What is it in your past that plagues you and haunts you and depresses you and keeps you in bondage? Whatever it is, whatever has happened to you, whatever you have done, our God is so awesome, so huge, so merciful and gracious, that he can bring you healing and release from your past. As this New Year begins, this may be what will help you to have your best year yet, if you can learn to put your past behind you.
Our memories are strange things, aren’t they? It seems most of us are very good at remembering what we should forget and forgetting what we should remember. Amazing how we can remember hurt feelings and injustices and pain, yet forget to send birthday cards or call a friend who is sick.
Maybe you are struggling with some memory—some past history—that you just can’t get out of your head. Whether from your childhood, from a failed relationship, from a former job situation, or from bad decisions and choices of your own, that past tends to hang around your neck like a ton of bricks. You stay busy and try to forget it, but in those quiet moments, when the noise abates and the activity subsides, you are left with the dreadful memories from your past that seem to affect everything you do.
Without apology I enthusiastically assert that you can find answers in the Bible. At the risk of sounding simplistic and naive, my friends, the healing we need from pasts that haunt us is found in scripture. God may use people to help you find the scripture, but until you apply the Word of God to your past, you will never be able to put it behind you.
I remember a talk I had with my good friend, Pastor Donald Cole of the Moody Radio Network, who is now with Jesus. He was a wonderfully wise and loving man. I said, “Pastor Cole, sometimes I’m intimidated when people ask me for help or advice and I simply refer them to God’s Word. I’m not a counselor; I don’t know all the lingo; but I truly believe the answers are in the Bible, not in people. Yet they often respond as though I just don’t understand; their situation is too complex to just go to the Bible for help. But I don’t know anything else to give them.”
He said, “Mary, if the Bible doesn’t have an answer, there is no answer. Never be intimidated to urge anyone to find their needs met in the Word of God.” We both agreed that in our instant society, often people want quick fixes. And to find the Bible’s answers takes study and time and devotion. Also, the Bible always gives the truth, and sometimes people don’t want the truth.
We know that truth sets you free, but truth can sometimes hurt. When we learn the truth, it may be uncomfortable; it may point a finger at us when we’ve been trying to shift the blame; it may not be an instant fix. But truth will set you free.
So, if you truly want to be free from your past, I tell you wholeheartedly that God’s truth as revealed in the Bible can help you. Do you really want to put your past behind you—whatever it takes? Are you willing to admit you are in some ways a slave to that past? Have you come to the point where you know that your methods aren’t working and you’re ready to try it God’s way? If so, there is wonderful hope for you, because believe me, God wants you to put that past behind you and move forward.
In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is focused on one thing: winning the prize, doing what God has called him to do. He is candid to tell us that he doesn’t have his act totally together, and he’s in the process of becoming what God desires him to be. BUT in order to do that, he knows that he must forget what is behind and focus on the future.
Now, think about what was behind Paul. A life of rebellion against Christ when he actually was the enemy of the Lord, persecuting and killing Christians for their faith before his conversion. After that, he had other things in his past to forget: failures, for one. All of his plans for serving the Lord had not succeeded, as he wanted them to. He had been prevented from going certain places and doing what he planned to do.
Relationship problems also were in his past. He had a disagreement with Barnabas over Mark, and some of the other Christians were suspicious of him and his conversion.
He also had much success in his past, much of which he could be proud. But that also had to be forgotten. He couldn’t live in the victories of the past and be effective for God in the future. So, he determined to forget what was behind him in order to attain the heavenly goal which was before him.
The humanistic philosophy, which pervades so much of our thinking today, has caused many people to be very focused on the past. I think of a dear friend who, in trying to find help from a psychiatrist, has instead been driven to her past more and more until now she thinks of nothing else. The future is on hold for her, because she is obsessed with her past.
How could Paul say he was forgetting what was behind? One reason was because he had a goal in front of him. You know, when you’re occupied with doing something worthwhile, when you have activities which are meaningful and important, you can put the past behind you much easier. I notice that people who are inactive are much more likely to be consumed with their pasts. One of the great blessings of being involved in the lives of others is that it causes us to forget ourselves.
Another reason Paul could put his past behind him was that he knew he was forgiven and that God remembered his past against him no more. I can imagine that he must have struggled with the fact that he had persecuted and killed Christians in his past, but on that Damascus road he found Jesus—or rather Jesus found him and set him on the right road. From that point on he was a forgiven man, and he had accepted that forgiveness.
Have you asked God for forgiveness for your past? Maybe that is what is keeping you enslaved to that past—you really don’t feel like God has forgiven you. Well, if you sincerely asked him to in the name of Jesus and through his shed blood, then he had to forgive you or he would be a liar—and God is not a liar. So, maybe you just don’t feel forgiven. That’s where you must ignore those feelings and believe by faith that God will do what he has promised to do—forgive you.
When the enemy comes to haunt you with those past sins, quote 1 John 1:9 over and over, out loud if possible: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Throw the word of God right back in Satan’s face every time he tries to shackle you with your past sins. God purifies from all unrighteousness, so don’t let the enemy tell you the lie that your sin is too much or too awful.
I promise, if you will start to combat that feeling of not being forgiven with the Word of God, in time you will be able to put those past sins behind you and live in the blessed truth of God’s forgiveness.
In order to put your past behind you, you must learn to think correctly. The place where your past gets to you is in your mind—those thoughts and nightmares and memories that swirl around in your head and cripple you mentally and emotionally. The battlefield is your mind.
The Apostle Paul could put his past behind him because he was learning to bring every thought into captivity and allow the mind of Christ in him to control his thinking. In that same letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 8, he tells us what we should think about: Things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. The past that haunts you does not fall into those categories, right? So, that means you must learn to practice this principle and bring every thought you have into captivity so that you don’t think about the dreadful past. How do you do that?
Again, through God’s Word and learning how to apply it on a daily, thought-by-thought basis. I’ve written a book entitled Think About What You Think About, which goes into this challenge of controlling your thoughts in much more depth. I can tell you personally that learning to bring my thoughts into captivity has been life-changing for me, and to this day, it is the key discipline that I must continue to practice in order to live in the freedom that is mine in Jesus.
I know that many struggle with pasts of abuse and injustice, fear and hatred. How can you put that kind of a past behind you? Jesus said, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots” (Matthew 15:13). Did God plant that abuse in your life? No, it was the result of sin, someone else’s sin. God didn’t plant it, so it will be pulled up by the roots. Did God treat you unfairly, dishonestly, or with discrimination? No, people treat us that way but not God. Therefore, he didn’t plant that injustice so it will be pulled up. Did God reject you or leave you? No, he’s promised never to do that. So, since he didn’t plant that rejection in your life, it will be pulled up by the roots.
What does that mean? It simply means that he has the power to yank it out of your life so that it can do you no further harm. He didn’t plant it; he didn’t approve of it; he didn’t desire it for you. Therefore he is more than willing and able to pull it up by the roots. However, you’ve got to give him permission to do the weeding in the garden of your heart. Otherwise those painful weeds from the past just grow and grow and start to overtake all the beautiful flowers the Lord has planted in your life.
Another favorite scripture of mine is 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 way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
Do not dwell on the past! That is very good advice for all of us. It’s that dwelling and continual concentration on the past that gets us in trouble. Surely in many cases we will not ever in this life be able to literally erase from our memories the painful things from our past, but when we live in the past, when the past controls our thinking, then we have no future.
Think about it: In your life are you more focused on the past than you are on the future? What do you think about most often? What bothers you most frequently? Your past? Can you not see how that is preventing you from knowing the joys and blessings God has planned for your future? God is waiting to do a new thing for you, but if you never forget what is behind you, you won’t be able to see the good things God wants to do.
I pray that if you have been consumed with the past, you will determine to give that past over to God, allow him to handle it for you, and look for the new thing he wants to do for you. God wants you to be future-focused, and he can help you put behind those things from your past which get in the way.more