Facing the Future While Still Dealing With the Past

Many soldiers came home from the Vietnam war and had their lives destroyed because they could not go forward with their lives while dealing with their past experiences in the war. They were filled with memories of horrible things that happened while they were there, and they were not able to get over those events. As long as they could not deal with the past, they could not face the future.

That is a major problem in Christians who have gone through devastating spiritual failings. Many people are unable to get on with their lives, and be effective for God again because they are unable to deal with the past. They do not realize the fact that the past is the enemy of the future and you cannot live in both places at the same time. The past becomes the obstacle that prevents them from pursuing the future. Their perspective of the future is devastated by their past.

● Their confidence is crushed.
● Their idealism is turned to fatalism.
● Their memories are scarred.
● Their dreams become nightmares.
● Their optimism sours to pessimism.
● Their obligations become oppressive.

They are in a tug of war with the past that they cannot win. The past can take a hold on someone that paralyzes them from moving on with their life. Their failures leave them convinced that they are destined to forever be a failure. The ghost of past mistakes haunt them, and they hide from the future to escape those ghosts of the past. They are moving towards the future backwards. Rather than seeing the potential ahead, they only see the devastation behind.

What is the solution? I finally had come a point in my life when I decided to deal with the past while facing towards the future. That day was a turning point in my life. The first thing that brought me to that point, was accepting the fact that I could not change the things I had done in the past, nor could I change many of the consequences. I have two daughters who I did not have the joy of watching grow up. Since I cannot change that, I must remind myself that the future still has hope.

So many things in life are hurt by those of us who are unable to deal with the past.

● It destroys future relationships.
● It damages future endeavors.
● It discourages future projects.
● It dampens future happinesses.
● It endangers future usefulness.
● It deepens future temptations.

This is one of the biggest reasons why couples who have divorced end up fighting with each other in an attempt to win the affection of their children. They keep hurling stones from the past at one another because they are unable to deal with the past. They are destroying their future rather than building on it. The past has consumed them.

Although this is a major problem for many, there are some things that can be done to remedy the situation. Let me share with you some of these.

1. Make peace with the past by making peace with God. How can a person make peace with their past? In fact they cannot. The past will rear its ugly head as long as it is allowed to have a free pass in your life. It will take up permanent residence if it is allowed to, and end up destroying any hope you might have for a productive future. The past is an enemy set to destroy the future. It is jealous of the future, so it seeks to prevent the future from doing what it cannot do. The past is at war with the future and will never sound retreat.

More people have been destroyed by their pasts than any other thing. While their future was an empty slate, they were living in a past that was filled with bad decisions and actions. Rather than beginning anew on that clean slate, they tried to erase those things in the past, that could not be changed. Every time they looked to the future, the past jumped in the way and obstructed their view.

When Jesus died on the cross, He dealt with our pasts and brought them into captivity. There is nothing I can do to make peace with my past, but I have found that my past is intimidated by my Savior. He conquered my past, and as long as I am at peace with Him, I can have peace with my past. I am really not interested in negotiating a peace settlement with my past because my negotiations will only allow the past to take further advantage of me. I am interested in allowing the Lord to handle those negotiations for me.

How does this work? Making peace with the past comes, when I make peace only with the Lord. Everything I do to appease the past, is done only to please the Lord. If it is acceptable to Him, He will make it acceptable to the past. He becomes the mediator. There are some things I needed to do about the past in order to be fully at peace with the Lord. Those things I did for that reason, and the past was forced to accept them.

You see the past will exact an incredible toll for peace and then go back on its word. As long as I live, my past will try to make my future suffer. If I try to make peace with the past, I will be engaging in a never ending process that will not work. If I instead try only to make peace with God, I am adequately dealing with the past, without allowing the past to destroy me.

Most people who try to make peace with their pasts, keep trying and trying, but it is never enough. They end up throwing away their future while still never accomplishing their goal of making peace with their past. If only they had quit trying and just made peace with God, they would have been able to face the future with a hope of being useful and productive again.

Many Christians live in the past and try to make others live there with them. They are the ones who will not allow you to forget the mistakes you have made. Do not try to make peace with them. Make peace with God and allow Him to deal with them. This is a very important secret to getting on with your life, while still dealing with the things in your past with which you need to deal.

I am not suggesting that someone should ignore their past and pretend that they have no responsibilities for the things they have done. I am saying that they should not make peace with the past for the sake of the past, but for the sake of the Lord. The Lord will lead you to do that which is honest and right without allowing the past to take control of your life.

The way we make peace with God is through faith. Confession is an act of faith. We confess our sins believing that HE WILL forgive us for those sins and cleanse us from all of the unrighteousness involved in them. The confession brings His peace within us to give us the confidence we need to go forward in our relationship with Him.

1John 1:9 says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

That was the secret to the success of David after his sin had been discovered. He dealt with it openly and honestly before God. We must do the same.

I have discovered that the past is at its strongest, when I have unconfessed sin in my life. The quicker I confess my sins, the quicker I am cleansed and able to continue facing the future. There is a big difference in how God sees me and how I see myself. He may see me justified, but when I am hiding sin from Him, I see myself unjustified which robs me from being at peace with God. Confession needs to be more than merely a daily activity, it must be a constant activity. The moment the thought of sin enters we need to admit it to God so that we are staying at peace with Him.

Far too many Christians think of God in terms of our human natures, so we worry about His opinion of us more than we do about keeping peace between us. I have told my children that I would rather they tell me that they have done something wrong than for me to have to discover it later. Telling me allows the relationship to remain unstrained, while hiding it causes them to pull away from me. My opinion of my children is not determined by their mistakes. It is predetermined by my love for them. No matter what they do, I want to maintain a good relationship with them.

God is the same way with us. Our relationship to Him is more important than anything else. His opinion of us is not determined by our actions, but by His predetermined love towards us. My friend, to get on with your life, you must get on with your relationship with God. Make peace with Him and keep that peace by open confession to Him.

2. Turn your shame and disgrace into a testimony of God’s love, grace and mercy. One of the hardest things I ever did was to accept the reproach of my sins and use it as an opportunity to speak of the marvelous grace and mercy of the Lord, but when I did, it was liberating. I could not believe how much freedom it brought me and the hope it gave me for the future. Excuses for the past will lead to more shame and guilt. Blaming your past on something will lead to bitterness. The only solution is to share the goodness of what God has done in your life in spite of what you have done.

Let me give you an example of this. There have been many times when I have been confronted by someone in my past. I knew I had hurt them or brought about pain in their life, so I was filled with shame and guilt. My first inclination was to try to cover myself, but I learned that I needed to be honest about the fact that I had failed the Lord and that He had forgiven me and helped me to get my life back in order. There was a peace with the past that allowed me to confidently face the future.

Sin is a result of selfishness. Often that means that we sin because we are more concerned about what people think of us than what they think of God. That is why we hide sin rather than making it right in spite of the consequences. When we are right with Him, we become more concerned with what people think of our Lord than what they think of us. If they by thinking ill of me are able to think highly of our Lord, then I should be pleased. I am not pleased that I sinned, disappointed my Lord and brought reproach upon His name, but I can turn that which I have done against Him into a testimony of His grace and mercy. In so doing I have deflected their opinion of me towards God.

My life was a despicable failure, but God’s love is indisputably forgiving. That is incredible. I can face the future because He has forgiven the past. My past is now a tool to testify of Him. Paul said, O wretched man that I am! Look at the context of that statement.

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 7:21-8:2

Paul was expressing that, what he was from his past, would always be with him. He would always in this flesh be a sinner, but he did not have to live in the past if he was willing to live in the spirit. What amazes me the most about this passage is the candor of the apostle Paul. He was testifying of the fact that he was as a sinner, but his life was pointing towards the marvelous work of grace the Lord had performed in his life. If Paul could be that honest, why should I not likewise allow my failures of sin to point towards God’s perfect work of redemption and grace in my life?

3. Deal with your problems honestly, humbly and honorably. My failures brought on some major disasters in my life. I damaged my financial credit as a result of my foolishness. There are some things I have had to deal with that have not been comfortable or easy. I have found that by dealing with these in the proper way I am able to face the future in spite of these things. For a long time they had a hold on me that affected my outlook towards the future. I felt that I was less of a man because of these scars. Finally, I learned that these things must be dealt with, but I had to do so in a way that would not allow them to destroy my future. Let me share a couple of things about this.

1. Do not ignore or avoid these things. Dealing with them will be less devastating, than having them deal with you. You will live in a paralyzing fear if you just pretend that they will go away. Make a list of things that need to be dealt with and determine that you are going to do so. Much of the pain and agony of past mistakes is caused by ignoring things from the past with which we know we need to deal. Admitting to your problems is the first step towards solving them. Do not allow them to eat away at you.

2. Develop a plan for these problems. Let your plan replace your worry. Once you have admitted to the need to solve problems, allow a plan to put those problems on a shelf in your mind. Without a plan you are going to be plagued with a constant worry about what you are going to do when you finally are forced to face them.

3. Set the plan on auto pilot. This is crucial. While cleaning up problems caused by the failures of your past, do not allow yourself to deal with something every day that could be dealt with once and then forgotten. If you are in a financial mess, set up a payment plan once and then make certain that you just let it automatically go in motion. Deal with things once and then live with the plan you have made. Don’t give it any more thought.

This principle can revolutionize the way you deal with past problems. It can be adjusted for any situation Take my word for it, it beats the pressure of allowing it to consume you.

4. Live with it. My circumstances are not ideal, because of past mistakes. I accept them as they are because it is better than dealing with them every moment of every day. I accept them as fair and just, so that I can go on with my life. Once the plan for dealing with the problems is established, do your best to get it out of your mind and ride out the plan. Too many of us are always looking for a better way to solve the problems of our pasts. Tragically, that only causes us to allow the past to continue its domination over the future.

5. Do not allow others to dredge it back up in an attempt to make you deal with it again. There are people who try to “force” me to go back and deal with something in a way that is more satisfactory to them. Why should I dare live something that I have already dealt with, simply because someone wants to stick their nose into my business. Most of the time, they are not even aware of the fact that I have already dealt with it.

4. Allow Godly mediators to help you in areas you cannot resolve alone. There are things that simply cannot be resolved without the help of someone else. Perhaps something you have done has caused an individual to seek you harm and nothing you do satisfies them. Turn it over to a Godly person such as your pastor to help you resolve the matter. Do not frustrate yourself by fighting something you cannot control. Let me share a couple of reasons why this is important.

1. If the situation is hopeless, you can be assured that you did all you thought was right at the advice of a Godly person. Any credibility I have, is derived by the fact that I have submitted myself to the advice of others who have approved my actions in areas that otherwise I could not solve. They attest to the fact that I did what I could to resolve the matter. There were times when I almost became despondent because I thought there was no way to resolve a problem. Allowing another to intervene, prevented that one who was making the situation impossible, from using it to stop me from the process of being restored.

2. Instead of struggling with your past, you can allow that person to carry the load of your past for you so that you can get on with the future. A pastor can be a great help in helping you deal with these matters, so that they do not dominate your thoughts. If you try to deal alone with things that are out of your control, alone they will become a major part of your thinking, and will keep you facing backward instead of toward the future.

3. Learn to let the Lord carry your burdens. The song says, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.” How true that is. Most of the time, we fail to avail ourselves of the opportunity to place our burden on the Lord. He is willing to even bear the burdens from my past mistakes,if I will allow Him to. Whenever something from the past begins to weigh me down, I try to take it to the Lord and tell Him about it. I cannot carry the past on my shoulders, but He is willing to bear it for me, so that I can run the race which is set before me.

5. Do not talk about the past. Please get this point.

DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE PAST.
DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE PAST.

Time and time again my dad tried to make me realize that I was talking too much about the past and that it was keeping me from seeing any hope for the future. For some reason, for a long time, I was unable to follow that advice. As long as I kept facing the past, I could not deal with the future. Talking about it made me feel worse even as I sought for it to liberate me from my pain.

We live in a society that talks too much about its problems. We search the past looking for a hope for the future, not realizing that the past is the enemy of the future. The talk intensifies the control the past has over us, and serves only to bring greater harm to the future. My life was transformed when I quit allowing myself to succumb to the temptation of talking about the past. You will find that the country of past-dwellers is inhabited by failures. Let me give you a few suggestions.

1. Get control of your telephone and your Internet. See them as a tool for accomplishing the tasks of the future, rather than a weapon to destroy the future. Screen your calls and emails if you need to, but avoid people who enjoy idle chatter. One of the greatest days of my life was the day I got control of my things. I refuse to either listen to or read garbage about me. REFUSE! I will not let Satan, to get into my head. I am strict in guarding myself from these things and I ask friends to help me with filtering things that would bring down my spirit.

2. Beware of “fellowship.” Too much fellowship revolves around talk of the past rather than projects of the future. Reserve your fellowship for building. Turn talk about what you did in your past, to what God is doing in your present. That will separate the wrong friends quicker than trying to chase them away. The second you refuse to enter into their attempt to turn your attention back to the past, you win that battle.

3. Speak to edify. Become the type of Christian who measures your words carefully. Words are like seeds. If you plant too many of them, they will choke each other and prevent a bountiful harvest. Learn how to be silent. Avoid idle conversation. Make certain that every word you speak is fitly spoken. Do not react to accusation with quick responses. Think carefully before you speak. Maybe you should not even answer at times. Some people will bait you if they can, and if you take the hook you are caught in the trap of satan.

4. Do not listen to bad about others because it will bring back memories of your past. Hearing of others failures has a terribly adverse affect on me. I cannot explain it, except to say that somehow the past uses it as a seed to take me back into the past instead of looking towards the future. Tell me good things about people. I don’t need to hear of their failures or sins.

5. If you must talk about your past, talk to the Lord about it. There are times when the past begins to consume my thoughts, and I feel the need to talk to someone about it. The best thing I can do at those times is to get alone with the Lord and just pour out my heart to Him. It is amazing, the strength He gives, when I do that.

Many a Christian has destroyed their future with their own tongue. The Bible warns us of what the tongue can do when it is out of control. Tragically, much of the damage that it does, is done to the one who allows it to be out of control. For a long time the deadly poison from my own tongue was killing my future.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:6-8

6. Apply the principles of God’s Word to rule you concerning tribulations and trials so they can do their perfect work in your life. I believe that the principles of tribulation also apply to those tribulations that are brought on by our failures. In fact, tribulations are meant to be used for our perfecting, so they most certainly would apply to those tribulations brought on by our sins.

Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Rom. 4:25-5:6

What work does tribulation have?

● It brings patience.
● Patience then brings experience.
● Experience then brings hope.
● Hope replaces our shame with the love of God.

I am convinced that this passage is speaking about dealing with the tribulations of our ungodliness. Look where it leads. It takes away our shame and fills us with His love. What shame? The shame that our failures bring upon us. The tribulations brought on by your past can have a happy ending IF you follow the prescribed plan.

Notice where the plan begins. It begins when we glory in our tribulations. What do we do? We complain. We pity ourselves. We lament our plight. We live in regret. All of that is the negative aspect that allows the tribulations to destroy us rather than to make us. We must glory in it.

For too long, I was consumed with the tribulations I was facing as a result of the failures in my life. I was also filled with a shame that prevented me from facing the future. I am not certain where I am on this line of progression, but I know that much of my shame has already began to erode into a joy from knowing His love, in a greater way than I had ever known it before. I cannot help, but believe that this is only the beginning of what God has for me as I learn more and more to glory in these tribulations. Every day, I am confronted with more awareness of the wrong attitude I possess towards those things which I lost as a result of my sins. As I learn to glory in these, I process in the patience that will eventually lead me from shame to a deeper realization of His love.

God is not a negative God, but He understands the need for negatives in creating positives. It is a divine law of God that negatives produce positives. A seed must die to give life to a new plant. The farmer does not plant the seed, focused on the death of the seed, but on the life that will spring forth from the earth.

I know that many of the struggles from my past will lead to many of the blessings of my future if I allow God to have His perfect plan accomplished in me. Therefore, I approach the future with optimism that He will take my failures and use them to make me more of what He intended for me to be. I changed my attitude towards the future from the gloom of my tribulations to the glory of my tribulations I changed my outlook from enduring the pain of my destruction to enjoying the pain of my development.

The word glory is a very interesting word. It does not mean that we gloat or act giddy over something. In its purest definition, it means opinion. It means that I have given up my opinion of the way I think things ought to be to the way things are. That explains why glorying in our tribulations brings patience. We decide that rather than trying to change the way things are, we accept them as being the way they are supposed to be.

The word patience means to abide under. When we glory in our tribulations or accept them as being right for us, we learn to live under those circumstances, rather than trying to change them. We become experienced in living by faith, by living with things the way they are, rather than the way we wish they could be. We are strengthened or “proven” by that experience. That experience leads to the hope that God is going to do with us whatever it was that He intended to do by allowing us to be in that tribulation. That hope replaces the shame for what has happened to us with His love which is shed abroad by the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Even the word ashamed, in this passage has a powerful meaning. It means, that which is within us, that prevents us from doing what we ought to be doing. It is that paralyzing fear that comes, when we have failed the Lord. Glorying in our tribulations takes away the fear of doing whatever it is that God wants us to do. That fear is replaced by a pouring of God’s love throughout our hearts, which further purifies us for His use.

Yes, I faced tribulations as a result of my sins. No, those tribulations did not appeal to me when they first came into my life. Yet, now I see how many of them have led me to a greater joy in my relationship with the Lord as I have learned to glory in them. I am excited at knowing that I am not what I was, but I am what He is making me.

7. Approach your future with excitement and optimism as well as with a new wisdom gained from your past experiences and failures. My mistakes were many, but the lessons I have learned give me excitement about the future. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to apply what you know to how you live.

In my past, I knew what was right, but I did not have enough wisdom to do what was right. So what has changed? I now know that I must seek God for wisdom, so that I can apply what I know to how I live. That is what James tells us to do.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith,nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8

The stability of my future is determined by my willingness to seek the Lord’s wisdom in the temptations I face. A double-minded man, is one who knows what is right to do, yet entertains the thoughts of doing wrong. Both good and bad thoughts are fighting within him, and that robs him of all of his stability. It is impossible to face the future with excitement when you are not filled with wisdom because you have not really decided what you want. You are caught between the desire to do what the flesh wants and the knowledge that you ought not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

One of the most important lessons I learned is that I need the Lord to give me His wisdom if I am going to face a future of stability and happiness.

8. Do not expect the past to quit fighting for the dominating role in your life. Every day of my life the past is trying to take control of my life. I know that if that happens, I will be allowing my future to be destroyed. There will be events, people and even opportunities that will point me back to the past if I allow them to. What is the solution to these temptations?

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 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. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Phil. 3:12-15

Paul admonishes us to put the past behind and look towards the future. We can only face in one direction. Whichever direction we choose to face, will cause the other to pay homage to it. Keep your eyes on the goal and press towards it.

One day I was running in a race. While running in that race I allowed some things into my path that did not belong there and I fell. For awhile, I laid there on the track licking my wounds and feeling sorry for myself for what I had lost. I thought the race was lost because so many of the runners with whom I had been running were so far ahead of me. Then one day, I realized that the race was not a race of who finishes first, but of who finishes. I got up and began to run, but I kept falling down because I could not get my eyes off of that which had tripped me I did not realize it, but I was running backwards.

Finally, I turned around and accepted where I was on the track, and decided to just start pressing towards the goal again. There are some scratches that in time will heal. Some may even leave scars, but I must keep running towards the goal. The crowd that once cheered me is silent now, a few even jeer me for falling, but I must keep running towards the goal. The arrogance I once possessed, is gone, replaced by a new sense of my fallibility, but I must keep running towards the goal. The opportunity to receive the accolades and prize of men is gone now, reserved for others who have not fallen, but I must keep running towards the goal.

Some are embarrassed by my fall and refuse to associate with me, but I must keep running towards the goal. I am no longer the superstar, contending for first place, but I must keep running towards the goal. My running suit, once so clean and perfect, is torn and covered by the stains from the ground, but I must keep running for the goal. The voice of my past cries out to me to quit, to give up the race, but I must keep running towards the goal. Others who are running ahead of me, have also fallen on the track and almost cause me to trip again, but I must keep running towards the goal.

One day the race will be over and my Heavenly Father will judge me, not by where I finished in the race, but by whether or not I was still running towards the goal. At that day, my past will be forgotten and only what I have done to run the race will matter.

The greatest problem for most Christians is not that they have fallen, but that they are trying to run the race backwards. They are looking at the past, yet unable to deal with it. They wonder why they cannot see the future. Turn around. Look to the future, and you will be able to deal with the past.