God is doing, or we might even inhibit the work He is trying to do within us. On the other hand, if we are remaining vigilant and attentive to what He is doing in our lives, then we will know that He is actively forming His way within us.
3) A road in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert
After re-establishing our focus to the present, and re-affirming the fact that He is making a way for us, God then describes the kind of blessing His work will bear. Bringing order out of chaos, and life out of death, God defines His way such as this: “I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19). In the wilderness, there is no semblance of order or direction given from the environment. And in a desert, there is a lack--or even an entire absence--of life, and a means of abundantly sustaining it thereof. Out of both, however, God promises to create a way through them. Where the wilderness lacks order, God creates a road for us to walk on and a path to follow. Where the desert lacks life, God creates a river that provides water and a current to ride in. Both are contrary to their environments, and both demonstrate exactly what God wants to do for each of us.
In any aspect of our lives that looks like a wilderness or a desert, God is calling us to trust in Him and witness the work He will do. That broken marriage you’re struggling with? That debt you’re facing? That troubled relationship you’re in? That diagnosis you’re dealing with? Those grades you’re disappointed in? That job you’re fed up with? That moment in your past that haunts you? That death you’re coping with? That depression and anxiety that’s weighing you down? Whatever is troubling you today, God is extending an invitation to trust in Him through it, and walk in the way that He has provided for you. And what is this way that creates a road in the wilderness, and a river in the desert? How can God possibly create a way through the things I am facing?
The Truth of the matter is, that God has already done so. The answer is in Jesus Christ, and in His words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6). Jesus is that way, and when He went to the cross and took the sins and burdens of this world upon Himself, He took your burdens too. But Christ overcame the world and is alive. In every instance of pain and suffering, Christ overcame. It is by His strength and power alone that we can have a river of life flowing through a valley of death, and a road of peace through a wilderness of chaos. All that is required is for us to believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and that He overcame death and is alive, and in doing so, we will bring God into our life, “For with your heart you believe and are justified, and with your mouth you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:10).
When we have faith in Christ through our troubles--though we may still find ourselves in a desert or in a wilderness--He is with us in them. God does not work within our hearts to simply remove trouble from our lives; God makes a road in the wilderness and a river in the desert. Jesus builds us up so that we may walk through the troubles we face, and while doing so, provide us with a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
And though the troubles of this world can make us doubt and cause us to question if God is truly at work, or if He is actually good--but God has not changed, and His promises still stand. His Word will remain, and He will deliver. Can we have the faith to let Him do His work within us? This journey of faith is not easy; but be encouraged, Christ will lead the way: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Amen.