The Past Informs the Future

The Past Informs the Future

By Brent Van Elswyk

As we stand on the edge of a new year – I know it’s somewhat of a cliché but nonetheless it’s true - it is a good time to reflect on the year that is ending and look forward to the year that is beginning. It is also a good time for all of us to take inventory of our walk with God and where we are in our relationship with Him!

This is a great time to examine ourselves and see where we have been, where we are, and where the Lord wants us to go – to see who we are and who God wants us to be - especially for the year to come!  

Yes, while Paul in Philippians 3 tells us to “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead” (v 13) he does not mean that we completely ignore the past. What he means is that we can’t live in the past – we can look at the past, we can reminisce about the past, we can mourn the past, we can celebrate the past, we can learn from the past – but we can’t stay in the past. We give our past to Jesus, we learn our lessons, and move forward to what God has for us today and tomorrow. We learn from the past!

Our past does not determine our future, but it does inform our future. It helps to shape us but does not control us. Whether it is our successes or our failures, God does not want our lives to be all cluttered up with the junk of our past. It is past – it’s done, it’s over – remember it, learn from it and move forward to what God has for you now!  

If you are young – think about how everything you do today will impact your future! If you are older, think how your past has already informed your life? How will it inform tomorrow?
God wants us, in the coming year, to walk by faith, to trust Him and to see our future through His eyes. To live in that living hope! (Heb. 12:1-3; Col. 3:2; Eph. 1:18)

With this in mind, here are 24 things I have learned from my past that will inform my future – particularly this coming year! 24 for 2024! What will God use in your past to inform your future?

Lessons learned: 
  1. Contentment is a learned response of trust in God no matter what He allows in your life – from the smallest inconvenience to the largest disruption! Contentment is learning to accept God’s answers to your prayers and trust Him for the outcome!  Contentment learns to trust God’s answers no matter what!  I’ve learned in the things of my life – everything from a dented fender to the early death of my dad – to trust God and learn to respond with contentment. (Phil. 4:11-13)
  2. Nothing enters my life accidentally! God is not surprised by anything! God is a sovereign God who providentially intervenes in my life. He has promised and can make even the results of my sin or even others’ sinful choices work together for His glory and my good. I’ve learned that because He is in control of all things, there is no need to fear! (Rom. 8:28)
  3. Breakfast for dinner is a great idea – but dinner for breakfast, not so much! Except for pizza!
  4. God wants to use you where He’s already taken you! What He has allowed you to go through, He will use to encourage, comfort, or challenge someone else. This is the foundation of our counseling ministry - for God never wastes a hurt and He wants to use you and what you’ve been through to be able to identify with and connect with others who may be going through the same or similar things, in order to share His love with them.  I’ve learned that God uses the hurts in my life - virtually every week - to connect with others and their hurt – e.g. my son’s leukemia, or my grandson’s leukemia, a broken family relationship, financial setbacks, etc. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)  
  5. God’s grace is sufficient! There is never a burden, a trial, or a strain for which God’s grace is not enough to meet my needs. I’ve learned that God always meets me where I am and makes me capable to do what He has called me to do. (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9)
  6. God’s mercies are new every morning! Great is His faithfulness! Go to Him every day and thank Him for it! I have learned in all my failures that His mercy is still there every day! (Lamentations 3:22,23)
  7. Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You spend way too much! Likewise, don’t make major decisions when you are really tired! You just can’t think straight enough. There will be trials of many kinds in your life; don’t make major decisions in the midst of them.
  8. Whatever is happening or has happened in your life does not change who God is. As damaging, disheartening, difficult, or disturbing as the events of my life have been, God has remained the same. Because He is unchanging, - the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow - I have learned to trust Him to do what He says He will do. (Heb. 13:8)
  9. Expectations are life’s greatest destroyer of joy and happiness! Expectations are the things we expect from others, from God, from life, and from ourselves. When our expectations are not met they set us up for failure, frustration, anger, resentment, bitterness – all the things that rob us of our joy. I have learned to keep expectations as realistic as possible and still have dreams.  (Prov. 3:5-7)
  10. Community, relationships and church are necessary! In the same way that a recording will never capture the magic of a live performance or that a digital book will never be the same as a real book, relationships are not the same unless we are physically connected and involved with one another.  I learned, especially during Covid, that being connected on a screen was not the same thing as being connected in person. We need the body of Christ, in person, to help us. As the church, we need to make the time and sacrifice to spend time together, encouraging us to love and good deeds. (Heb. 10:24-25)
  11. You will always have something that needs fixing. Get used to it. Accept it. And ask for help! I have learned to ask for help.
  12. Your family will include people with personalities that are very different from your own.  Get used to it! Accept it. I’ve learned that we can handle most people for some time, just not certain people all the time! Be wise about how much time you spend with them. The best definition of maturity, I know, is that maturity is being able to be in a relationship with another and not be pulled into their dysfunction. Which means me not pulling them into my dysfunctions, too. (Ps. 139; Rom. 12:18; 15:7)
  13. God’s timing is not always your timing.  The process of waiting for anything is often frustrating, if not painful!  Scripture tells us, though, that waiting on the Lord is a good thing and can produce fruit in our lives. God works during waiting periods to refine us and help us see our need for Christ even more. Learn to be patient. I’ve learned that I can wait for some things better than for others, so I seek to find one thing I can do while waiting to make it more doable. (Is. 40:31)
  14. Not everything has to make sense! I used to think that I needed to have the right answer for everything. Sometimes there are no answers, let alone right ones. But I have learned I don't have to understand everything because God does. While I know that God does not change and that he understands everything, things on earth are constantly changing. As much as we fight against it, change happens. Like the passage of time, all things change. We need to anticipate change and even prepare for it. Get used to it. Accept it!  (Is. 55:8-9)
  15. In order to understand Matt’s sermons, you have to have watched “Lord of the Rings” and know all about Gandolf and Frodo!  Confession time… I have not watched Lord of the Rings and I frequently do not know what Matt is talking about.
  16. The older I get, the less I know. I have learned that the more I know, the more I know how little I really know! Life is humbling that way. But I am thankful that I don't have to know everything because God is sovereign and knows everything and he reigns with perfect wisdom, knowledge, and insight. (Eccl. 7:13-14)
  17. The older I get, the more of a sinner I realize that I am!  Paradoxically, (God loves paradox!) I have learned that the more you grow in holiness, the more you realize how much of a sinner you really are. It's not that you sin more, it's that more of your sinfulness becomes apparent. Unlike what happens with our eyes as we age physically and our eyes see less and less, as we mature spiritually, our vision becomes clearer and clearer, and we see better who we truly are and how much we desperately need God's grace.  (Rom. 6-7-8)
  18. Many offenses can and should be overlooked!  In marriage, in parenting, in friendship, in work, there are many little things we make a big deal out of that we probably shouldn’t! Not everyone will put the toilet paper roll on the correct way. Get used to it. Accept it! I have learned that most of the arguments or conflicts people have are about opinions and preferences – they are not really about right and wrong!  Let people have their opinions and let them be wrong if they want to! (Prov. 17:9; 19:11)
  19. The longer you live – the more junk you will accumulate! Get used to it. Accept it! And learn to live with it. I’m trying!
  20. Treat others kindly and they are more likely to treat you kindly. I have learned that the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – really does work and goes a long way in building great relationships. (Matt. 7:12)
  21. You are responsible for you! I have learned that no one will want what you want as much as you want it – but we spend a lot of our time trying to convince others to want what we want as much – or sometimes even more – than we want it! How foolish because they are busy wanting what they want! So, the big question should be – what do you want? And what are you willing to do to get it? (Ezek. 18:20)
  22. Weakness is okay! When we are young, we feel more compelled to convince people that we can do things on our own, that we are capable, and we have the answers. As we get older, though, at some point, we learn that we aren't as capable or as wise as we thought and that we have weaknesses.  Admitting and recognizing that we have weaknesses is a mark of growth and maturity. It helps us to stay humble, accountable, and teachable. In recognizing that we are weak it helps us to realize we need one another. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
  23. We need the gospel every day! The gospel is not just for the moment of salvation, it is a reality that we need each and every moment of the day. We need frequent reminders of what Christ has done for us at the cross. Throughout our lives, we need to turn to the cross in repentance when we sin and be reminded again of the forgiveness and grace Christ purchased for us there. We need the gospel to remind us that we've been made new, and we are not who we once were. We need the gospel to point us to the day that is coming when all things will be redeemed. The gospel is something we never outgrow. (Eph. 1-2; 2 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 1:7-10)
  24. Having children will bring the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Your children may be in their 30’s, 40’s or even 50’s but they are, in your eyes, still your kids, and still need your advice. I have learned to just make sure they ask for it before you give it!

Remembering is an action that brings the power of God into the midst of your life. As we remember what he has done, it enables us to stop focusing on what seems impossible and instead focus on God - who does the impossible!  

Philosopher and author, George Santayana, is credited with saying something I think we are all familiar with: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana

Wise learning from our past informs our future. Our past is not meant to determine our future – it only helps in shaping it if we look carefully at it and learn from it!

Looking carefully at the past can give great hope for the future. May I encourage you to look at your past – let it remind you and motivate you to be who God wants you to be and to do what He wants you to do – in this coming year and beyond!  
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