“Escape for your life! Do not look behind you.”
Nostalgia is a seductive liar.
George W. Ball
We love the past . . . ever noticed that? Our society is rife with nostalgia, with everything from proliferating “Golden Oldies” radio stations to brand-new magazines like Reminisce, which promises its readers “memories from a simpler time.” It seems that everywhere we look we are lured into romance with yesteryear. Many of Hollywood’s blockbusters strike gold by turning a wistful eye to the past—films like the historic tragedy Titanic, which delves into the lost love of an aged woman, and Cocoon, which reveals the longing for recaptured youth. Another favorite film, Somewhere in Time, tells of the beauty and mystery of finding true love by being supernaturally transported into the past. Oh, yes, we are fascinated with then.
Now, there is nothing in the world wrong with looking back and appreciating a fascinating slice of history or with casting a longing backward glance to a time when no nuclear threat, AIDS, air pollution or terrorism loomed over us. It is only natural to recount times when God has been good to us in days gone by. The Bible reveals, in fact, that He regularly instructed His people to do so.
Christ Himself left for the Church, as an act of remembrance, the practice of partaking of the Lord’s table. Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (emphasis added). Those final three words leave no doubt that we are to “look back” at what Christ accomplished for us on the cross and celebrate it until He reappears in the clouds at the dawn of a new age (see Matthew 24:30 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
We can trace this act of remembering back to the early days of Israel’s history. After striking the firstborn of Egypt with judgment and “passing over” the people of Israel, for instance, God told Moses, “So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14). To this day, the Jewish people look back to the Passover and honor it, just as God commanded.
After Moses’ death and upon Israel’s first trek into the Promised Land, God gave specific instructions to Joshua (Moses’ newly appointed successor): “Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm” (Joshua 4:3). Joshua later instructed the twelve men who had been chosen to represent each tribe:
“Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder . . . that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. . . . And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” verses 5–7
God clearly wanted the future generations of Israel to look back to the past in order to build their faith.
In these biblical cases, the past events served as “stones of remembrance,” memory markers that reminded God’s people of the times when He moved mightily on their behalf. Following this biblical example, we should all have “stones of remembrance,” recalling times that God led us forward in His blessings.
And along with the successes in our journeys, the past can also serve as a solemn reminder of hard-learned lessons, ones that, if we remember them, can prevent us from repeating the same costly errors. Contrary to the prevalent belief that we do not learn from the past, we should and can learn every valuable lesson God sends our way. The apostle Paul painstakingly rehearsed the sins committed by the children of Israel in the wilderness, stating that “all these things happened to them as examples—as object lessons to us—to warn us against doing the same things; they were written down so that we could read about them and learn from them in these last days as the world nears its end” (1 Corinthians 10:11, TLB). When we read of Israel’s idolatry, sexual sins, and complaining and murmuring, we must learn from her past errors and avoid falling into the same traps today.
These biblical stories (and others) illustrate the healthy, beneficial practice of looking back. We can recall past blessings of God in order to strengthen our faith, and we can remember our past sins (apart from experiencing condemnation and tormenting guilt) to gain wisdom for the future.
So when is assessing the past counterproductive and even destructive? At what point does looking through the rearview mirror become a drag on our faith and a hindrance to our lives? It is when ghosts from the past paralyze us and render us incapable of moving into the future. When something “back there” holds us—this reveals the need for deliverance. For all such “prisoners” the past is not a pleasant or productive place.
I do not dispute the fact that we sometimes need to assess the past in order to understand ourselves better. Brief glances into the rearview mirror are beneficial to gaining perspective, but that is not my focus in this book. Think a moment. Have you ever known someone (maybe yourself?) who constantly looked back to an unresolved offense? Or who was trapped by self-inflicted unforgiveness due to a personal failure? Perhaps the death of a loved one, an untimely decision or a failed business venture caused discouragement and fear of moving forward. Maybe a haunting personal trauma, such as sexual abuse, or a broken love relationship left a shattered heart in its wake.
If you are pondering whether or not having an excessive focus on the past is really all that important, let me assure you that the answer is yes! An unhealthy fixation on the past can and will rob you of your future. Throughout Part 1 of this book, in the next six chapters, we will explore six “chains” our adversary uses to hold us “back there” in hopes that we will spend today stuck in yesteryear. These chains are:
• Inordinate attachments to someone or something
• Past successes
Those trapped in the past are robbed of joy, achievement, meaning and God’s best until they are set free. All hope of forward movement is lost. Rather than the past being a place they occasionally visit, those who fall prey to these triggers make the past their home. Yesterday becomes their jailer, captor, tyrant and ultimate reality.
Later, in Part 2, we will shift our sights to the exciting future that waits for you. God has a plan older than earth itself. You don’t discover it; He discloses it. The destiny that He has in store is one of the most compelling reasons to shed any unnatural, drawn-out attachment to the past. So, let’s move on and explore some of the chains that can bind us back there.
How can you know when a chain holds you to your past in an unhealthy way? What is the difference between glancing in the rearview mirror for perspective and focusing on the past to the extent that it requires healing and deliverance? Here are a few warning flags:
1. You are preoccupied excessively with an event or events, a person or people.
2. You are unable to let go of a past event, even in spite of your best efforts.
3. You long excessively for a past time or place.
4. Vivid, recurring memories conjure fear, guilt, anger or bitterness.
5. You have the prevailing belief that “those were the days” and there will never be any that are better.
Do any of these ring a bell? I tell you, Jesus came to set us free from traps like these! Because they are traps with spiritual roots, only one thing will remove them—God’s truth. We are affected by what we experience, but we are changed by what we know. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, emphasis added). The less we know of God’s Word, the more susceptible we become to the traps and snares laid by the enemy of our souls.
We are going to discover that the chains noted above are part and parcel of Satan’s arsenal against God’s children and must be defeated by spiritual weaponry. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4, NIV). The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nelson, 2001) explains that the English word stronghold is taken from a Greek word meaning “to fortify, to hold safely.” A stronghold refers to something that holds you securely in its grip; a stronghold “holds you strongly.” It carries the idea of a well-fortified castle in which the bound are held captive.
In context, Paul is speaking of thoughts that exalt themselves against God’s will. “We destroy false arguments; we pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God” (verses 4–5, GNT). That is exactly what the chains that bind us to the past seek to accomplish. Satan does not want you to have “knowledge of God” as it relates to His purposes for you. So he baits your mind with thoughts, reasoning and arguments that rise up against God’s will and declare defiantly, “This child of God will be bound to the past. He or she will not walk in the fullness of God’s plan!”
Think about it. If the fish displayed on that plaque in the fisherman’s lodge could talk, he would probably say, “If only I had known what lurked behind that harmless-looking worm! It all happened so fast. At first, an appealing meal appeared before my eyes . . . Chomp! Then out of nowhere I felt a sharp stab and a tug—what was going on? Next, I felt a long, barely visible line pulling me against my will. Before I knew it a frightening being held me in his clutches and, well, the rest is history.” The worm was the lure that led the unsuspecting fish to a surprise demise—much like the bait of Satan.
Know for certain that Satan is behind this plan for our demise, and if he can he will use an unhealthy obsession with the past to lure us ultimately into his “boat.” He will do anything he can to conceal the wonderful future God has in store for us. He loathes the thought of your catching a glimpse of what waits on the other side of your decision to be freed from bondages of the past. Hear me well: The enemy does not want you to enter into the fullness of God’s plan for your life. He will do anything to stop that from happening. In light of this, let’s begin to view Satan as the great illusionist; the evil being that he truly is.
I remember vividly watching a scene in an old Hercules movie when I was a boy. Hercules (played by Steve Reeves) was captured by the enemy and placed at the bottom of a slave ship. After shackling his legs to the deck, a ruthless guard cracked a whip over his head repeatedly and shouted, “Row! Row! Row!” Of course, as the story told it, all of that rowing eventually developed Hercules’ muscles to the point where he was able to break free. But the point is, that scene reminds me of how Satan cracks the whip of idolatrous emotional attachments, past successes, heartbreak, failure, trauma and bitterness to remind us relentlessly of the pain and grief of yesterday when we should be focused on tomorrow.