June 26, 2020

Let God Redeem Your Painful Past

I’ve recently been asked to share my testimony with an online Christian recovery group. I’ve been reflecting specifically on how the way I view the past has dramatically changed over the last few years. I’ve realised when we become a new creation, one of the things God does is redeem our memories.

Now, the reality is, there are things in our past that just cannot be changed. But the way we view even the most painful things can be seen as a blessing when we view them through the lens of the gospel. We can look back and see how God has sustained us and also how we can now come alongside others in the moments of suffering that we share. By God’s grace, we can be ‘comforted comforters’ (2 Cor. 1:3–5).

Power of Memory

We all have memories. They can be triggered by even the slightest thing—if I smell a rose, I’m instantly transported back to my grandad’s garden, and then other memories follow: chips and vinegar, his smile, his prayers. Or maybe you can think of a specific hymn that helped carry you through a time of grief and loss. Maybe you’ve lived through child abuse, a car accident, a traumatic childbirth, been the victim of violent crime, had an abortion, or served in the armed forces—the list is endless. Such events that can stay lodged in your head that play within your memories for a very long time.

Memories, even painful ones, can be a blessing from God—they can cause us to praise Him, driving us to the cross when we remember our sins, which are many, but His mercy is more.

But for some, living with traumatic memories can drive them into a dark place of despair and hopelessness. Maybe that’s you. You know the truths of the Bible, but you remember the past, and it haunts you like a horror movie within your own mind. It makes you wish you had the little machine from Doctor Who that can zap you and make you forget the past.

This is one of the reasons people turn to broken cisterns like drugs, alcohol, or anything really that numbs emotion. Rather than wade through the waters of painful memories, it’s better to block them out. To be honest, if we spent time with an addict and heard their story it would make us wonder—if we had lived through what they had—whether we’d have done exactly the same thing.

Gospel Hope

And this is why, as ambassadors of the life-redeeming message of the gospel, we must proclaim it as is the only real hope for our world. For some, life is a painful walk through many mental thorns that may never be removed. And yet there’s hope. As we meet with and minister to the broken, we are reminded, even where scars run deep, that there’s purpose in suffering when viewed in the light of eternity.

Trauma experts say to take the fear out of a memory, you must consciously fast forward past the pain to a time when you are safe. We live in such turbulent times that none of us are ever truly safe, but as Christians, we can fast forward now to places in the Bible that assure us of a time when we will be free from all trauma and truly safe.

I love these verses in Isaiah 60:

No longer will violence be heard in your land,
nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise.

The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.

(Is. 60:18–19)

In suffering, we constantly need to cast our eyes forward to eternity and meditate there for a while. Jesus provides our safe place that cannot be shaken. A time is coming when we will be in the Lord’s presence, safe for all eternity.

Meet Them in the Middle

We see lots of people in the scheme come off drugs in rehab. But unfortunately, when placed in the real word where life’s tensions arrive, and the emotions flare up, they end up thinking the only relief is to run back to their addiction. In reality, this is like going back to slavery, and it makes us wonder: Were they were ever truly set free in the first place?

If we’re honest, we all try to escape reality at times. Whether it’s an addict sticking a needle into his arm or a Christian reading ten million books a year or a mum ploughing everything into her kids achievements. Some look better on the outside, but it’s all the same. Anything that moves us away from God into self-reliance is all the same.

For the addict, getting off the substance is just the beginning of a long journey of learning to live with emotions and how to process the past in light of God’s Word. This is why some ministries prefer to use the term ‘redeemed addict’. This redemption is best done in the community of the local church. It won’t happen solely at set times, like on a Wednesday at 8pm or a Sunday morning at 11am.

It involves all of life—being there when the hard memories are triggered and lovingly replacing each lie with God’s truth. We tend to freak out when people react in ways we don’t understand, but by the renewing of our minds the amazing truth is we can know this redemption deeply whilst still bearing the scars of the past.

We can know the God who delivers time and time again from slavery those who are headed to hell. The gospel takes what was shameful, broken, ruined, and redeems it. God lovingly redeems the pain and brings beauty from ashes. Look at Isaiah 61.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.

(Is. 61:1–3)

Are we willing to be in the trenches of trauma? Are we ready to persevere and love the unlovable, those battling mental anguish with painful pasts?

Let’s trust and believe Christ can redeem the broken. We know He loves to because we are broken too. Lord, let our churches be hospitals for the mentally sick that You may be glorified and Your power put on display. Please let us love people as You loved them, for You loved us unto death.

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