Joining God in Doing a New Thing
By Bener Agtarap
A Short Devotion from the Perspective of a Lay Disciple of Jesus Christ
During the fall meeting of the Path 1 Strategy Team led by Chairperson Bishop Ruben Saenz, Jr., an opening devotion was given by Sister Judy Colorado from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.
Sister Judy used Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV), as the scripture lesson:
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? I am making a new way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
In her message, she challenged the members and staff of Path 1 to “journey together into the new path God is leading us.” She also affirmed that “God is leading us to let go of the past and to embrace the new things God is doing.”
Judy Colorado is currently the conference lay leader of the Greater New Jersey Conference (GNJ) and a board member of the General Commission on Finance & Administration (GCFA) of The United Methodist Church. She is a healthcare professional, and she works as a chief nurse executive with one of the hospitals in New Jersey. She serves as a lay member-at-large and as a member of the executive committee of the Path 1 Strategy Team.
We encourage you to read and reflect on this powerful message that is filled with hope and excitement about God doing a new thing and inviting God’s people to journey with God.
Here is the full manuscript of Sister Judy’s short reflection:
God is leading us to let go of the past and to embrace the new things God is doing.
Good morning team! Let us center ourselves on these words from Isaiah 43:18-19.
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? I am making a new way in the wilderness and streams in the wastelands.
While I was reflecting on what I needed to share with you today, I thought of using the message resource I along with three other laity leaders in Greater New Jersey developed for our breakthrough worship series for Laity Sunday this October titled, “A New Path.” In the process of developing the message, we had wrestled, discerned, and had great reflective dialogue on allowing the Holy Spirit to speak afresh on us. The reflective discernment was guided by a focus statement, which is: “God is leading us to let go of the past and embrace the new things God is doing!”
When COVID-19 surged to its peak last year, it was very frightening! As a healthcare professional and a leader, I was fearful as I saw the challenges and difficulty my team was going through without much knowledge about what we were dealing with—let alone on how to take care of the patients infected with COVID-19. We only knew the traditional medical management of a respiratory infection or managing an epidemic – until we realized everything we were doing was not working. This necessitated us to step out of our comfort zone! We started doing things we had never done before just to prevent further transmission of COVID-19 to our staff. We took care of our patients in ways we had never done before and where science had not much proof at the time. As a leader, I cried! I was fearful that I would bring home the virus to my family, and fearful of the unknown of what COVID-19 could do.
We all face uncertainties and fears when we embark on a new path. There are things (people, places, habits, traditions) we are afraid to leave behind. The barriers to a new path might seem overwhelming. For example, the experiences of our congregations/local churches during the pandemic were also overwhelming! They were challenged in many ways that pushed them to do things differently! We learned technology overnight. We found new ways to gather together virtually, worshiping together and praying together. It can be hard to try new things and move forward as a faith community, but laity and clergy stepped up and helped the church move forward.
These verses (Isaiah 43:18-19) belong to part of a long poem the prophet-author wrote to tell the people of Israel about a new phase in their life as God’s people. It was written at a time when the kingdom of Israel had fallen and many people from Judah had been exiled to Babylon, the current ruling empire. The center of Jewish worship, the Jerusalem temple, had been destroyed. But change was coming. This poem tells of how God is going to do a new thing, to make a way for the Israelites to return to their homeland.
The insurmountable challenges COVID-19 brought into our daily lives, our churches, communities, and the global church (as COVID is still here! We have not seen the end yet) put us to a sustained trial or difficulty. The collective trauma we experienced and are experiencing is not at all easy, and sometimes we ask God why this is all happening. However, consider closely what the verses say. The Israelites and we are not intended to be stuck in the past or even the present. We are to look forward to the new thing God is doing.
Notice that Isaiah does not tell the Israelites to do a new thing or make a new path. It is God who is doing the new thing (New International Version) or about to do a new thing (New Revised Standard Version). God has a plan and God is the one in charge, initiating something new and continuing God’s mission in the world. It is our choice to get on board with the new thing God is doing or to be stuck in the past, doing our own thing out of alignment with God’s work. Sometimes we are so busy that we “do not perceive it” (v. 19). The passage calls us to stop what we are doing, to listen and look for where and how God is acting now, and to respond by participating in it. Discernment is key. As we listen to the Holy Spirit, we can ask, “Is God still in this old way, or is God nudging us toward a new way?”
The passage does not promise that the future will be easy. It uses the images of the wilderness and wasteland (NIV) or desert (NRSV) to describe the unknown future. This is rough terrain. But God is with us and provides for us as we face it. This is uncharted territory that we can try (and fail) to navigate on our own, or we can travel it with God. God provides a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Just as God was promising to bring the Israelites back to their homeland, God’s promises are for us, for our own wellbeing and life together, and for the world. The future is not happening to us; it is happening for us; and if we choose to follow in faith, it is happening with and through us too.
I am excited for our time together this morning. As I reflected on our agenda and read the articles sent ahead to review, I am excited as God will bless our time together. In our work together for Path 1, what are the possibilities that can happen if we were to leave some of the old ways behind and follow the new path God is opening for us? What gifts and talents do we have that may have been underused? What are things we have been afraid to try or something we have been curious about? What things hold us back? We must listen to God, see what he is doing in our midst, and participate actively where God is leading.
When I stepped out of my comfort zone and left the traditional ways of managing crisis, faced my fears head-on, I was able to lead my team to develop innovative ways to bundle care interventions for COVID patients to minimize the exposure of our staff. We were able to implement staffing models we had never done before. We expanded the care spaces—pulled IV poles outside the rooms by drilling holes on the walls to insert the IV tubes into the pump outside the patients’ rooms. I was able to lead in new ways with God’s help. We are stepping into our new normal and ways of doing things.
God is creating a new path for us! Let us follow the stream into the wastelands. The image of a stream is freely flowing—it provides hope into the wilderness and in the wastelands. My hope is for us to go through the journey together—let us journey together into the new path God is leading us, Amen!
Scripture verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.