What to do when past failings come knocking

One of the things I’m most grateful for in Christianity is the idea that my past mess-ups have been dealt with.

Yes, there are plenty of things in my past I’m proud of, that I look back on fondly and remember with a smile. It’s not wrong to look back and thank God for the good! There was plenty of God’s “common grace” in my life – and yours – even before I knew the words. I thank God for plenty of my experiences, friendships, and His protection.

But let’s be fair. Personally, there’s also an archive of things I’ve done, thought, loved, said and felt that I look back on with regret. At best, I’m embarrassed and cringe a bit. At worst, I shudder, it almost physically hurts to mull it.

The good news is that because of the forgiveness that Jesus gives to anyone who goes “I’m a mess. I’m sorry. Can we start over?”, it’s all been dealt with. Covered, forgiven, washed away. It even says that God remembers my sins no more. Oh my.

Massive relief.

Massive result.

But even though God declares that he ‘remembers my sins no more’, I experience a problem. Yes, he has sovereignly chosen to not bring those things to mind anymore. Now that it’s been paid for on the cross, he’s put it out of sight and out of mind, as far as east is from west. He, so to speak, remembers my sins no more. But here’s the problem.

I remember.

I remember my sins. And you probably remember a fair few of yours too. Not all of them. Thank God for time that heals the memory. But enough. They’re not at the front of my mind, but not erased either. Sometimes particular failings return to haunt. Triggered by a place, a word, an idea, a song, a person, suddenly it’s back.

Add that to a sensitive conscience, perhaps a low mood on that day, plus a lying, spiteful, accusing enemy whispering in the ear, and it’s quite a recipe for guilt, condemnation and old-fashioned moping – three things Jesus frankly wants us well rid of!

It was a great encouragement then to read this week some advice about what to do when past failings come to mind. This is from David Murray’s “The Happy Christian: 10 Ways To Be Joyful In A Gloomy World”.

Sometimes we might be tempted to think: ‘I’ve been saved. Let’s forget my past. The only way is upward and forward’. As believers, however, we must remember the past from which the Lord has saved us. If done rightly, it is not painfully humiliating but happily humbling. Instead of leaving us wallowing in guilt, it makes us so thankful to God for what He delivered us from. Now and again let’s deliberately and consciously recall the slime and the grime of our past and sing Psalm 40 once more:

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.”

This not only humbles us but also exalts the Lord who has rescued us from mud and hewed us from the rock. What a deliverer He is!”

Love. It.

Instead of it being a dreaded occasion for head-hanging shame or self-pitying wound licking, David Murray says every now and again we should actually actively call to mind our past mistakes, to celebrate the salvation of Jesus.

Paul does just this thing. In Colossians he reminds the Christians: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation“. – Colossians 1:21-22.

I hate the slime of some of the bad old days, but that’s the point. So did Jesus. And he took each bad old day onto his back and onto his cross. And he paid for them. In doing so, he reaches right into it all, plucks me out, makes me new, gives me something – or Someone – to stand on that’s firm. Now I can stand tall! But more. This salvation doesn’t just make me stand. It makes me sing! A hymn of praise to God! A bubbling, too-good-to-be-true-but-true bursting song of YESSSSSSSSSSS!

Yes I remember some stuff. But I’m free from accusation. And now when they pop up again, when I’m reminded, when Satan tempts me to despair, when he thinks he’s getting me all ashamed and discouraged, imagine his little face if instead of wriggling and squirming, I say ‘YUP! I remember. And HE RESCUED ME!!!!!!!”.

Memories of darker days are no longer a moment to wound-lick or worry. They’re moments to worship.