During the years in which I lived in a situation of turmoil and trouble, I would often have a recurring dream. I would be in Ocean Gate, NJ where I grew up, trying to go crabbing. But something always prevented me from doing so. I couldn’t find a net or bait or sinkers, and various things occurred that prevented me from obtaining my goal. Then I would wake up.
After studying psychology at a Christian university, I began to realize that something in my subconscious mind might be causing me to have this dream. So I asked the Lord to enlighten me. Suddenly it dawned on me: deep down I was wishing I could go back to the carefree days of my youth when I had enjoyed crabbing with my brother and friends.
The reason I could never get to crabbing in my dreams was simple: I couldn’t leave my situation and return to the past! Acceptance of that fact banished that frustrating dream.
We can’t go back. We can’t undo the mistakes we made. There’s no use in saying, “I wish I had done this,” or, “Oh, if I had never done that!”
Unfortunately, some of us live with guilt for years and years. But the good news is that God has made a way for us to be delivered of that heavy burden. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
If we carry a burden of guilt because we direly hurt someone else, how can we possibly be delivered from its oppressing memory? Well, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). While praying about it is essential, it also might help to talk with a trusted friend or a professional counsellor about what you're going through. God uses people to speak into our lives, and often brings His transformative healing through others' intervention.
When we live in the past or allow it to trouble us for any reason, it can can rob us of God’s peace and joy and keep us from being a channel of His light to the world. Let our song be as the psalmist’s: “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
What about the present? Many Christians are burdened down by depression, defeatism, anger, and resentment. They may suffer from an illness, a tragic loss, an abusive marriage, or rage that has simmered in their hearts since childhood.
We can see it in two ways:
- We can either allow our situation in life to make us angry and bitter and frustrated, or
- We can rise above it with God’s help, love, and grace.
Randall, a backslidden Christian teenager, became injured in a high school football game that resulted in his legs being paralyzed. He felt like his life had been ruined. Through the influence of several ministers, however, Randall gave up the bitterness and rededicated his life to the Lord. Since then, Randall has started a number of churches in the United States and Australia, and has preached to thousands of soldiers in South Africa and led many of them to Christ!
Our lives may be hampered by deep-down anger and hostility toward persons who hurt us when we were younger. This may be hurting our relationships with loved ones. One angry man I knew frequently harked back to the way his parents and others had treated him when he was young. He often took out his anger at the world on his wife and children.
When I attended a Narramore Conference, one lady’s test revealed that her hostility score almost went off the chart! “I don’t think I’m hostile,” she said angrily. Then she added, “But my family does!”
If our relationships are not right with others, we need to examine ourselves for old wounds and grudges that may have instilled in us a deep-down hostility. We can do this by praying as King David did: “Cleanse me from secret faults.” God will bring to our minds wounds and grudges from which we need deliverance. As we forgive those He brings to mind, healing will come.
Is it easy? No! But do what I do: I think of the individuals who have hurt me and say, “Here, Lord, I turn them over to You and I forgive them, for they probably didn’t realize how they were hurting me. Help me to fully forgive them, to love them, and to pray for them.” And He does it. I often immediately feel His peace.
How can we get ourselves out of the ruts of self-pity and depression that rob us of peace and joy? My elderly mother had drawn strength from the Lord for many years, but when she went through various physical trials, she became very despondent and just stayed in her house all day, feeling depressed.
I urged her to start going outside again, feeding her squirrels and bluejays, walking around her property. She was so depressed, she refused to do it. But when I took her to a new doctor and he told her to start walking two miles outside every day, she obeyed him. Within a day or two the depression lifted like a miracle and she was back to her old resilient self.
One of the best ways we can get out of a hurtful rut is to get out and get busy walking, working, helping others. Many organizations are looking for volunteers. And if we are housebound, we can still serve others and the Lord by praying, phoning lonesome people, and sending encouraging letters and cards. I know one crippled lady who went in to her church each day to help the secretary with various small tasks, such as folding church bulletins.
Though our past and present may have been clouded by unpleasant things, we who are Christians can look forward to our futures with hope and joy! We can leave our old self behind, as Paul did, with its pessimistic self-centeredness and defeat. At the end of Romans 7, Paul exclaimed, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
Paul wrote in Romans 8, his victory chapter, about living in the Spirit, instead of the flesh. There he exclaimed, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Ridding ourselves of what is dead in our lives, dying to self, and committing ourselves to the Lord, we step into the new life of love, peace, and joy that Christ promised us. Now we live for Him and others. We can press toward the mark for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, as Paul said.
When we do that, we no longer have to think of ourselves and our own self-interests. We no longer have to worry about what anyone else but Christ thinks of us. We can live in His love and shine for Him. Automatically we will lay up treasures in heaven. Enjoying them and His presence for eternity will truly be a future that we can joyfully anticipate!