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Looking back

All over America and around the world, people are taking time today to look back on this past year. After all, today is the last day on the calendar, and tomorrow begins a new year.

The Bible has two things to say about looking back:

1.) Do it.

2.) Don’t do it.

This can seem like a huge contradiction until you consider what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” Just like there is a time to give birth and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing (see Ecclesiastes 3:2-5), so, too, is there a time to look back and a time to stop looking back. Let’s take a look at some biblical reasons to look back.

Why look back?

1.)    The word of your testimony. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Revelation 12:11). The word of your testimony can involve two things. First, the Word of God itself is your testimony, and you have the right to speak it in faith to overcome your enemy, the devil. Second, your personal story of salvation and how God has manifested His care for you throughout your life is also included in the word of your testimony. You have the right to overcome the devil by reminding yourself and him of all the astonishing ways God has come through for you in the past.

2.)    Memorial stones. God stopped the Jordan River from running, causing the waters which flowed down from upstream to pile up in a big heap (see Joshua 3:13) so that the tribes of Israel could cross on dry ground. Joshua, their leader, then commanded men to remove twelve stones from the supernaturally dried up river bottom and to set them up on the other side as a memorial to this miracle from God. Joshua directed “…when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’” (see Joshua 4:6), then the adults could tell them how God held back the Jordan’s waters in a big heap while they passed through on dry ground. Memorial stones are very similar to the word of our testimony. We use both not only to overcome the devil and pull ourselves out of unbelief or despair, but also to train up young believers in God’s miraculous ways.

3.)    For our instruction. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). If in your looking back you are not instructed, encouraged, or made hopeful, then you’re not looking back in the way God has prescribed. If this describes you, then stop looking and ask God to help you to adjust your vision.

4.)    As examples. “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12). George Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Looking back upon failures—those recorded in the Bible, in history, and in our own lives—can be a beneficial discipline when it is done as a study in what not to do. Be instructed, and then pressing on in faith, put what you’ve learned into practice.

The Bible also instructs concerning not looking back, as in Isaiah 43:18: “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.” From what I can determine, the privilege to look or not to look is all in the “hows” and “whys” involved in the looking. Are you looking back to give glory to God, to encourage yourself or others, or to overcome attacks or negativity battering your mind? You are looking back in accordance to the will of God. Are you looking back to receive instruction in proper decision making? You are looking back according to the purpose of God—but leave room for the Holy Spirit. Are you looking back to determine how to avoid repeating certain failures of the past? You are looking back in line with the plan of God as long as you take the information you need and then return, girded and armed for an overcoming lifestyle.

Don’t be afraid to assess this past year. A good look back is beneficial on so many levels. You can receive instruction and wisdom for your future as you prayerfully consider the last 365 days.

But most importantly, as you look back, be sure to give God the glory for all that He has done for you. Because of Him, you have arrived here, on the last day of the year, to think about all that has transpired this year. He has granted you life, health, a sound mind, and the strength to finish out the year. And it is by His grace and eternal purpose that you will enter the new year tomorrow.

To God be the glory!