There are good and bad aspects of thinking about the past. On the positive side, examining the past can give us direction for the future. We can look at our past successes and failures and apply those lessons to new situations. We can benefit from remembering the many blessings we’ve experienced. Looking backward, however, can have a negative side. Our past failures may keep us from taking risks, or hold us in a constant state of depression. Our past successes may make us desire to live in the past rather than tackle the challenges of the present. Hindsight is always 20/20, and sometimes our memories of the past aren’t exactly accurate. I once had a church member lament how worship attendance had decreased over the years (which it hadn’t). They said that in the 60’s the church used to average 700 people a Sunday. However, I knew this to not be the case since the sanctuary can only hold 400, and they only held one service.
So, what do we do with our past? Do we spend time thinking about it, do we just completely forget about it, or is there a third option? I want to suggest that there is indeed a third option. We need to use our past as a guide for the future. We should never live in the past, or cling to some utopian version of the past. Yet, we should be willing to look back and build upon our past to build the best future. Checkout Paul writing in Philippians 3:12-15:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
- Grow from the imperfections of your past: It’s good to look back and realize, wow! I sure made a lot of mistakes back then! Looking backward to see how God has forgiven us, changed us, and sanctified us is healthy. Dwelling on our past sins, however, is not. It is important that we give our past imperfections to God, who has the power to both forgive and heal.
- Harness the past for the future: It’s not healthy to “live in the past,” seeing it as the good old days and believing today and tomorrow to be inherently negative. We should take what we’ve learned from the past and apply it to living our best possible future for God. How can our past experiences, good and bad, help us tomorrow? How can the church’s past experiences, good and bad, help us to be the best church for the future? Don’t let the past run your life, but instead take what you can from it to best serve God tomorrow, the next day, and all the days of your life.