I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Do you ever find yourself caught up in the excited prospect of a coming New Year – those frenzied days between December 26 and 11:59:59pm December 31? The ones filled with parties, resolutions, well-wishes, gazing expectantly at the clean first page of that brand-new journal just waiting to be filled with new hopes, dreams, experiences? In many ways, it can seem a multi-day recess period.
Then the ball drops. And for a majority of us – truth be known – it drops with an unsettling thud, the echoes of which can shake a person right down to the very core of his or her soul as reality sets in. There’s after-party clean-up – in more ways than one. Memories of the most sincerely-intended well-wishes evaporate amid an endless variety of issues that droop the shoulders of individuals, families, groups, nations – circumstances that carry over from last year or the year before that or years before that. We may feel dismay to discover upon opening that new journal that its clean first page already bears smudges of the sadness, sickness, heartaches, headaches that – uninvited – have followed us into this new year.
And resolutions? Barely a week into January, I’ve forgotten what mine were. Or at least why I made that one.
No matter how they express it, everyone in one way or another wants to be able to sum up January 1 and the 364 days that follow as “a good year.” The challenge – for reasons including those mentioned above – lies in finding a way to make that “good year” happen.
But there’s good news for the Christ-follower facing that challenge. There is an answer waiting in the life-application principles of today’s passage of Scripture (Isaiah 41:9-10).
But in order to soundly apply those principles to 2018, let’s look briefly at the context – the circumstances – surrounding God’s message to its original audience via the prophet.
When Isaiah spoke this portion of prophecy, Almighty God had been contending with other nations on behalf of Israel, His admittedly-wayward-yet-chosen people. Here he expressed His sovereignty over all human events; He is even responsible for the rise of Cyrus the Great, the king who will eventually conquer the Babylonians bring an end to the second exile of Israel.
Isaiah 41:5-7explains that other nations, even the ends of the earth, tremble at what they see God doing for His people. In response to the tough times they see looming on their own horizons and frantic with fear, these other nations respond by looking to manmade idols for deliverance from the invasion of this army ordained by God Himself to conquer them. God uses the verses that follow this passage to contrast the future of Israel against that of the other nations; here He declares to Israel the assurance that His every movement in its history has been made with the best interest of His chosen people at heart. They need neither fret, fear nor worry about the days ahead (Isaiah 41:8-10).
You may be thinking at this point that the passages above were spoken by God through a specific person (Isaiah) to a specific audience (Israel) at a specific time (during its Babylonian captivity), which is absolutely true. Basic research, for instance, would reveal a list of actual ways that God conquered these pagan nations while keeping His promise to Israel.
So what on earth does the passage have to do with you and me and 2018? I’m so glad you asked!
Think back to the original context of the passage for a moment. Geographically, we haven’t been captured and taken in exile by a foreign nation, but make no mistake: as New Testament Christians chosen by God and bought with the priceless blood of Jesus Christ, we live in times hauntingly similar to those of Isaiah’s day. At any number of times on any given day, a follower of Christ can legitimately feel displaced in society, captive and caught up in a culture whose growing disregard for morality, human respect and all things biblical can make him or her feel like an outsider.
In light of that, however, consider this: as a deliberate follower of Christ in 2018, you serve the very same all-knowing, all-powerful God who promised to uphold Israel with His righteous right hand in the time of Cyrus. And just as He delivered on that promise to Old Testament Israel, He will deliver on it for you just the same.
Please don’t miss the impact of this truth. God’s instructional statement to Israel as made in verse 10 holds every bit as true for us today as it did for the Israelites held captive in Babylon thousand of years ago. The same Lord still dwells with his people today. The same Lord is every bit as much our God now as He was and remains Israel’s God. The same Lord who strengthened, helped and upheld Israel will likewise strengthen, help and uphold us with His precious and mighty righteous right hand. Furthermore, the same Lord who directed Israel neither to fear nor be dismayed by its circumstances likewise directs us to do the same.
In other words, this passage reveals a timeless truth regarding the principle and character of a divine Lord that stood then, stands now and will stand forever. By His own declaration, after all, we serve a God who does not change (Malachi 3:6).
As a matter of fact, I would like to suggest to you that in a very real way the truth of Isaiah 41:10 should bring even more comfort to our Christian lives than it did to Israel because we have a benefit of experience that Israel did not. The incarnate life, death resurrection of Christ brought God as man into the world; after His ascension back into Heaven, God through the Holy Spirit indwells believers. Christ’s promise, then, to be with His followers even to the ends of the world extends to you and me a much greater invitation to experience of the presence of God (see Matthew 28:20).
So if the overarching point of today’s passage lets us glimpse the character of Israel’s holy and almighty God, how do we implement what we see there of that same God in there here and now as we stand one week into 2018. The answer involves a three-step process that requires tenuous steps of faith on our part as well as some serious clinging to His Word.
1. The first step in the equation calls for us to recognize and deliberately follow God’s two-part directive. Do not be afraid, He instructs us, and do not be dismayed. Left unchecked, the emotions of fear and dismay will distract our minds from service to the Creator, taint our spirits with anxiety and deplete our physical health. Our only hope of successfully following this directive lies in purposely placing our faith in God’s goodness, grace and mercy. Cling in faith to these characteristics so that fears dissolve and dismayvanishes.
2. Next, we must completely take to heart the two I ams of God’s statement: I am with you and I am your God. Mentally, we know that by His Spirit God is ever-present, that He never leaves us, that we’re never able to wander beyond His reach. But do we feelthe effects of that knowledge in the depths of our hearts, the core of our spirits? Take these words to heart, my friend: God loves you more than anything. As your Abba Father, He wants to solve your every problem, meet your every need, calm your every storm and defeat every foe that comes against you – including Satan – when they arise. Cling to the fact that because He is, He can.
3. Lastly, we must attest with full belief to the three I wills of Isaiah 41:10. I will strengthen, God declares. When we feel we can’t take another step in a world that seems off-kilter, He has all the strength we need and will provide it as He takes that step with us. I will help you. The situation or relationship that looks as hopeless as it did before January 1? God in Christ is actively seeking us out to provide us with divine assistance – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – that is so much more than sufficient for every imaginable situation. Finally, He promises, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Cling to the fact – oh please don’t miss this! – that the very same righteous hands that delivered Israel from its captivity, the righteous hands that formed the universe and hold it together, the righteous hands that planned and formed you…these righteous hands hold your future and will deliver you safely through whatever lies around the bend.
With a plan of this magnitude guiding your agenda, your year is bound to be good. Cling to the Master Planner as you bring on 2018!
– Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.