Looking Back to Press Forward

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Memories light the corners of my mind.  Misty water-colored memories of the way we were . . .*

The Way We Were (song) Barbra Streisand

These lyrics of a 1973 song made famous by Barbra Streisand evoke feelings that each of us can easily relate to as we look back and contemplate the past.  Remembrance is a common human experience that fills our lives and frames our worldview.  

We have shared cultural memories that we celebrate together, such as the upcoming Memorial Day on Monday, May 25th, a holiday for honoring the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military. This is just one example of the many memorial days we set aside to help us remember important things such as wedding days, birthdays, Independence Day, days for special people like veterans, mothers, fathers, etc.  

As Christians, we also have special times that we memorialize such as Christmas, Easter, and the Lord’s Day, when we gather weekly to worship and partake of the communion that Jesus established to remind us of his sacrifice on the cross (Matthew 26:26-29).  Needless to say, looking back can be very beneficial for people when we have a proper perspective.  However, looking back can be disabling, if our remembrance is merely a stagnant longing for things “just like the good old days”, rather than as a motivator to press on towards a worthy goal.

We see this kind of negative remembrance in the Children of Israel after they were rescued from Egyptian slavery and God gave them special bread called “manna” to eat during their desert travels.  They were looking back to Egypt and grumbling about the provisions God gave them.

“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers‬ ‭11:4-6‬)

In their backward looking they forgot the 400+ years of slavery and oppression they had been delivered from, as well as the promised blessings that God had made to their ancestor Abraham, because they allowed their vision to be distorted by their cravings.  As a result of their undisciplined and faulty remembrance, they continued to grumble and disobey, so that a whole generation died in the desert and their children were the ones to enter the Promised Land, after they had wandered for 40 years in the desert, until the rebellious generation all died! (Numbers 14:20-38)

However, we can also see examples of remembrance being a catalyst that launches us forward into new growth and purposeful action.  Paul, the Apostle, teaches us to look back at our past soberly, so that we may learn from it and press on towards a worthy goal.  He was a passionate Jew who persecuted the first Christians, seeking to arrest men and women, imprison them, and even have them sentenced to death for their faith (Acts 7:1-8:3). However, he was confronted with reality when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, where Paul experienced a refocusing of his vision, which changed his worldview forever.  He became an apostle and spent the rest of his life proclaiming Jesus and the Good News of Salvation to the world.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ . . .that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 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.” (‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:7-8, 10-12‬)

By looking back with proper perspective to the cross of Jesus and his own past choices, Paul was able to be transformed into a new person, using all his passion and talents to press on towards a worthy goal and fulfill his purpose as God’s spokesman. What a great example for us to consider as we also look back in remembrance.  Our encouragement is that you will clearly remember the past as you look forward to the goal that you are pressing towards, is it worthy and of eternal significance?  Or is your past remembrance causing you to repaint the scene in “water-colored memories” that are keeping you stranded in a past that is no more?  

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (‭‭Galatians‬ ‭2:19-20‬)

We invite you to come and see for yourself this Jesus, who, like Paul, we proclaim to this world.  And to our fellow Christians, Iest we forget, our encouragement is for you to take a fresh look at Jesus.  Remember and be motivated to move into the future with renewed hope and energy as we follow Jesus, the founder of our faith! (Hebrews 12:2)

*Barbra Streisand for her fifteenth studio album, The Way We Were (1974). It was physically released as the record’s lead single on September 27, 1973 through Columbia Records, written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch, while production was solely handled by Marty Paich.  

Picture from Wikipedia