Focus Is Not Forgetfulness
In coming into a new year, there is so much focus on looking forward, and letting the past go, that it almost seems dangerous for us as a culture. There may be much that happened in the previous year that is imperfect, hurtful, or even dangerous, but that doesn’t mean it should be completely forgotten. The reality is that we made it through all of that, because here we are. Beyond that, there was much to be thankful for in the last year that will continue to be beneficial in the future.
When we forget the things that happen in the past, we often fail to use those events to grow and become more complete people. Many times, even great failure can be a great teacher, provided we are dedicated to using that to learn better in the future. This lesson is evident in many passages in scripture that can help us become what God seeks in His people.
Nehemiah’s great prayer of confession is predicated on two important historical facts. The first is that God continually saved and blessed Israel. The second is that Israel didn’t remember. “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly / They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. / They refused to listen, / And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them / So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.” (Nehemiah 9:10-17) The key to Israel’s arrogant refusal to obey was rooted in forgetting what God had done for His people. This is not an isolated commentary, but a common refrain throughout scripture. (Judges 8:33-35; Psalm 78:41-43; 106:6-15; 109:14-16)
Alternatively, opportunity to grow in faithfulness and dedication to God is often rooted in remembering the good things that He has provided for us, and even the terrible things that He has brought us through. “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.” (Hebrews 10:32-39) So often looking back at where we came from can be a great source of confidence and inspiration. (Exodus 13:3; Deuteronomy 4:10; 8:18; Joshua 1:13; Nehemiah 1:8; Psalm 77:11)
Another way we can continue to grow, is to call on God to remember as well. This is not an insinuation that He would forget, but when we go to Him in prayer, we can know that He is reliable to keep His word. Scripture demonstrates the importance of calling on God’s remembrance as a demonstration of faith in Him. “Remember, O YHWH, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, For they have been from of old.” (Psalm 25:6) This common request from the faithful is a great reminder to us today that He is faithful to His people. (Leviticus 26:45; I Samuel 1:11, 19; II Kings 20:3; II Chronicles 6:42; Psalm 25:7; 74:18; 89:50; 106:4; Jeremiah 15:15)
Looking to the future with hope is certainly important, but we should always take care to look back at what God has done for us. The New Year is an opportunity to grow, but we must never forget how we got to where we are.