I think we all know someone who’s opening line in any conversation is along the lines of “back in my day”, or “I remember when …..”.
Often, they are remembering something positive – (funny how we seem to forget the bad stuff after the passage of time isn’t it?” Reminiscing is fun – and can be useful. The danger arises when we begin to “live” in the past and the (tainted) memory of how good it was. Because we only remember the “good old days” and not the “actually, life was really tough old days”, we have a very tainted view of the past.
It is the same with the Christian life. Remembering the goodness of God is helpful – the Psalms are full of David remembering what God has done in the past and calling for Him to do it again.
God never changes – so looking back to what He has done is useful – but He is also “doing a new thing.” It is vital that we don’t miss the new thing that God is doing because we are looking backwards to what God did last week, last week or last century. We can learn lessons from all sorts of different people, denominations and cultures. We need to grab hold of the truths, embrace them, and apply the lessons to the next thing God is doing.
Remembering the past is important though. We call it testimony, and Revelation 19:10 tells us that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Recounting the things that Jesus has done builds faith. There is a “hope” that is raised when we hear that someone has been blessed by God. We celebrate with them, but perhaps secretly wish that we could get a similar blessing.
That we might also have a similar blessing is not a vain hope – because talking about these things releases something in the spiritual realm that really does enable more of the same to happen.
So, there is no doubt that testimony of the past is important.
But we can’t be constantly looking back – we risk missing what God is doing next. It’s like walking backwards all the time – we risk knocking into something, or worse falling over and hurting ourselves.
You see, the thing is, whilst it is great to hear of the things that Jesus did, the fact is He is still doing things today. We shouldn’t have to look very far back to allow testimony to build our faith.
When we create the future, we build on the lessons of the past. Things that have gone well, things that have challenged us. Without these lessons, there is the very real possibility of things falling apart around us.
I think it was Bill Johnson that once said, “God will never contradict His word, but He has no problem with contradicting our understanding of His word.” It’s great to wrestle with understanding the bible. Spending time in the word shapes us, helps us to be more like Jesus, and helps to ensure that we can “preach the word, being ready in season and out of season.” Recognising how different parts of scripture fit into the whole biblical narrative is vital. But spend too long focusing on one bit, and we may miss Holy Spirit moving in a different place.
We can look to the past to learn, but we can’t afford to live there.