In Order To Move Forward, You Need To Leave The Past Behind
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have selective amnesia? To suddenly be able to forget something to the point you cannot even remember that it occurred? God, through the prophet Isaiah, is telling us that we have the ability to place the past behind us. We are capable of utilizing our brains in such a way that we can forget the past and put it behind us. It generally involves three steps:
- Dealing with the past (emotionally, spiritually, and relationally)
- Choosing not to dwell on the past
- Choosing to dwell on a more powerful passion – the future!
In order to move forwards, you need to first deal with the past. This can involve several steps (the following is not an exhaustive list, but several broad starting points – let God direct the path YOU need take):
- Repent of past sins
- Approach God with an open and humble heart. Allow God to show you where you need to forgive, what you need to rectify, and what you need to abandon.
- Repair past relationships
- Reconcile with anyone that may have anything against you. Allow God to show you who they are. There may be people who are just too dangerous to reconcile at this time (or ever), so be aware of God’s leading in this
- Settle old debts
- Do what you can to settle any debts you have with anyone. Make a clean break where possible. Sometimes, this is not possible financially. Allow God to direct you in what you can do, and let Him do what He needs to do.
- Stopping fruitless projects
- Arborists will cut a diseased limb off of a tree to save the tree. This is not an act of cruelty to the tree, but rather a life-saving act of mercy. In the same way, allow God to show you where time and life stealing endeavors in your life are causing you too many problems, and let go of them. The desires of the past will be replaced with a vision of the future…
We are told to place our worries, problems, emotional distress, and everything that we have to deal with at the foot of the cross. This is bringing it to Jesus in prayer, asking that He bear the burdens that are too difficult for us to bear, and walking away. The problem with many disciples of Christ is that after we set down our baggage at the cross, we pick it right back up and walk away with it.
Practically, this is when we give something to God, then we keep remembering it in our minds. God is able to move our sin as far as the East is from the West. He is able to forgive and forget. We need to do the same. The problem is, many of us don’t want to forget. We immediately begin thinking of how so-and-so did such-and-such to us. When we do that, we have picked up our baggage and taken it with us as we leave the cross. Additionally, the enemy of our souls, Satan, will remind us and hound us constantly when we are trying to let go of something. He’ll place thoughts in our mind like, “How DARE that man in that car just careen in front of you and nearly cause you to crash! Unbelievable! What is the world coming to? What is wrong with these people?!” By getting us to rehash the past, we are unable to focus on the future…
The brain is very interesting. It acts like a record. After repeated thought patterns occur (dwelling on the past), it forms grooves in the brain to reinforce the pattern, thought, or behavior (we call this habits, attitudes, and character). The brain can then more quickly access these pathways, and they slowly become ingrained in us. And when we encounter a problem, it goes to these “thought highways” where we can”quickly resolve” the issue. It is like a needle in a record’s groove – there is a path that is easy to take, and we can get into ruts where the needle just skips and goes in the same groove forever and ever…
However, the brain is dynamic and can change. We need to forge new paths, or highways, in the brain. And just as it is difficult to make a new groove on a record with a needle, so it is with our brains. Eventually, when we no longer use the old highways, the brain will eventually allow them to dissipate. Eventually, these old highways become distant echos of the past. You truly can retrain the brain.
God then reminds us that He is constantly doing new things! Rather than watch movies in our minds about the past, we can look to the present and the future, where God is already causing new developments to occur. He is constantly and actively at work in our lives, the lives of others around us, and in the world.
Because we are created in the image of God, we have curiosity. In Revelations 21:5, God tells us He is making everything new. The Greek word used for making, poiO, means continually making (new). God recognizes that we become bored easily and can focus on the past. Even in the far future, in eternity, God will be doing new things continually!
In order to embrace the present and the future, we need to pay attention to what is going on around us. God is moving, and if we don’t carefully watch, He may go off in a direction while we are too busy smelling the dying roses. We need to be open to what God is doing, and to watch carefully and eagerly to perceive what is about to come.
The skill of discernment is sadly lacking in many disciples of Christ. This skill is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for the continued growth and protection of the disciple. We have been told that we can test and approve of God’s good, perfect, and pleasing will. How can we do that if we are not even attempting to discern what His will is in a particular matter? Practice makes perfect. Start today, and ask God to help you to develop the skill of discernment.
God has said that He would go before us and prepare a way ahead of us. Just as he drove out the people of Canaan for the Israelites so that they could inhabit the inheritance of the promised land, God is also preparing a path for us individually and corporately. God is always looking ahead, making minor course adjustments here and there so that everything that He ever prophesied about through His people and recorded for us to know will come to pass. God is not a liar, and He will not be made out to be a liar. God will ensure that his plans will ALWAYS succeed, even if that means that He needs to move mountains or take people home. We are to discern that path that God is making and walk alongside Him as He forges a new path forward. By walking alongside Jesus, rather than camping out in the past, we are best prepared to grow and let the past go.
When streams are created in the wasteland, the life-giving water begins to transform the area as plants find renewed ability to grow and flourish. Physical water allows the land to flourish; spiritual water allows God’s people to flourish. God is opening springs of living water in each of us through His Holy Spirit, and the living water that gushes out brings life and life abundantly to us. And as the holy things are being watered, the dead, dying, decaying things of the flesh begin to rot and return to their proper place. But just as rotting material stinks, so will our sin nature attempt to get our attention. We must focus on the future, and in doing so, we can and will let go of the past.
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: Am I focusing on the future, or dwelling in the past?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, Your word is good, and it tells me that I am able to let go of the past. Help me to process the emotional scars of the past so that I can move forward to the future. Give me the ability to refute the accusations of the enemy of my soul, and to dwell on what You are doing rather than on what has already occurred. Give me a renewed sense of Your plans and purposes so that I may see where the path lies that You have forged for me to move ahead. Give me the strength to leave what is behind me at the foot of the cross, and to forge forward to what You are getting ready to do. Help me to deal with the baggage of the past, and to approach the future with unhindered, open hands, raised in adoration and worship of You as You lead me forward. This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?