On the morning of New Year’s Eve I randomly opened my Bible to Isaiah 38 and stumbled upon a passage of Scripture that I found strikingly appropriate for the new year.
In a nutshell, King Hezekiah, a righteous king, gets really sick one day. The prophet Isaiah stops by to visit Hezekiah with a less-than-encouraging prophetic word, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’” The king pleads with God for his life and God answers his prayer, promising him that he will live another fifteen years. Immediately, King Hezekiah is given a new lease on life, a fresh start—a concept that we all tend to think about every time December rolls into January.
What particularly struck me as I read through the narrative was the sign that God gave Hezekiah to prove that He was going to heal him: God miraculously caused the shadow on the sundial to back up ten notches. Sundials are all but obsolete today, but this would be the something akin to watching the hands of a clock spiral backwards on their own. This must have been a pretty mystical, supernatural moment, to say the least. As the king of Israel breathlessly watched God push back the shadow on the sundial, the Holy Spirit healed his body and repositioned him for the greatest, most prosperous years of his life.
Jed, my three year old, went through a stage about six months ago where he was scared of shadows on his ceiling and walls at bed time. I would turn the lights off and on, trying to explain the concept of a shadow, that they weren’t real. It’s awfully tough to discuss shadows with small children who are scared of the dark. I discovered what did help was going up to the shadows on the wall and punching them, hitting them, kicking them. We both thought it was pretty funny and for a few weeks beating up Jed’s shadows became part of my nightly routine!
In the same way that little children are afraid of shadows in the dark, we too allow shadows, illusions, to induce fear, which drives out faith. Shadows of past failures can keep us from stepping out in faith this year. Shadows of past disappointments can keep us from the hope of better days this year. The shadows we allow to linger in our minds are much scarier than the physical shadows cast on dark bedroom walls from furniture or drapes. Shadows from the past can so easily rob us of experiencing the joy and miracle of the present.
As we wrestle with a plethora of our own “shadows” and struggles, let’s remember that, as believers, even death itself is nothing but a shadow. It’s not real! That’s why the Bible describes it as the “valley of the shadow of death.” Death is a mere illusion. Because of what Jesus Christ did through His death and resurrection, death is simply a vehicle from this life to the next. If death is but a shadow, how much smaller—more insignificant—are the other shadows that keep us from walking fully in the light.
At the beginning of a new year, I’m so glad that we serve a God who is able to push back the shadows! When God pushed back the shadow on the sundial for Hezekiah, he stepped into a new season of life, filled with the blessing and favor of God. I pray that we will position ourselves for God to push back any shadow that would keep us from walking in in the fullness of His plan and purpose for our lives in 2017. Happy New Year!