What were you doing six months ago? Do you remember what kind of day it was? According to the Weather Network, we had a chilly -4.3C as our high temperature on January 28. That evening it dropped to -7.6C. I’d be willing to bet there were a few of us who complained about how cold it was.
Right now, the west coast is experiencing a “heat bubble.” Temperatures are in the low 40s. That’s over 100F. I’m thankful we won’t approach that temperature here in Ontario, but it will be warm - somewhere above 30C. Hot enough for ya?
We do this every year. We wish for some January weather in the summer and for some summer weather in January (but not enough to melt the curling ice). It is human nature. Not surprisingly, then, we find several idioms in the English language that refer to our spirit of discontent:
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
“There’s always next year” (a Leaf fan favourite).
“Easy come, easy go.”
“Better luck next time” (also a Leaf fan favourite).
The point is we can easily live life looking in the rear-view mirror, either regretting the past or daydreaming of (what we perceive could be) a better future. It is wise to take a look around from time to time - especially when driving a vehicle. But it is very unwise to wish for the good ol’ days or a dream world of some future reality.
We live in the here and now - a product of the past and the canvas for the future - but we are not fatalistic products of random determinism. That’s philosophical-speak for “we much more than just animals who are the result of a random history.” Does that mean we are immune from our history, and have no hope for the future? Absolutely not.
Our past choices and the choices of others directly impact us. We will struggle with guilt, shame, and regret. Sometimes we can trace those feelings back to our own actions or inactions. Sometimes it is because of someone else’s actions or inactions. Regardless, the struggle is real. It can’t just be dismissed but must be resolved. And that may be the hardest thing we all do in life.
Allow me to share a couple of observations that help me as I struggle through. I’m not trying to offer pop-psychology here, but admittedly these are very brief summaries of some significant Biblical truths worthy of deeper study.
1. Don’t wish for the good ol’ days. Our memories are selective. What has been has been - we cannot change the past. But we can resolve those issues - completely - because God is gracious. Think of the Apostle Paul. Here is a guy who probably graduated Valedictorian from Rabbi school. He built a career and was a Jewish hero for persecuting (including executing) those heretics who dare pervert the faith by teaching that Jesus was Messiah AND God in human form. But God transformed him. He became the premier teaching apostle of the early church. I have wondered many times if his “thorn in the flesh” was guilt over his pre-conversion activities. It is no wonder he said, “I leave the past behind, and I press on toward the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 - Graham’s version).
2. Grace trumps guilt. If you hang with Q50 Community Church for any length of time, you will hear this repeated frequently. This doesn’t mean grace is a “Get Out of Sin Free” card. Paul makes that clear in Romans 6:1. BUT - there is nothing we can do or have done that is greater than God’s grace. That’s why Paul - the ex-persecutor - says there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:37-39). And, previously to that, that God is always accomplishing His purposes (Rom. 8:28).
3. Moving forward requires truth and discipline. Paul uses some seriously challenging metaphors. Following after Jesus requires the discipline of a soldier, a farmer, and an athlete. It means embracing deferred gratification. It means we willingly endure hardship for the benefit of the outcome. A soldier endures drill sergeants; a farmer endures the heat of the summer, disease and plagues all in the hope of a harvest; and the athlete carefully regulates diet, time, and activities so they may compete well. Following Jesus is not a life-hack that brings solutions to problems. It is the exact opposite: it is choosing to do the hard things because they are worth doing.
4. There is hope. Always. We are not defined as the sum of our previous experiences. Our faith in Christ is much more than a ticket out of hell. Scripture teaches that when we confess our sins and are reconciled to God we become “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). We are being transformed (Rom. 12:1-2) and renewed into the image of Christ (Col. 3:9-11).
Our spiritual well-being is not immune from this human tendency to discontentment. And that is not because we are bad Christians. It is because we are God’s image-bearers who are still living in a broken world, still in the process of maturation and transformations, still battling agains the reality of sin. We will have those tough days when the regrets, guilt, and shame of the past will sneak up on us, whispering decit and lies. We will hear our past selves telling us we don’t deserve God’s grace, we aren’t good enough for Him, His love for for everyone except us, and on and on it goes. Welcome to being normal.
In contrast to this, a life of faith looks neither to the past and its plagues, nor the future and its dreams. Rather, we look up. We are commit to learning and remembering the nature of the God who created us (Heb. 11:1). We look up knowing the King is on His throne (Psalm 14, 102) and is engaged with the affairs in His creation.
We keep looking up!