“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
When God spoke to His people concerning the “new thing” He was doing among them, He didn’t jump right in and announce, “Hey, I’m doing a new thing!” He prefaced it first with an exhortation: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” There was something concerning their past that needed to be addressed first before He spoke to them concerning their present and future. It is clear from this that in order for them to respond properly to His “new thing”, they had to first deal radically with that which would hinder them from doing so and would keep them bound to the “former things.”
The question arises, then, “What is it about the “former things” and “the past” that tend to hinder us from responding properly to God’s ‘new thing’?” That is a very searching and consequential question when it comes to walking with a God as creative and “unconventional” in His ways as our God is! (For more on this, please see the previous post.)
I believe the answer to that question lies along two lines, one personal and the other collective. Both of these are intricately related and equally significant and so I will touch on them both in this post.
The Personal Dynamic
There are multiple ways in which the past tends to shape, form, and guide our mental processes and, therefore, how we perceive, comprehend, and project our thoughts/judgements concerning a present or future matter. These three aspects of perception, comprehension, and projection, which relate to the beginning, middle, and end of our thought processes, can be summed up in a single word “apprehension.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary’s definition touches on all three of these aspects regarding the verbal form of the word: “apprehend”:
- “:to become aware of: perceive” (i.e. perception)
- “:to grasp with the understanding: recognize the meaning of” (i.e. comprehension)
- “:to anticipate especially with anxiety, dread, or fear” (i.e. projection)
These definitions lie, in a positive way, at the root of the word “apprehension”, which is what we all should be seeking for when it comes to our ability to perceive, comprehend and project our thoughts and judgements properly in relation to the works and ways of God.
The opposite, negative form of this word, “misapprehension”, also needs to be considered in relation to how the past affects our personal (and collective) response to God’s “new thing”. “Misapprehension” signifies a failure to perceive, comprehend, and/or project our thoughts and judgements properly concerning a matter. (More on this shortly.)
When it comes to our mental facility to either apprehend or misapprehend God’s “new thing”, however, we need to understand just how significantly our psychological relationship with the past becomes a primary determining factor.
If “the former things” and “the past” were a positive aid to our ability to rightly apprehend God’s “new thing”, then He might have said something like, “REMEMBER the former things, DWELL on the past. These will help you to ‘get’ what I’m about to do. See, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?” He did not say that, however, but rather the opposite: “FORGET…Do NOT dwell…”
This is because our past has the power to impose psychological hindrances and mental stumbling blocks to our ability to properly recognize and grasp God’s works and ways. Our failure to deal properly with the past is a, if not the, primary factor in our tendency to misapprehend what God is doing and/or about to do.
If we dig a little deeper into this word, “misapprehension” we see that it very accurately describes the failures of the human psyche to rightly apprehend that which confronts it which is new and unknown. By looking to the Miriam Webster Thesaurus this time, we find two brief, yet significant definitions of the word “misapprehension”:
- a failure to understand correctly
- a wrong judgement
It then offers a list of synonyms which include: incomprehension, misconstruing, misimpression, misinterpretation, misreading, misunderstanding. All of these are very closely related to and augment the meaning of the word, “misapprehension.”
When God does a “new thing” and we fail to deal properly with the past, we set ourselves up to misapprehend what God is presently doing. What tends to ensue is an incomprehension, a misconstruing, a misimpression, a misinterpretation, a misreading, and/or a misunderstanding of the present activity of God. Every one of those words has and will mark the way “the natural man” tends to miss (“mis-“) the spiritual wisdom, ways, and works of God!
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
1 Corinthians 2:14
This is brought out very poignantly in the following excerpt, from T. Austin Sparks, on God’s “new thing” and man’s psychological reaction to it based on the past:
“God is always going to take us out of our depth with His new thing…Now when God moves from heaven in relation to His Son and all those fulnesses which yet lie ahead concerning Him, what do we find? We find that His movements are not according to convention. Let that be settled. God does not move forward according to convention. God’s great movements are always very unconventional movements. God refuses to be put in a box. He demands liberty to take us beyond any limitations that we may impose upon Him. So often convention is God’s main obstruction. The spiritual, the heavenly nature of God’s developing movements is altogether beyond the understanding of men; and because man cannot understand it, he does not believe in it. He doubts it, he questions it, he throws suspicions upon it, he raises issues as to its soundness, if he cannot understand it, and therefore it is not acceptable to man, it is put aside.” (Words of Wisdom and Revelation, page 67)
Notice it is “convention”, i.e. the way something is usually done (i.e as in the past), that becomes the main obstruction to God’s “unconventional movements.”
To give a Biblical example of this, consider how this dynamic was powerfully at work in the Jewish leaders during the time of Christ as they misapprehended the coming of the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth. God was doing a “new thing” among them by coming as a suffering servant and sacrifical Lamb, rather than a conquering, warrior king. Consider how those two definitions of “misapprehension”, (1. “a failure to understand correctly” and 2. “a wrong judgement”), along with the associated list of synonyms, apply in relation to the psychological processes going on within their minds, and then consider how much of their perceptions, comprehensions, and projections arose out of their reliance on their past traditions and experiences.
This example further shows just how vulnerable those are to misapprehending God’s “new thing” who are especially devout and have a long history of walking with God. One might think that those who are most committed to God, His Word, and His work, and for the longest time, would be the least likely to miss the present workings of His Spirit, but this is very often not the case.
In reality, the longer one has been in “the things of God”, the more “former things” there are to “FORGET” and the longer the “past” to “NOT dwell on!” It usually doesn’t get easier with time and experience to be or remain responsive to the fresh movings of God’s Spirit, but more difficult as an increasing religious rigidity and theological inflexibility naturally sets in. As this increases, the life of God within the person becomes progressively restricted and constricted by “a hardening of the arteries”, as it were, caused by the repetitive nature of past routines, habits, conventions, traditions, experiences, low expectations, and the like. Ultimately, a condition I call “religi-mortis” can develop leaving one virtually incapacitated and incapable of perceiving and/or responding to the present movings of God’s Spirit.
The Collective Dynamic
As this is true in the individual, so it is the case in an even greater sense regarding the corporate “wineskins”of the Church. In the collective dynamic, not only do the psychological factors of each individual member aggregate together creating a multiplied, strengthened form of resistance to change, but also the sociological factors of the collective itself begin to increase and multiply. These add to the corporate “wineskin” an even greater dynamic of resilience in the face of change. Over time it becomes nearly impossible for the “conformative matrix” that develops to maintain responsiveness and flexibility to the “unconventional” ways and workings of God.
Here also, the life of God begins to be quenched and choked out through the “cholesterol” of past routines, habits, conventions, traditions, experiences, low expectations, and the like, and a collective form of “religi-mortis” begins to develop. Such a collective will, all but inevitably, misapprehend God’s “new thing” when it comes.
The longer a corporate expression has been in existence and the more established it is, the more this becomes inevitible. Apart from a very deep work of “corporate kenosis” (please see here for further explanation) and the kind of collective preparations described in Part 1 of this series, there is little hope of God obtaining a “new wineskin” to pour His “new wine” into. “Old wineskins” rarely convert back to “new wineskins”, especially when those who comprise and control them collectively say, “the old is better.” (see Luke 5:39)
A. W. Tozer hits the nail on the head in his book, Rut, Rot, or Revival. Consider the folllowing quotes from one section:
The treacherous enemy facing the church of Jesus Christ today is the dictatorship of the routine, when the routine becomes “lord” in the life of the church…
This seems to be the most deadly threat in the church today. When we come to the place where everything can be predicted and nobody expects anything unusual from God, we are in a rut…
Then we have reached the place where what has been determines what is, and what is determines what will be.
…the greatest enemy is not outside of us. It is within – it is an attitude of accepting things as they are. We believe that what was must always determine what will be, and as a result we are not growing in expectation.
“As long as there is growth, there is an air of unpredictability.”
May God show us just how dangerous and treacherous our past history, experiences, and traditions can be, both personally and collectively, when it comes to walking with “the GOD of the ‘new thing'”. May we allow the cross to deal radically with our past so that we can heed God’s strong exhortation and move forward into God’s present purpose and working, for He has said,
“FORGET THE FORMER THINGS; DO NOT DWELL ON THE PAST.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
Tradition, Scripture, and the Church by David Bolton (PDF – complete)
Of Wine and Wineskins – (3-D post)
Co-Laboring With God
“Pressing On” – by David Bolton (Original song adapted from Philippians 3:13-14 and Hebrews 12:1-2)
Or try a “mystery post” (different with every click!)