Don't Forget the Past


"And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” Deuteronomy 8:2

All too often, we hear the phrase “forget the past.” I have found this to be especially true when going through a hard time. For many people I know, memories of the past bring a deep sense of regret.  There is an inclination within us to “move on.” Underlying this inclination is an agonizing belief that there is nothing worthwhile in our pasts. It’s hard to ignore how we could have done things or treated people differently. It’s even more difficult to believe our past mistakes and failures can somehow benefit our futures. In recent years however, I’ve discovered that remembering the past actually gives me strength to persevere through present hardships and to hope for what is to come.

Scripture stresses the importance of not forgetting the past. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses commands the Israelites to remember the past. Deuteronomy is a collection of speeches that Moses gives to the Israelites right before they are about to enter the Promised Land. They are nostalgic recollections filled with memories of how God delivered the Israelites from their oppression. The story of the Israelites in the wilderness is not just about how God led the Israelites to the Promised land, but it is a testimony of God’s steadfast love and forgiveness. Although the Israelites rebelled against God countless times, He continued to show them mercy, not because of their actions or their worthiness, but simply because He was and is faithful. Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses stresses this over and over again. He keeps reminding them to remember their God and what He has done for them.

Reflecting on the past allows us to remember God’s faithfulness as we move forward. There is a difference between dwelling in the past and remembering the past. Dwelling in the past does not allow us to look forward. If we focus too much on the past, we are tempted to live for the past rather than for our future in Him. You can discern that you are living for the past when you are afraid of embracing life changes, whether it is a shift in career or in a relationship. You might decide to try and “fix your past.” You might do so out of bitterness or fear. But remembering the past, specifically the ways in which God has cared for and loved us, gives us strength and joy to believe He will do the same in present circumstances, no matter how hard-pressed and discouraged we are. God instructed Moses to remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness because He knew what challenges they would face as they entered the Promised Land of Canaan. In the same way, reflecting upon God’s past faithfulness prepares us to handle present and future hardships.

Remembering God’s faithfulness compels us to respond in three ways:

Trust. When we reflect on His faithfulness, we have no other choice but to trust Him. Because the Israelites failed to reflect on how faithful God had been, they let their immediate circumstances dictate their level of trust in the Lord (Deu. 8:2-3). Yet, time and time again, in every moment of uncertainty and crisis, God had proven Himself to be faithful. As His people, this is also true for us today and tomorrow. God’s unchanging character gives us assurance that He is working all things for our good no matter our present circumstances.

Obedience. Not only does Moses tell the Israelites to trust the Lord, but He tells them to walk in the ways of the Lord (Deu. 8:6). He reminds them countless times that they must obey the commands of the Lord; in other words, live out their trust in the Lord. God’s faithfulness compels us to live our lives in uncompromising obedience. We might not always understand the purpose of our hardships, but this should not stop us from devoted obedience. By reflecting on His faithfulness in our pasts, we can have full confidence that as we live out our trust in the Lord, He will prove His faithfulness again and again.

Celebration. Finally, reflecting on the past allows us to celebrate God’s faithfulness and what is to come.   The Israelites kept looking to the past because of their immediate hardships in the wilderness, but God was actually preparing them for something far greater than they could ever imagine. Moses reminded them over and over again that God was preparing them to seize the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. In the same way, God is preparing us for what is to come. Our confidence is not found in our material possessions or earthly accomplishments, but in the reality that our light and momentary afflictions are achieving us a future glory that outweighs them all (2 Cor. 4:17). That is cause for celebration!

When you feel lost, confused or discouraged, take a moment to reflect on God’s faithfulness in the past seasons of your life. Remember all the ways God has been faithful in your life because His ways are unchanging. As God’s children, we do not have to “forget the past.” There is a profound truth and joy in being able to see God’s fingerprints in our lives through every season. Most important of all, we do not have to dwell in the past because for believers, the best is yet to come.

Andrea Chung is a wife, mother, and on staff with The Meeting Place TMP. She attended University of California, Davis where she studied Sociology. She furthered her education at UCLA where she received a M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Education. 

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