The Challenge: Your Personal Past
How many of us have boxes or hard drives filled with pictures and home videos – those precious moments we captured on film because we wanted to always remember; yet we’ve rarely, if ever, looked back?
How many of us have kept journals in which we’ve written prayers about our hopes and fears, but have never returned to see which were answered?
You’ve left behind a paper trail of some sort as you’ve gone through life. And if you’re like most Americans, you’re probably actively collecting, adding bits and pieces as you go, because you feel, on some level, that it’s important to.
If you were to take the time to look over and sort through old photographs, letters, videos, journals and keepsakes, you would remember things you may not have thought about for years. You would remember the person you used to be and you would realize how much you have evolved with time. And no doubt you would see evidence of God’s hand upon your life – perhaps even in those times you thought he had abandoned you.
We’ve each been given just one life to live on this Earth – one life given so we can seek after God and perhaps feel our way toward him and find him (Acts 17:27); one life composed of an infinite number of opportunities to do just that. Every moment you have the option to look for evidence of God working in the present, and every moment you have the option to look back to see and remember how he has worked in your past.
So much of the challenge to live well involves reflecting on the past: the hard lessons learned, the joy-filled seasons and the dryness that is still yet to be redeemed. So much of faith rests upon the discipline of remembrance. How has God proven himself faithful? How have his promises proven true? What kind of story has he been writing and where do we fit into it?
That’s why Christians and Jews throughout history have set aside holidays and celebrations to help us remember the story of God’s people; to help us find the time and make the space we need in order to give our own pasts attention even though the world keeps moving forward.
Right now Christians around the world are celebrating the season of Lent, when we give up distractions so we can better remember the past that points us forward to a glorious future. If remembrance is not used to help point us forward, it is useless except to feed nostalgia or bitterness. But remembrance coupled with repentance and thanksgiving is deeply and powerfully transforming.
The Hope: Repentance and Thanksgiving
If you begin to trace the steps of your life that brought you where you are today, you will probably see patterns of sin that you may have missed before, or merely identified as tendencies or weaknesses. If so, this is where prayerful repentance comes in. You will undoubtedly also see patterns of grace that should open your heart into a free flow of joy-producing gratitude. By deliberately practicing repentance and thanksgiving, you will experience life in a powerful new way: Prayers of sincere repentance mixed with sincere gratitude create a fiery faith!
Spend time searching your memory, your heart and your relationships, echoing the prayer of the Psalmist:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, And lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24).
You might even consider going through this process a second time with your spouse or other loved ones who will be open with you, offering their perspectives on times remembered. Then repent where you need to. Think of it as a spring-cleaning for the soul. Get rid of the sin, the clutter and the distractions that hinder your spiritual growth. “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Philippians 4:6-9 says not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything, telling God what you need and thanking him for all he has done. It’s easy to fall into the trap of only praying for things we need. It’s even easier to simply worry that we won’t get what we need. Learning to thank and then trust God, on the other hand, takes practice. Verse 8 advises us on a powerful way to face life:
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” As you practice thinking on these things and thanking God for them, you are piling up faith-strengthening memories, building a monument of thanksgiving, which serves as a reminder that God is both powerful and good. If you write your thanks down and create a tangible monument out of it, it’s even better. Every word is a testament, helping you remember that God is always trustworthy.