Take time now to thank God for his blessings of the year past and those he’s yet to give.
Read Isaiah 35:1-10
 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus,  it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.  Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;  say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.  The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.  And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.  No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there,  and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
ReflectHow would you describe the dominant theme of this passage?
The Exile cuts across Israel’s story like a savage wound. God’s rejection of the Temple and the removal of his people from the Promised Land still stand as a shocking reminder: this is what eventually happens when we abandon God. I stress eventually, because God is slow to anger and rich in mercy. He much prefers mercy to judgment (Hos. 11; 2 Pet. 3:9). Isaiah prophesies the return even before the Exile has happened! Truly God longs to bless much more than to judge. The thrust is simple: if Exile is what happens when we abandon God, transformation is what happens when we return to God. Both the natural world and broken human beings will be transformed by God’s blessing when the exiles return. How large is our hope? This passage surely challenges us to grow our hope: hoping not just to get by, but hoping for breakthrough. When Jesus fed the 5,000 and changed water into wine, we see kingdom plenty. Are we hoping for kingdom plenty in our lives? Are we praying for breakthroughs as complete as the desert bursting into flower?
Draw up a list of five things to pray for in 2013. Ask God to grow your hope and give you a taste of kingdom plenty.
Lord, I look forward to the year ahead. I don’t know what it holds, but I know You are in control. I gladly go with You.
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