Embracing the Past

One of my favorite songs of all times is God’s Been Good, but there’s one phrase in the chorus that always gives me pause. The line goes, “Though I’ve had my share of hard times, I wouldn’t change them if I could.” That’s quite a bold statement and one I’m not sure I’m able to declare honestly. When I think back on my past mistakes, I long to go back and set things right, to erase the hurt caused by those mistakes. 

I’m reminded of The Flash, a show I’m watching on Netflix. Normally, I’m not much of a comic book or superhero fan, but something about this show intrigues me. Without giving too much of the plot away, I will provide you with an overview. Barry Allen is a young man who has experienced much heartache in his life and now has the opportunity to show the world he has not let his past define him or make him into something evil. Instead, he spends his days fighting crime and helping others who feel lost and alone.

One day, however, after facing another tragic loss, Barry decides he’s tired of being the victim and takes matters into his own hands by going back in time and preventing some of his life’s greatest heartaches. For a while, Barry is happy with the changes in the new timeline he has created, but soon he realizes those changes came at a high cost. He thought that undoing the wrongs that had been done to him would fix his life, but he never imagined what he would lose in the process. After trying to repair the timeline, a wise mentor reminds Barry they aren't God and teaches him that every decision and every change becomes a part of a new world, and things can never be the same.

I get where Barry was coming from. Sometimes, I think of how awesome it would be to go back in time and erase my past mistakes and the heartaches I’ve experienced. But if I did that, things would never be the same. I wouldn’t be me. While some things may be better, others could be worse. There’s no telling what would be affected by righting my wrongs or undoing past hardships. And honestly, I’m not willing to risk it, even if it were possible. I’d hate to wake up in a life where I had my health but not my husband or where I was a famous, best-selling author but had rejected Christ. 

The fact is, this life is mine—both the good and the bad. And instead of trying to erase my past, I need to embrace it because it has molded me into who I am today—a person with a sincere desire to serve God and to trust Him for my every need. I wouldn’t be who I am today had it not been for the things of my past. Yes, some events were painful, but, as the song says, “Through it all, God’s been good.”

Today, perhaps you are plagued by the sins of your past or burdened by tragedies faced in your earlier life. No matter how horrible those things were, please don’t try to erase them. Embrace them instead. Notice I said embrace them not dwell on them.  There is a difference. Dwelling on them leads to self-pity and discouragement whereas embracing them leads to growth and acceptance of who you are and how you arrived at your current state.  

So embrace those past experiences. Count them as lessons learned and steppingstones to get you to where you are today. As a former pastor once said, “God can take a crooked stick and draw a straight line.” Likewise, God can take a painful and shameful past and use it to shape you into something beautiful. Won’t you allow him to show you how?

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
— Jeremiah 29:11

Who Do You Think I Am? - The God Who Forgives

Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions. - Psalm 99:8 

The Hebrew phrase used in Psalm 99:8 is El Nasa, and the very basis of our salvation hangs in the balance of this sweet name which, in its most basic definition, is interpreted "God who forgives" or "forgiving God." Interestingly enough, there are different forms of the word "nasa," each carrying with it its own meaning. Some of the most common interpretations of the word are to lift up, to carry, to bear, to forgive, honored, and traveled. I don't know about you, but I can see where each of those definitions fits into the theme of forgiveness.

The Bible tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. We are all guilty of sin. We are sinners by nature and sinners by choice. Because of that sin, we are not fit for Heaven, a place of perfection and complete holiness. But God didn't want us to miss out on the joys of Heaven, so He made a way for us to be cleansed of our sins and made righteous in His sight. He sent His only begotten Son to be born, to live a sinless life and then to die in our stead. On that dreadful day of crucifixion, Jesus lifted up and carried, not only the weight of the cross, but also the weight of our sins as He traveled up the hill to Calvary. He bore our sin and our shame. He pleaded with the Father to forgive the very ones who were persecuting Him, and that includes us, for it was our sin that put Him on the cross. With the cry of "It is finished," He honored us with a gift that no one else could ever offer: everlasting life.

Because of that great sacrifice, Christ now acts as a mediator between us and God the Father. When Satan stands before the throne and accuses us of sins (of which we are guilty), Christ reminds the Father that our sins have been covered and paid for. On our end, to maintain sweet fellowship with the Lord, we need to ask forgiveness for the wrongs we've done. First John 1:9 tells us,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Other passages in the Bible comfort us with the knowledge that, not only does God forgive our sins, but He also forgets them. He casts them into the sea of forgetfulness, never to be brought up again.

No matter what we've done or how bad we've been, God is a God who forgives. He loves us and wants us to be right with Him. He welcomes us to His throne and listens with a loving heart as we pour out our faults before Him. As soon as they're confessed, He tosses them away and welcomes us back into loving fellowship with Him, just as if we had never sinned. He doesn't love us any less or treat us any differently. It's truly as if we never messed up to begin with. No guilt trips. No grudges. Just open, loving, genuine forgiveness.

I have heard with my own ears someone say, "Well, God can forgive a lot, but He can't forgive this." Yes, He can. No sin is too great (except the rejection of Christ's gift of salvation). He is a big God, an awesome God and a forgiving God. If we'll do our part (confess the sin), He will do His part (forgive). That's just the way He is. He's the God who forgives.

The Path To Forgiveness

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. - Matthew 5:43-45

That's a tall order, isn't it?  To love our enemies.  To do good to those who treat us poorly.  To pray for those who have done wrong by us.  It seems illogical to us.  Why should we do good by them when they've mistreated us so?  Don't they deserve ill treatment in return?  Not according to the Bible.  Jesus admitted to praying for Peter even though the disciple denied him three times.  And I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus even prayed for Judas, the betrayer.  He prayed for forgiveness for the very ones who crucified Him.  And if we want to be like Jesus, we need to follow His example.

The Lord recently brought this to light in my own life.  There was an altercation between another couple and myself, but to be honest, most of the problem was between the lady and me.  I won't go into details because it isn't important.  What matters is that when we got together to try to resolve the issue, the woman denied having said any of the things that created the situation to begin with.  She was adamant that I misunderstood and that the entire thing was my fault.  We ended the meeting with hugs and an agreement to let it go, but honestly, I was struggling with that.  How was I supposed to let it go?  Nothing was resolved, and I knew that I hadn't misunderstood.  Besides, this was not the first time we had had an issue like this.  My thoughts were that if we couldn't reach a real resolution, the problem would continue to resurface.

A week later, I was still having a difficult time forgetting the situation, and each time I thought on it, I became upset and anxious.  Finally, I sensed the Lord urging me to pray for the woman.  I balked.  Pray for her?  Why?  She doesn't deserve it.  She lied.  She refused to own up to her end of the disagreement.  She didn't ask for forgiveness or even admit that she needed it.  Why in the world should I pray for her?  But, the prompting wouldn't leave, and in addition to the urgency to pray for her was the thought that I needed to do so for me as much as for her.

So, I prayed, but I must admit, it wasn't very heartfelt.  Still, I tried to push away my bitterness and hurt and do as the Lord had asked.  For the next few days, I prayed for the woman, and each day it got a little easier.  On the fifth day, as I began to pray, I found myself crying over this woman.  They weren't tears of anger, frustration or even hurt.  I was literally feeling abounding compassion for her and felt that she must be under a lot of stress and strain to react the way she did.  Instead of being hard-hearted toward her, I felt heartbroken for her, and at that moment, everything changed.

Did she change?  I have no idea.  After all, she probably has no idea that I've been praying for her.  But I can tell you, without a doubt, that I changed.  The bitterness melted away.  Forgiveness came easier.  And when I came face to face with the woman a few days later, I was able to genuinely smile at her and speak to her without feeling like a hypocrite.  All because I followed God's command to pray for those whom I don't really feel like praying for.  It may not change them, but it will certainly change us.

Are you having trouble letting go of something that someone did to you?  Are you struggling with forgiveness?  If so, I implore you to follow the example of Jesus--pray for that person.  It may seem insincere at first.  It may feel like a waste of time.  But devote a few minutes every day to praying for that person as sincerely as you can, and I guarantee you, within a few days, you'll notice a change in your heart.  And when that change starts to occur, don't stop praying.  Pray more fervently .  Pray until you feel that compassion run deep, and then pray some more.  The path to forgiveness lies in our willingness to bring others before the throne of God.  When we do, big changes take place and letting go becomes possible!