Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18,19)
Do you dwell on the past?
I certainly do. There have been plenty of occasions when I have laid in bed at night running over in my mind some past incident or situation. I will ruminate on whether I did or said the right thing, and what effect that might have had. I will think over the consequences of my actions and what happened, even though it might have been many years ago. I cannot change the past, but that doesn’t stop me thinking about it a great deal.
There are some things in the past which God encourages us to think about. God’s past mercies and miracles, for example, are well worth dwelling on. The Bible commands us to consider the faithfulness of God in the past to help us trust his faithfulness in the present. The entire Christian faith stands on events in the past, the death and resurrection of Jesus, which are certainly worth thinking about and remembering!
At the same time, there is much in our past that we need not dwell on any longer. Our sin and guilt has been taken away by Jesus and should not fill our hearts and minds any more. The choices and actions of our past may have repercussions today, and they have shaped the person we are in the present. But the guilt and shame of past sins need not occupy our thoughts and haunt our present day.
We see this in God’s words through Isaiah. Speaking to a people who have been sent into exile because of their unfaithfulness, God says: “Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
The past of the people of Israel certainly mattered and affected their life at that moment. They were in Babylon, separated from the promised land and the place where they were called to worship and live for God. The past was significant, but it wasn’t the whole story. The past was not to be dwelt upon because God was doing a new thing. He was going to build a way back home through the wilderness and address the dryness of their lives with spiritual streams of living water. The past was powerful but the future was more so.
How about us? Are we trapped in the events of the past, haunted by previous mistakes and finding ourselves dwelling on what has gone before? We need to hear God’s word to us today: “Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” The past has shaped us, but God’s future will shape us even more. The past has had an effect, but God will not let the past define us. We have been through the past, but we don’t live there anymore. God has a bright and positive future for us if we put our trust in him.