God's Goodness in Giving Us "A Past"
"Do not dwell in the past; do not dream of the future; concentrate your mind on the present moment."
"The past explains how I got here, but the future is up to me..."
"The past should be left in the past, otherwise it can destroy your future..."
"Forget the past; remember the lesson."
The past... sometimes thinking about all the things "in the past" can overwhelm me and make me feel really small or guilty or discouraged. Sometimes past moments are happy or can be remembered with fondness. The overwhelming theme, though, as I browsed these quotes on "the past" indicated that the past is something on which we should not focus. The past is like that box of things you shove in the back of your closet and only bring out for special occasions or when you are by yourself. But, as I have been reading through the Psalms this summer, I have come to a very different approach to the past.
Over and over throughout the Psalms and other places in Scripture, the writer will often record the various things God has done in the past for his people. Phrases like, "I will remember"; "you have been"; "I will ponder and mediate on what you have done"; "he remembered"; "they remembered"; "we recount your wondrous deeds"... over and over again throughout these psalms (particularly 60-90 as these are the passages I have been focusing on lately...) we read about how God led this way; how he was faithful in this circumstance; how he was compassionate and merciful; how he did not forget; how he did not get angry; how he disciplined, yet forgave and remembered his covenant.
As I was reflecting on these things, I found myself feeling very grateful.
Grateful for how God has given us his word to show us his faithfulness throughout history.
Grateful God has shown us himself through his word to be all he promises to be- and more.
Grateful for the fulfillment of so many promises that have brought us as believers to be partakers of the righteousness of God through Christ.
And, then- there's the more personal application of gratefulness- ways God has worked in my own unique life to be all that I have needed.
I was cooking this last week (it's part of my job), and I found myself overwhelmed in thinking about how God has so changed my focus on food and work and home and life.
Because for one who has struggled with food and eating disorders, you become deceived into thinking that food is the enemy. People who shove food at you are the enemy. Food keeps you from your goals of being thin or attractive or fit or whatever goals those may be at the present time. Food was bad.
And, then God guided me to work for a family who wanted help with making meals and grocery shopping, as well as office work.
So, I did the basics. The bare minimum.
And, then I got married to a man who loves good food and whose mother is an excellent cook.
So, I had to learn something more about food and how to make it... well, at least palatable, if not good.
And, then, I had a baby.
And, instead of working in an office and keeping food things at bay, it became my everyday existence.
Not only was I now having to focus on food for my husband and a baby, but I kept my job- only that job began to morph into being mostly food related: i.e. grocery shopping, food prep and planning, and cooking.
And, then I had another baby. And, now I was feeling even more pressure because my body and family and job demanded food. Needed food. And, in this, I was missing a huge part of what was good. Not only physically, but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
And, now... that is what I do every week. I prep meals, make meals for my employer and her family, look up new recipes, try new things for friends and family with food allergies... food is basically my life now. And, I love it.
It has truly been a journey re-learning about food. Learning new ways of trying things and actually re-learning to enjoy good food.
Food is a gift. A gift from the good hand of my Father. And, learning to use those gifts to bless others has been a great part of God's healing process in my heart and mind.
As I stood over my stove thinking about these things, my heart swelled with gratefulness. Because, to be honest, it wasn't (isn't) just about food. It's about my focus.
For the Israelites, it was the same way. It wasn't just about the fact that they wanted to worship other gods or they complained or they wanted to marry foreign women or they wanted __________. It was their focus.
Instead of remembering who their God really was- how he had redeemed them from slavery, how he had protected them at the Red Sea, how he had provided water and manna and quail for them in the wilderness, how he had faithfully brought them to the Promised Land, how he had judged them rightly for their complaining, how he had powerfully won them victories over their enemies, how he had rightly judged them for their sins of idolatry and unfaithfulness, how he had given them leaders and judges to teach them- they forgot. They forgot to remember the past.
Why is looking back so important?
It reminds us of God's character.
It reminds us of God's promises.
It reminds us of our frailties before him.
It reminds us we need a Savior.
It reminds us we have a future and a hope.
And, this is what I needed. I needed to remember I have been redeemed from slavery to sin. I serve a God who has protected me in countless ways. I serve a God who has provided me with abundant physical provisions as well as spiritual riches. I serve a God who has been faithful to me, bringing me here, to this place, to serve in this capacity as a wife, a mom, an employer, as part of a church. I serve a God who has judged me and made me see what a futile effort it is to attempt things of my own whims. I serve a God who has won the victory in my life, showing me areas where I have been so frail and weak and giving me his strength to overcome. My God has been faithful. And, it has been good to remember.
Knowing what I know now has helped me see how God changes and redeems and protects and guides. I didn't just "get over" my issues or "move on" of my own goodness or attempts or efforts. How do I know this? Because I know I tried to do it so many times on my own, in my own way without letting God in the picture. Just. like. the. Israelites. Over and over again, I would go back to selfishly wanting my way, my looks, my control. And, God had to patiently, firmly, righteously remind me that my ways are not best. My ways are futile. My ways are destructive and lonely and unbearable.
So, like the Psalmist writes, "I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble, I seek the LORD; in the night, my hand is stretched out, without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. (Have you ever been there?) ...I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old... I said, 'Let me remember... let me meditate in my heart.' Then, my spirit made a diligent search: 'Will the LORD spurn forever and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased ? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?'"
These, of course, are rhetorical questions. God has not spurned us. He has not stopped loving. He has not stopped his promises. He has not forgotten to be gracious. He has not rejected compassion toward us.
These things I had to remember. I had to confess sin. I had to remember his promises. I had to taste afresh of his great love and compassion. And, I had to let him lead.
How about you?
Have you taken some time to remember what God has done for you?
Do you rejoice that you have been redeemed?
Do you remember areas of failure and sin and confession and rejoice in the faithful, compassionate love of your God?
Do you reflect on the past and rejoice over the ways God has faithfully provided and led and won the victory?
Maybe there's areas of your life where you are feeling like the Israelites. You are living in state of complaining or idol worship or distrust or gossip or deceit or control or pride. Maybe you are in dark time of physical pain or emotional stress.
"I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might
among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people;
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water,
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron."
Psalm 77: 11-20
Wherever you are right now, God is there. And, it is important to remember.
Remember the past, remember God's character and promises in the present, and reflect on his hope for the future.
We are not dependent on ourselves to conjure up our own victories. We are not left to attempt this journey alone. God is there. May we all take time to remember. Remember the moments God has led you- even though his "footprints were unseen". Rejoice in what he has done in the past, let him lead you now, and anticipate the future joys he has promised.
"Where else can I go?
Jesus, you're the one that I was made to know.
What else can I do?
Jesus, you're my all; I gladly run to you."
Additional Song for Mediation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qm4KGWvz4KU