“What did you do last Saturday night”? “Do you recall seeing Johnny that night”? Questions like these normally are not too important and we often ask them in passing. It is no big deal if we don’t remember. However, if these questions come from police conducting a criminal inquiry, then your memory takes on a whole new meaning. Yes, we forget now and then, but this would be a terrible time to do so.
Memories play an important role in making us who we are and they help influence where we are going. Consider the Apostle Paul for example. He received a good Jewish education and excelled as a “Hebrew of Hebrews”. (Phil. 3:3-11) This early training and his own loyalty made him more zealous than most Jews. As a loyal Jew he was an active and fervent opponent of Christianity. He approved of Stephen’s stoning and persecuted the Lord’s Church. Paul never forgot his background and this former life helped spur him on as an apostle.
Remembering may be unpleasant and hurtful if events turn out poorly. Paul called himself the “chief” of sinners and a “persecutor of the church” as he recalled his life before Christianity. (1 Tim. 1:12-15) These could not have been pleasant memories, but they motivated his work for Christ. In this way even bad events can build us up and make us stronger.
Sadly, some let the past destroy them because they cannot move on from their mistakes. Judas hung himself after betraying Christ and sealed his fate. (Matt. 27:5) He did not have to kill himself. I am confident God did not want him to take his own life. What he should have done was ask God to forgive him. Peter “went out and wept bitterly” after denying the Lord three times. (Matt. 26:75) He became the faithful apostle Jesus called him to be.
By recalling past mistakes and their effects, we can avoid making the same blunders. Also, by remembering the good and successful events of life, we can better repeat them. We need to keep in mind past events to better ourselves. I believe this is one of the points from the seventy-eighth Psalms. Israel should have remembered the good God did for them when they were faithful and His response when they sinned, but they did not. They suffered time and time again for their sins because they forgot their mistakes and did not faithfully serve God.
Most of us have at least a few good memories we enjoy reliving, past events that brings us joy and happiness. Paul often spoke and wrote about the delights of Christianity. (Phil. 4:4) He mentions God’s grace often, and how thankful he was to have had a chance to respond. (1 Tim. 1:15) Paul wrote fondly about his time and friendship with various churches and Christians. (Phil. 1:3-7) These were the tender memories that gave him peace, hope, and strength to continue serving God.
Have you ever reminisced with a friend about the past and the two of you not agreeing on what happened? It may not be a case of someone making up or leaving out facts deliberately. The problem could just be an honest error in what we recall. What we remember can be accurate or wrong depending on how well we bring to mind past events.
We may also skew our memories to make events and details better or worse than they were when they happened. If something was pleasant then we are more prone to make it even better over the years. The size of fish we caught way back when has a way of growing over time. However, if we continue to stew over unpleasant events we may make them worse than they were when they occurred. We do this perhaps to justify our feelings and anger.
I doubt any of us have only pleasant memories. Some try to alter the facts if they do not like what happened. Is this not what Aaron did when Moses questioned his part in the golden calf? (Exodus 32:21-24) We can only learn from our past when we get the stories right.
As valuable as memories are, do not let the past keep you from living in the present. Do not rest on your deeds or glory too much in your successes. Reach for higher goals and always strive to do better. Do not let past mistakes rule your life or keep you from overcoming failures. If you fall down, get up and take the next step.
Remember the words of Paul:
Philippians 3:12-14 – Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.