Releasing the Power of the Past

As we step into a new year, hoping for new promise and potential, I want to write about a subject that tends to keep us imprisoned in the past. We can set all the goals we want to, dreaming and planning and prioritizing for what we hope to accomplish in the 360 plus days ahead, but failing to look in the rearview mirror and deal with this one issue will keep us from seeing the fulfillment we desire. If we want to run the race set before us successfully in 2021, we must get rid of the baggage we carry from our past.

While Scripture urges us to forget what lies behind us, and reach forward to attain the Heavenly prize God has called us to (Philippians 3:13-14), this does not mean burying grudges and refusing to deal with offenses and abuses. That is a misapplication of the Word of God, and does not take the context of that particular Scripture into consideration. In fact, Paul is speaking in Philippians 3 about forgetting and letting go of his previous “successes,” things which he formerly considered great accomplishments. He was laying down what he did apart from Christ, in order to embrace the humble but powerful life of surrender to God’s better plans for Him, and in order to gain the great treasure of knowing Christ personally. He wanted to know Christ more, to surrender more, to embrace His will in everything, and so was determined to remove every past hindrance to that one goal.

Unforgiveness is a great hindrance to knowing Christ, and to progressing in our life with Him. It is a weight we cannot afford to carry. Not only does it become a nasty emotional stronghold, but it cuts us off from the very source of power we need in order to really live the life we are called to and created for.

Scripture is clear on the subject of unforgiveness:  “And when you pray, make sure you forgive the faults of others so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you withhold forgiveness from others, your Father withholds forgiveness from you.” Matthew 6:14-15, The Passion Translation.

Without the willingness to forgive what lies in the past, present and future, we, too, remain unforgiven. And without God’s forgiveness, we are lost. We are without hope in this world, because we are kept from His promises of a future life with Him in Heaven, and we are cut off from His Presence in this life. Our very salvation – the faith we claim in the Name of Jesus, is dependent upon the forgiveness of our sins, through the blood of Christ. If we forfeit that forgiveness by refusing to forgive others, just as we have been forgiven, we risk abundant life now and eternity forever afterward.

I know it’s a strong statement, and we don’t like to think in such sharp terms. But there is no gray area when it comes to this subject. And these are not times for cute religious platitudes. “Forgiven and free,” as the bumper sticker says, is a two way street, and if we are not willing to travel both ways, we cannot actually attain the freedom which is promised through forgiveness. Now more than ever, we need the rock solid truth, and we need to wrestle with and through the parts that are hard to swallow, until we have fully embraced what God has declared. It might not be easy, but it will always be worth it. And while we may not understand on this side of the wrestling, it is a guarantee, for those who don’t quit, that as we seek God and His understanding – as we surrender to His ways, truth becomes beautiful in the process.

I don’t have time for a deep, theological exposition on the meaning of forgiveness here. That is something which I hope you will search out for yourself. All of us must take a personal journey in our quest to embrace forgiveness – both God’s forgiveness of us, and the command God has given us to forgive others. Along that journey, we must be teachable, and we must ask God to lead us into the truth. He will do so through many wonderful resources and through the power of His Spirit, as our hearts remain intent on holding fast to His ways and on knowing and understanding His heart more.

What I will clarify here about forgiveness is that it does not make something okay, and forgiveness does not always result in the reconciliation of human relationships. Forgiving someone who has abused you, for example, does not excuse the abuse. It simply hands it over to God, Who promises to bring justice and vindication in His own way, and in His own time.

Neither does forgiveness mean that you are now obligated to re-enter or maintain a relationship with someone who isn’t appointed for you to yoke yourself with. Many times, especially in the case of abuse, forgiveness results in freedom from such relationships. It is not wise to remain connected with someone who has no intention, plan and sustained, demonstrated effort to find true healing and transformation – all of which are clearly a part of God’s will for our lives. Forgiveness, in these situations, equals release for the abused, who can and should then seek healing for themselves, as well.

That being said, I want to dive a little bit into a revelation I have been meditating on recently. I have often heard people say that they can forgive, but they can’t forget. When memories of harm hold our hearts or minds hostage, we become prisoners of trauma or bitterness, or both. Our brains were created to store such memories with the intention of keeping us safe. However, rather than cuing in on the alarm system and responding with God-given and Spirit-empowered wisdom, there is a great epidemic in our day of people being held hostage to their traumatic memories and the triggers they trip.

I believe forgiveness is a major key to getting free from the power of these memories.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean denial. It doesn’t mean ignoring the warning signs your brain or your body gives you. It doesn’t mean moving on as though it wasn’t life-altering. Some trauma changes us forever, and that’s understandable, sometimes even appointed. But appointed change leaves us better and stronger, not weaker and worse. And forgiveness means healing for the the places that have been impacted by danger or pain. We were never meant to stay stuck in trauma responses.

The kind of forgiveness that includes forgetting requires the courage to put in some work, to face some ugly and hard and painful realities. It leads us to get up close and remember, for a time, why it hurt so much. That kind of work can and should be done with God, and hopefully with another trusted friend who is believing God to heal your wounds. But once this work is done, it is done, and forgetting becomes a real possibility. It also remains a choice.

In both the Old and New Testaments, God is our example in this, saying at least four times, “I will remember their sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; Hebrews 10:17).

That little word “will” is a loaded weapon. It implies the powerful choice that God exercises toward us, to forget what we have done against Him (Scripture says that all sin is ultimately sin committed against God; see Psalm 51:4). It does not mean God’s memory is erased, and He no longer has the ability to recall. It means He has permanently separated us from the memory of what we’ve done against Him, choosing to excuse and dismiss and disempower it, because of the cross. He has let the blood of His Son change the way He sees us. When He looks at us, who believe in Jesus and follow Him as Lord, He does not see our wrongs anymore. He has chosen to let the sacrifice of Christ be sufficient, and He sees us as He sees His own Son. The blood of Jesus has covered all our sin! (1 John 1:7)

That may be hard to imagine, but it is imperative that we seek to understand and embrace this truth, that we pursue God for the revelation of it. It is what will free us to live in His perfect love, and it is what will empower us to do the same for others.

When once I have worked through forgiving someone, I am then in a position to make the same choice God has made on my behalf. (The reasons forgiveness sometimes requires work are that there can be layers to it that we don’t immediately recognize; some traumas and wounds are connected to other past wounds; and sometimes injustices are committed over and over again, requiring fresh forgiveness each time).

Occasionally, a memory will resurface about something I know I have forgiven. In that moment, I have the choice to take up the offense all over again – thus creating another emotional stronghold and requiring a repeated journey of forgiveness. Or I have the choice to restate my former choice: that I have forgiven that offense and it is now under God’s jurisdiction. If the enemy wants access to that memory, he will have to appeal to the high court of Heaven, because I’m not opening that case again.

My heart has both found and maintained great freedom in Christ as I have worked through processes of forgiveness, and then declared to the enemy and to my own heart and mind, upon remembrance of things that hurt me in the past, that it is finished and I have already chosen forgiveness. I do not dig up the bones of those graves – those things I have surrendered to God. I have allowed His healing and His forgiveness to destroy their power over me, and it has changed everything about my life.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, you can forgive anything. And you can both get and stay free from the memories of your past hurts. God promises His power to aid you in this. All it requires is a heart that is willing, and a will that is surrendered to Him.

In your own strength, in your fleshly, human nature, forgiveness like this can seem daunting. The enemy tells all kinds of lies to cause us to believe there is value and safety and power and control in holding onto grudges and in staying sensitive to our triggers. But God wants to be what you and I have had to be for ourselves. He is fully able and willing to protect, defend, heal and restore our lives and hearts and minds – completely.

There is wonderful joy and great freedom, potential and power on the other side of choosing to forgive and forget what has been done to you. This doesn’t meant you will blindly trust everyone you encounter. Even Jesus didn’t do that. Scripture says He knew what men’s hearts were like and so did not entrust Himself fully to them (John 2:24). The process of embracing God’s forgiveness fully, and then extending that same kind of forgiveness toward others also invites the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit into the relationships in your life.

Beloved One, in order for this year to be all it was meant to be for you, you’re going to have unload the baggage of your past. Whether you need to forgive others, yourself, or even let go of some hurts and disappointments you are holding against God, now is the time. You are going to need the power, strength, love and help of God to move forward and to overcome what is ahead. You need His freedom, the clean slate He gives you, in order to prevail and in order to live the life He has caused you to dream about.

You can start the process today by praying something like this:

Jesus, I believe that You died for me, so that my sins could be forgiven. I understand, at least in part, that without Your forgiveness, I am separated from God and have no hope in this world, or in the life that is to come. Thank you for forgiving me for my sins, for every wrong I’ve committed against You and against others. I confess that I need Your forgiveness, and I need Your help, so that I can live a life that is transformed, no longer bound by sin. Help me to both understand and embrace Your forgiveness fully, I pray.

I also need Your help, Lord, to forgive myself, and to forgive others for the things that have been done to me – the things that have hurt and scarred me. They are hard to face sometimes, and I have often just tried to bury them and move on, or to hold onto them and bear deep grudges in order to protect my heart from being rewounded. Today, Lord, with Your help, I ask for the power and desire to lay down my right to protect myself, my right to avenge the wrongs done to me, and for the grace to trust You as You lead me to truly forgive and forget everything.

I realize this is a choice I must make, and so, not knowing how the process will look, I begin today by choosing, and I trust You to guide me through the process. Walk with me, Lord. Give me courage to face the hard reality of things I’ve been through, and to let go when You show me it is time. Send me truthful resources and faithful people to walk alongside me in this journey of healing.

And where I may be holding onto hurts or disappointments against You, Lord, show me. Forgive me and help me to sift through the memories that may be holding me captive, so that I can truly embrace and be embraced by the fullness of Your forgiveness and love for me.

Bless me this year to know the depths of what I have received because of the blood of Christ, and empower me to walk in freedom as I forgive the past, so that I can embrace the future You have planned for me.

In Jesus’ Name I ask and give thanks, Amen.

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}


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