Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Home > Sermons

Living Expectantly

We must not be limited by the past, because God is always doing a new thing.

I'm sure that you hear it sometimes on the elevator. At other times if you're waiting in a doctor's office, you hear it. If you're shopping in the mall, you hear it. More and more in different ways and in different places you hear sounds, rhythms, melodies, songs of yesterday, songs that oftentimes are referred to as golden oldies. The frequent occurrence of these songs is the result of a very profitable area of the music industry: the nostalgia craze. Specialized stations have developed that are totally devoted to playing what they call "the songs of your life." What's fascinating is that these stations capitalize on a hunger for nostalgia, and so they wrap precious memories in melodies and phrases of the old songs.

This modem mania for nostalgia is confronted and challenged by a scripture in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah chapter 43, verse 18: "Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old." At first glance this passage appears to be a contradiction, for in the early part of the chapter, Israel has been reminded of its history. It doesn't really seem to make sense. I thought to myself, Perhaps what verse 18 means is that Israel must refuse to be prisoners of a negative past, that Israel is being called on to forget the failures and the disappointments, the guilt, the shame, the hypocrisy of the past. There's no question that Israel had a past to forget. Israel had a sad past, a checkered past, like a roller coaster past, sometimes up and sometimes down, a past that could only be described in Scripture as a wandering in the wilderness, as a blindness.

Is the prophet warning us not to be prisoners of a negative past?

It appears logical that what this passage is saying is that Israel must forget the negative experiences of the past. If that is what the Scripture is saying, then there's no question in my mind that it has a strong attraction for most of us. The suggestion that we forget the pain, the disappointment, and the problems of the past has a strong attraction for those of us who still live in haunted houses, houses haunted by the ghosts of painful memories, memories that barely cover wounds that have never healed. Or if they have healed, they're covered with the painful growth of scar tissue. The memoriesmemories of some very difficult situations we had to struggle with. Memories of some miserable failures, of some times that we went out like Samson and shook ourselves as before and wished not that the Spirit had departed. Memories. Memories of a time of shame, when you could hear in your conscious mind the words of condemnation, "How are the mighty fallen!" Or the memories of those vicious statements that stressed the point of what you would never do in life and how you would never amount to anything. To forget those memories and even to forget the times when you made such a mess and a failure of things that you seemed to be living proof of those predictions that you would never amount to anythingthat past has almost become a reality for you to the point where you're tempted to give up on yourself. If the text is suggesting that we should not be prisoners of a negative past, then in many ways we would welcome that understanding.

But that's not quite the emphasis of the passage. For you see in verses 14 and 16 in this same chapter, the point is being made, "Thus saith the Lord your Redeemer, 'I'm the one who delivered you from Babylon.' " It goes on to talk about the One who made a way in the sea, a path through the waters. So it appears that the chapter is saying that what is to be remembered no more are the mighty acts and works of God. Now that really seems strangenot to remember the Exodus? Not to remember the marvelous victories that God provided for his people?

Is the prophet warning us not to be prisoners of a positive past?

Well, then perhaps the emphasis in the passage is not that Israel should refuse to be prisoners of a negative past, but that Israel must not be prisoners of a positive past. You see. God had performed great miracles for Israel. But the problem was that Israel was now living on past blessings. They were locked in the prison of the past. They were locked in a hidebound faith that only looked back on what God had done. It ceased to look forward to what God could do, a faith that ceased to expect anything from God. Theirs was a faith that was locked in by memory and limited by memory.

I would like to suggest to you that modem Israel is no different. For too long, we have lived in the glow of past blessings. For too long, we've subsisted on the crumbs of spiritual nostalgia. And when we talk about the power of God in our lives, we're always looking back, back to that day, back to that time, back to those events and blessings that are part of a positive past that has made us prisoners. I believe that if the only thoughts I can muster up about the power of God and the power of the Spirit relate only to some past pulpit experience of mine, then I am a pulpit living in the glow of some past glorya prisoner of a positive past.

It's painful to realize that the blessings of the past set the standard for your expectation of the future. It's painful that in many marriages the only hope that there is, the only residue that still exists, is a looking back to the way it was, looking back to the days of courtship, looking back to the early days of marriage. Husband and wife sit night after night before a television screen where actors simulate more love and passion than they experience in their marriage. They look back and wish. Oh, if it could only be like that again!

Prisoners of a positive past. It's like that in athletics for the athlete whose reflexes are gone, whose legs are gone, and all that he lives for now is to talk about what used to be. Unfortunately it's like that. It's most tragically like that in the spiritual life, where the measure of our expectation is tied to what used to be, and we look back to the time when our hearts were once tender to the gospel's touch, to the time when our enthusiasm was once ablaze, when our commitment to purity and honesty was deep and strong. We look back to the past and sing the old song. "Take Me Back, Dear Lord. Take me back, back to the place where I first received you. Take me back. Take me back, dear Lord, to the day I first believed."

The prophet is calling us to a faith that will not be limited by the past

The fact is that this passage that says, "Remember ye not the former things," will not let you settle for being a prisoner of a negative past, nor will it let you settle for being a prisoner of a positive past. The truth is, this passage is calling us to a faith that will not be limited by the past. It's calling us to live expectantly. Following verse 18, which says, "Remember ye not the former things," verse 19 says, "Behold, I will do a new thing. Now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?" Now the "remember ye not the former things" falls into place. Now I understand. God is calling us from memory to expectancy, for the point is not to forget the past blessings; the point is that God's blessings are new. God's new thing will so transcend the pastthe Exodus, the Red SeaGod is saying, "You ain't seen nothing yet!" He's calling us from memory to expectancy, and the "remember ye no more" can be seen for what it is, so that I don't forget the past, but in the power of Almighty God, I look to a future that will transcend the past. And more than that, I expect it. I'm not just looking for it; I'm expecting it. Living expectantly means more than just believing in church doctrines; it means more than just trusting my life to God. Living expectantly is faith on tiptoe. Living expectantly means believing with God that life is worth living, believing that ministry will never become routine for me, believing that in God I will never experience the dullness of the daily. I live in the expectancy that in my life God will do a new thing that will transcend the past.

I am so thankful that God's new thing is not like man's. We're very well acquainted with man's new thing. The commercials come on every day. Someone walks into the laundromat, and the man says, "May I have that?" And she says, "No. Don't take my Tide." He responds, "But I have something better than Tide." She says, "Can there be anything better than Tide?" Then he pulls the cover off this. What is it? New Tide. God's got more for you, my friend, than New Tide. God's new thing is a different thing, and that's why I don't have to settle for a negative past. I will not settle for a positive past. I can face each day living not like a "pesoptimist." You know what a pesoptimist is. No? Well, then, let me tell you. A pesoptimist is a person who believes that things are going to work out. But when they do, it'll be too late. Living expectantly is not living like a pesoptimist. Living expectantly is living like an optimist, who when he has worn out his shoes he just figures he's back on his feet. That's living expectantly, and I live that way because of God's promise of a new thing.

The Scripture describes this new thing as unexpected, unprecedented. It's referred to as a highway in the desert, water in the desert. But don't miss the point: the desert is still there, and so are God's blessings, God's new thing that will transcend the past will not be in the absence of the desert. It'll be in the middle of the desert. It will comfort your heart, as it does mine, that God has had a wilderness experience. He's provided clouds for shade, fire for direction, and manna for food. So, the God who plans a new thing is the God who has a wilderness track recordnot in the absence ofbut right in the middle of the desert. And so I wake up each day with an excitement. There are things in store for me every day because God is doing a new thing, and it will be that which satisfies my particular need. I believe that in my home, God's doing a new thing; that in my marriage. God is doing a new thing; and that in my spiritual life, God is doing a new thing. I believe it and I challenge you to live expectantly that God will do it for you, in your home, in your career, in your life, in your church, and in your experience. God is doing a new thing for you, and you can trust it because God's promise is backed up by God's power.

He was just a little fellow. His mother died when he was just a child. His father, in trying to be both mommy and daddy, had planned a picnic. The little boy had never been on a picnic, so they made their plans, fixed the lunch, and packed the car. Then it was time to go to bed, for the picnic was the next day. He just couldn't sleep. He tossed and he turned, but the excitement got to him. Finally, he got out of bed, ran into the room where his father had already fallen asleep, and shook him. His father woke up and saw his son. He said to him, "What are you doing up? What's the matter?" The boy said, "I can't sleep." The father asked, "Why can't you sleep?" In answering, the boy said, "Daddy, I'm excited about tomorrow." His father replied, "Well, Son, I'm sure you are, and it's going to be a great day, but it won't be great if we don't get some sleep. So why don't you just run down the hall, get back in bed, and get a good night's rest." So the boy trudged off down the hall to his room and got in bed. Before long, sleep cameto the father, that is. It wasn't long thereafter that back was the little boy. He was pushing and shoving his father, and his father opened his eyes. Harsh words almost blurted out until he saw the expression on the boy's face. The father asked, "What's the matter now?" The boy said, "Daddy, I just want to thank you for tomorrow."

When I think of my past and the fact that a loving Father would not let me go, reached down in his divine providence, and lifted me off of the streets of Harlem, when I think of what he has done for me and then think that he is planning a new thing for me that will surpass the past, let the record show this night in this place that Benjamin Reaves testified, "Father, I want to thank you for tomorrow!" And I challenge you to live expectantly, that God will do his new thing in your life, in your home, and in your experience. During our sharing groups this night, say, "Father, I want to thank you for tomorrow."

Related sermons

God Remembers

Without the redemptive memory of God, we are nothing.


We demonstrate the power of Christ by enduring hardship.
Sermon Outline:


I. Is the prophet warning us not to be prisoners of a negative past?

II. Is the prophet warning us not to be prisoners of a positive past?

III. The prophet is calling us to a faith that will not be limited by the past