As you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging very much over recent months. At first, this was because our psychological wounds were so deep and all-consuming that I had nothing left to give. As Peter and I heal, one of our big “homework” assignments is to write. This is resulting in the equivalent of two full-length books, each hundreds of pages long, full of private material that will never be published. All of our spare time and energy have gone into this endeavour.
But today, I want to take a step back from our homework for a moment to share a thought with you that seems especially profound to me right now. It concerns a memory of a time when we still lived in Canada permanently.
One day, I was asked to give my testimony at church. As those of you who have read my book know, my early life was rather tumultuous, full of pain and suffering. It included a season of walking away from Jesus, and a broken and grateful return. At the end of my church testimony, I said, “God has given me peace with my past, victory in the present, and hope for the future.”
Later, our pastor approached me. “I really liked that last line in your testimony,” he said. “Would you mind if I use it in sermons in the future?”
“Go right ahead,” I said.
Sure enough, a few months later, my line made it into one of his sermons. “God gives us peace with the past,” he said, “makes our present manageable, and gives us hope for the future.”
He’d changed my line to something far less powerful. I was stunned and dismayed.
This memory has always stayed with me, and now I would like to examine with you the repercussions of that change in wording. Let’s start by looking at the components of the two statements.
The past is an unchangeable, known commodity. The only thing that we can change is our understanding of, and healing from, it. The past can have a profound impact on our present. It influences our assumptions, interpretations, and perceptions of the world around us. It can also feed deep wells of pain and regret that continue to plague us even in the present.
That’s why peace with the past is so important. It implies forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance of the things that have happened; and a freedom to move forward into the life of abundance Jesus has planned for us in the present.
While the past is known, the future is unknown. We can plan for the future or worry about it, but the currents of time and chance and circumstance can change so quickly that the future is largely unpredictable. The future can affect our present when worry takes over, or when planning overruns our ability to savour life now.
That’s why hope for the future is also important. It suggests trust in God, releases us from worry, and enables us to put planning in its proper perspective. Though we give consideration to the future, this hope unleashes us to live robustly in the present.
As human beings, the present is where we live. We cannot travel through time to change either the past or the future. Our actions in the present may influence the future, but they don’t command it. The present is where we belong.
If we trumpet the work of God as making the present “manageable”, what does this mean? Does it communicate joy, peace, love—the fruit of the Spirit? I think not. Does it imply the abundant life Jesus promised us? Again, the answer must be no.
Far from conjuring up imagery of thriving and growth and plenty, “manageable” is the next-door neighbour of survival. It brings to mind holding onto the edge of a precipice with one’s fingernails. It implies hanging on or avoiding death. The opposite of “manageable” is losing one’s grip, one’s mind, one’s life or family.
“Manageable” should never be the target we strive for. If it is, then one slip, one failure plunges us to dire consequences. Avoiding ruin cannot be the pinnacle of our present. “Manageable” is not good news. It is not the gospel.
Let us contrast this with the idea and reality of victory. This word speaks of success, flourishing, and bearing fruit. Far from battening down the hatches, a victorious life expands to bring hope, encouragement, and joy to the people around it.
Our victory does not translate into obnoxiousness. It is not a victory over people, but one over our suffering and circumstances. It radiates a quiet confidence in the One who has already proven Himself in the past. We are sure that no matter how dark our current circumstances might be, there is much more that we don’t see. God is at work, and we are secure in His promises of love and protection; and because of his power and integrity, we know His good and perfect plans will never fail.
Our hope for the future is born from our present sense of victory. We look to the future with joyful expectancy. We know that good things await us there because God is there, just as He is here with us now—and that is good news.
So let us not water down the good news of Jesus based on a misplaced fear of coming on too strongly. We stand not in our own strength but in His. Living in victory does not exclude humility. It does banish defeatism, open our eyes to existence on another plane, and give us glimpses of the breathtaking splendour of the riches of our inheritance in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Will we satisfy ourselves with the rags of “manageable”, or will we exchange our tatters for the crown of victory that Christ is holding out to us, even now?
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)
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