What does it mean to live life to the fullest? Is it possible to actually look forward to the future? Is it possible to have a bright hope for the future? Have you ever mused, “If I had my life to live over, I’d….”? How would you finish that statement? All those are very weighty questions; heavy stuff. How do we balance our current realities with the tragedies and victories of the past?
A Troubling Look Back
Most of us live with the realities of the past every day. The sins, mistakes and missed opportunities reach out of past years with tentacles that are long and strong. We try not to dwell on these past realities because to do so is just too depressing. Life’s highway can be filled with brokenness.
To attempt to divest ourselves from our past is to deny who we are and where we came from. We are who we are because of the people, events and our own propensities in life.
- Broken lives of our parents haunt a number of us daily.
- Personal brokenness,
- Broken friendships and marriages,
- Broken trusts,
- Broken promises are just the tip of the iceberg.
All My Yesterdays
On the one hand I want to say that the past is not who I am. However, on the other hand, it is. I have grown as well as digressed in many areas but I am the sum total of all my yesterdays, current realities as well as any bright hope I might have for the future. Yesterday’s victories and defeats, right choices as well as mistakes, sin and purity, and in spite of missed opportunities all blend together in just who I am right now. Some of the people of my past actually helped to produce character while others helped to challenge the development of good character traits.
It is not possible to visualize all the people of our past without the realization of some pain. Pain which some inflicted by choice, as well as by others because they didn't know any better. Since most of our social skills were caught rather than taught; early-on in life much of the imprint for future possibilities is set. Modifications are hard to make.
- Yesterday’s victories and defeats,
- Yesterdays right choices as well as mistakes,
- Yesterday's sin and purity
Some of the people of our past who inflicted pain and unknowingly negatively affected our future, did so simply because they didn’t know any other way. This principle is addressed in the Bible.
Sure they should have sought help but they didn’t and we are living with the results. All too often we don’t seek the help we need either. Even so, the cycle of the infliction of pain continues.
- Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 NASB
We must never forget those of our past who genuinely cared about us and displayed that care in so many ways. Remembering those who shared a vast amount of goodness with us brings no small amount of warmth to our current realities. Most of us know how to love and be loved because someone in our past taught us how. It is possible to balance the goodness with the pain. Our past can be debilitating. The music of the past can be a dirge but it can also be a minute.
Just Who Exactly Am I
On the positive side, pondering a missed opportunity can propel us past current obstacles. The past can remind us of just how quickly life can pass us by. Past mistakes can be a springboard to better choices. Yesterday’s sins speak of a need for committing ourselves to today’s purity. Broken lives, marriages, and friendships remind us of the need for forgiveness, mercy, kindness and commitment in our current relationships. On the one hand I want to say that the past is not who I am. However, on the other hand, it is. I have grown as well as digressed in many areas but I am the sum total of all my yesterdays, current realities as well as any bright hope I might have for the future.
Ephesians 2:1-13 “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our lives….Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) ..That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus…For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Wherefore, remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh…That at that time ye were without Christ…having no hope, and without God in the world…But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” KJV
- The past is not who I am;
- On the other hand, it is.
- I am the sum total of all my yesterdays, current realities and bright hopes for the future.
There seems to me to be much more to this passage than instructions regarding our past, our current realities and our bright hope for the future. Paul’s references:
are all phrases used to remind us of his own way of dealing with the time past, current realities, and bright hope for the future in his own life. Paul knew what the “newness of life” was all about in Romans 6:3-4 as well as what a “new creature” meant in 2 Corinthians 5:17. He had been there himself. He referred to himself as “the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God”.
- To "time past",
- To "when we were dead in sins",
- To "in the ages to come",
- To "being in time past",
- To "at that time",
- To "but now",
- Acts 7:57-8:1-3 “And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen...and Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.” KJV
How was it possible for Paul to live with that past reality in his life? Do you suppose he ever thought of the final expressions on the face of Stephen? The only way was to accept his past. That’s what Paul did. “But by the grace of God I am what I am:” was his approach. No, he no longer persecuted the Church of God. He no longer entered into houses hauling out men and women who confessed the name of Christ. He was a different person. “Our past is not what we are but on the other hand it is.”
What does it mean to live life to the fullest? Is it possible to actually look forward to the future? Is it possible to have a bright hope for the future? There can and must be a newness of life, but we cannot change what has happened in the past.
- 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” KJV
Is it any wonder that Paul referred to himself as “less than the least of all saints”? Ephesians 3:7-8. In what way did Paul’s past affect his life? Did his choices make for a debilitating situation in the current realities of his life?
I am instructed and encouraged by what Paul said:
- Philippians 3:5-9 “Of the stock of Israel…an Hebrew of the Hebrews…a Pharisee… Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless…Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect… Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.
Dealing With the Past
Perhaps we cannot erase the past from memory. Perhaps the tentacles of the past will haunt us as long as we live to some degree. But it must not obstruct our forward progress. Why then did Paul say, “Forgetting those things which are behind”? The tense is present indicating it is an ongoing process. I may have to do some forgetting today and tomorrow and the days following. Pressing forward is the key. Making progress until the perfect day is our goal. I’m not certain of all the implications, but it seems that there will be relief of a permanent nature in the kingdom of God.
- Isaiah 65:17 “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” My margin says “come upon the heart”. KJV
A bright hope for the future is incomplete apart from God’s promises for the future of humanity. So what can I do about the past, those things which continue to cause pain? I can accept who I am and where I came from and forget yesterday’s pain, today and again tomorrow. The past is done and its effect will be felt and dealt with for the rest of my life. I can and must however do something about my current realities. I must move forward in the grace of God with a bright hope for the future offered by my great God in His Son, Jesus Christ.
- “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ.” Ephesians 2:7. kjv