“Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider 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)
Tonight, after our Wednesday evening church service, my wife and I spent some time talking to one of the couples who attend our church. The wife’s Grandmother was very good friends with my Mom. They were members of the same Southern Baptist Church that our family attended all my young life, and they they were coffee drinking buddies as well. Many were the times I would come home to find Virginia and my mother sitting in the living room of our home, drinking coffee and enjoying good conversation.
Life among our little community of faith was pretty idyllic. I did not realize it at the time, but in retrospect, all that was needed to make the whole thing seem like a Norman Rockwell painting was the obligatory New England backdrop. Fish fries and potlucks were our social life, along with church services, school, and family vacations, usually to see the Grandparents who lived in the deep South. When one of the men in the church had to put in a new drive way, the other men came and helped pour the cement and smooth it to perfection. I don’t remember contractors ever working at our church. The men got together and did what needed doing, while the wives pitched in and helped alongside.
It was a simpler time, before the days of personal computers, cell phones, iPads, or even microwave ovens. If you wanted a Chicken Pot Pie back in those days, you preheated the oven and waited for 50 minutes for your dinner to cook. I once told my son about that, and his eyes narrowed as he considered me before finally saying, “I don’t believe you.” It was denial. The truth is, he couldn’t imagine the horror of living in such backward times. But the truth is, it was pretty wonderful. There were no school shootings, children played outside unattended and without fear of their neighbors, and the family was a Dad, a Mom, their children, and maybe the occasional Grandparent or visiting relative.
Looking through the eyes of nostalgia is like being under anesthetic. Everything seems wonderful, but in reality, like anesthetic, nostalgia eventually wears off and you remember that there were challenges then too, and not every family was a snapshot from Father Knows Best. It’s easy to live with a filtered version of the past that makes our present times seem even more horrible and desperate than they are. Every generations looks with some measure of sadness on the new generation, as they see more and more of what made their world so wonderful vanish under the waves of progress and change. It’s simply the way of things, and as wonderful as “the good ol’ days” might have been, it is a mistake to assume that our best days are behind us.
I believe this is what God is telling the Israelites in this passage from Isaiah. It would be easy for them to look back at their glorious history and remember the mighty works God had done in former days, the might of their Kingdom under David and Solomon, or the magnificence of their miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and think, “I wish I had lived back in those days!” But for every generation, God has something special, and if we’re focused on what is behind us, we’ll miss what God has in front of us. We can lament the days when life was simpler and sip coffee till we die, or we can realize that God has an assignment for each and every one of us in the here and now. There is still a world to reach and a message of good news to proclaim to a hurting people. Our God, who lives outside the realm of space and time, never grows old or loses His edge. He is just as ready to work wonders in our day as He ever was in any generation that lived before. We can either answer the call or start window shopping for a rocking chair to sit around and reminisce our lives away.
When Elijah was discouraged, thinking his glory days were over, he ran to a cave on the backside of nowhere to have what could only be described as a pity party. No one appreciated him, the evil queen, Jezebel, had put a bounty on his head, and no one understood the pressures of being the last man standing for God amongst a nation of rebellious backsliders! There’s nothing like a good pity party to make the best of us act like drama queens! God met the discouraged prophet in that cave and asked him what He may very well be asking some of us today. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (see 1 Kings 19:13). After God reminded his servant that things really weren’t all that bad (after all, the entire nation had just been brought back to God a mere forty days before), he reassigned and realigned Elijah’s life by giving him a new mission. He would now mentor the next generation that would take over after his course was run.
When the day came that Elisha saw his mentor, Elijah, caught up to heaven in a fiery chariot, he grabbed the mantle of his former master and smote the waters of the Jordon crying, “Where is the God of Elijah?” The waters parted, and all who saw from afar realized that not only was there a new prophet in Israel, but that God had not gone out of business with the last generation. Indeed, God has a work that needs doing right here and right now, and we are the generation on the scene that must answer the call if the same power that marked our Father’s generation is to transform the lost world we live in today.