Do you ever feel stuck in the past and discouraged by how hard it is to move forward? You’re a Christian and you know that’s supposed to give you hope, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
It’s disheartening to feel as if you can’t move forward from your past or that there is no way out of your present. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something so wrong or your circumstances are so hopeless that there’s no point trying to fix things. These sorts of worries weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. They can make us feel heavy, foggy, and hopeless (and may lead to other symptoms of depression as well).
Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be without trials. He only promised to help us through those trials, and since He has all power and authority in heaven and earth this is an incredible promise (Matt. 28:18). It can be easy, though, to lose sight of the big picture and get distracted by all sorts of nasty things that cling to us, weighing us down and making it hard to keep moving forward. We might wonder how to get unstuck, or even if it’s possible.
The Cage Door Is Open
One thing I’ve realized is that most of the things that are holding onto me are also, at least to some extent, things that I’m holding onto right back. Jesus promises to make us free and to wash us clean of any sin. If we stay in a cage or keep rolling in the dirt, then it’s not because He has failed in some way. It’s because we’re still susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and the pulls of the world.
I don’t say this to make us feel guilty or ashamed (that’s another thing that weighs us down, and shame is not a productive emotion). I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim trapped in a locked cage made from whatever’s holding on to you (fear, past sins, personal shortcomings, etc), you can picture yourself as someone in an open cage where God is holding the door and asking you to come out. He knows it’s hard. He knows it’s frightening. He knows there are often circumstances outside your control that keep pulling you backwards. But He isn’t giving up and He’ll be there patiently helping you for as long as it takes.
Christianity is a process that is future-focused. God is perfectly capable of healing past wounds, forgiving past sins, and working powerfully in the present moment. But He does all this with the focus on the future that He has been planning for since before the world’s creation. It is not His intention for us to get stuck in the past. If we let Him, He’ll move us forward into an incredible future.
Accepting Freedom In Christ
When we first turn to God and commit to Him, a process starts. Our repentance (turning away from wrong and turning toward God, asking forgiveness) and our belief in Him mark an acceptance of the gift of salvation that God is offering through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14-15; Acts 2:38).
We all know John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). It may be the most well-known verse in the Bible, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. God loves us so much that Jesus died for us, and when we confirm our commitment to Him through baptism, He starts the process of making each of us into a new, recreated person.
We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. (Romans 6:4-6, scriptures from WEB unless otherwise noted)
This is the first step in moving forward. We acknowledge our sin and that we cannot save ourselves. We repent, turn to God, and commit to following Him. He responds by entering a covenant with us and removing the sins that once ensnared us. We’re free.
Don’t Turn Back Once You’ve Started
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know the process isn’t complete at baptism. It’s hard to keep your former self in the grave where it belongs. There are things inside us that want to cling to the world, and things in the world that don’t want to let us go. Putting away “the old man that grows corrupt” and being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” is a life long process that is ultimately meant to recreate us “in the likeness of God” (Eph. 4:22-24; 1 John 3:1-3).
Paul, James, and Peter (all writing to people who were already following the Lord) give us lists of sins to “put away” (Col. 3:5-10; James 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:1-3). Even after we’ve started walking as Christians, sinful ideas and actions, attacks from the adversary, cares pushed on us by this world, and a host of other “weights” can try to hold us down. This is one reason that endurance is one of the most vital of the Christian virtues. We need to understand that it’s not unusual to continue struggling after you become a Christian. Even Paul talked about how hard it was to follow God fully, and spoke of the need to keep pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:7-25; Phil. 3:13-14).
Therefore don’t throw away your boldness, which has a great reward. For you need endurance so that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. (Heb. 10:35-36)
We can’t look back wistfully (or even regretfully, if it prevents us from moving forward) to our former lives if we want to press on toward our future in God’s family. The ancient Israelites made this mistake, wishing to go back to slavery in Egypt every time their new walk with God grew difficult. Ultimately, it kept that generation from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14).
It is far worse to go back than to never try following God at all (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). That’s why we’re told to count the cost (Luke 9:62; 14:26-35). This is a commitment and it’s meant to be life-long. We’ll have rough patches. We might even have seasons where we stop moving forward or start to turn around and go back. But we can still recommit to faith, turn back to God, and keep moving forward. He’s merciful. He wants everyone to repent and inherit eternal life, and He’ll hold open as many opportunities for that as possible (Ezk. 18:31-32; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9).
You Can Make It!
Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls. (Heb. 12:1-3)
There have been so many people of faith who endured through all the hard times and emerged victorious. Their examples show that we have the power to let go of things that weigh us down and keep moving forward. We have a goal and if we make it there, we win. Jesus is in the business of getting us there, and He’s the one to whom the Father has given all power. He will not forsake us and nothing will stop Him from helping us complete this race, unless we choose to drop out.
Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run like that, not aimlessly. I fight like that, not beating the air, but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
Paul speaks several times about being careful that he isn’t running “in vain” (Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16). And his perseverance bore fruit. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have completed the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7, LEB). And he became one of the great cloud of witnesses proving that it is possible to keep moving forward and reach the end goal, no matter what obstacles life throws at you.
Focus On God and Keep Going
No one is able to snatch God’s sheep out of His hand (John 10:27-29). The devil cannot take us away from God, so he tries to convince us to leave instead. All of the “you’re not good enough” and “there’s no point in going on” messages come from him. You don’t have to listen to them. He is a wily adversary but we are not ignorant of his schemes and, with God fighting for us, we can resist the devil (2 Cor 2:10-11; James 4:7-8).
In many ways, whether or not we endure to the end and receive the gift of eternal life is entirely up to us. We can’t do anything to earn salvation. It’s a free gift of grace. Once it’s given, though, all we have to do is faithfully follow God and He’ll take care of the rest. We just need to keep striving toward the goal.
We’re currently in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s a life-changing situation, and many of us are wondering whether things will go back to normal after the virus runs its course. This situation has forced us all to stop and think about how we live, what our priorities are, and how we’ll move forward. It is a perfect time to reexamine things spiritually as well. Perhaps we can learn from this time of great physical change to lean into times of great spiritual change. Spiritually speaking, we don’t want to go “back to normal” after God begins working with us. We need to embrace a new sort of normal, one where we’re all-in following God.
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