December 5, 2000
When I was in my teens, a friend told me that her mother heard from my mother that “Elsie is not as smart as the other kids.” Prolonged illness kept me home from age seven until I reached grade seven, so my mother meant “streetwise smart” but I interpreted it to mean I was dumb. As a consequence, I spent much of my life trying to prove that I was as smart as everyone else.
Other people tell me how words and events from their past hang over them like a cloud. Someone said they were ‘slow’ so they thought themselves slow, even though they were not. Someone abused them and long after their external bruises healed, they were scarred within.
Positive words and actions can reinforce for good, but far too often a negative past becomes a primary shaping ingredient. How can this pattern be changed?
A “Power to Change” campaign in Edmonton, and throughout northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, offers good news to people who feel trapped by their past. The ads feature men and women who give testimony that they struggled with addictions, unhappy relationships, broken marriages and personal lack of fulfilment. They also share how God changed their lives.
This news is the good news God offers in the Bible. He says no one needs to be trapped by either their past or their present situation. God loves us and wants the best for us. He also knows how to help us with His great power. He can change the way we think and act.
This offer is not only for down-and-out people or those destitute or caught in terrible sins. ‘Good’ people need changed lives too. The Apostle Paul is an example. He was raised in the finest Jewish tradition with an excellent education. His upbringing shaped him to love his religion and hate everything that contradicted it. However, he did not understand that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, so he wound up fighting God when he thought he was serving Him.
As the first Christians appeared, Paul became angry at their claims and determined to have these people destroyed. One day, while on the way to Damascus looking for Christians he could “take as prisoners to Jerusalem” a light flashed around him. Paul fell to the ground as he heard the Lord’s voice say, “Why do you persecute me?”
At that moment, the risen Christ stopped this devout man in his tracks and blinded him with His light. Then He sent Paul to a Christian in Damascus called Ananias. He already told Ananias that “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”
This encounter with Jesus changed forever Paul’s attitude and life. He no longer hated Christians and their claims. He embraced both Christ and His people and from that point on, he did just as Jesus had chosen him to do. His life was no longer shaped by his past.
God changed my life too. I no longer feel that need to prove myself because He loves me as I am. He also works to make me like Jesus; a goal higher than any goal I could set or attain. Through Him, and the wisdom He gives, I truly can do all things.
In Christ, we learn how to deal with our past and then put it behind us and forge ahead. Paul said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Even though most of us need to deal with some issues in our past, God’s great work of salvation includes the help we need. As He works to change us so we are like His Son, we are no longer governed by our past but shaped by our future.
If you want the power to change, take that desire to God, admitting your need and asking Him to forgive your sin and failures. Invite Jesus into your life and, by His very presence, nothing will ever be the same.