Redeeming the Past #2

How your disciple remembers his past is more important than the actual events. He has a personal agenda, which not only determines how he will remember the past but also what he will remember from his past. He chooses which events to recall and which ones to forget, no matter how significant or insignificant the event may have been, in order to accomplish his aim. Israel conveniently forgets the parting of the Red Sea, one of the greatest miracles in the Bible, in their argument that God had neglected them; in contrast your disciple will harbor the hurt from a minuscule event such as of an unreturned text message from three years ago if it will serve his purpose.

The Godly characters from the Old Testament give us examples on how to remember the past. Although the facts of Joseph’s enslavement could not be change, he did have a choice in how he would remember his brothers selling him into slavery. The lens of doubt would have led him to despair, hatred, manipulation, and revenge whereas the lens of trust in the character of God led Joseph to peace, love, leadership, and forgiveness. Joseph was convinced that there was a larger purpose behind the betrayal by his brothers and his imprisonment. He did not seek to revenge the past nor change the events from his past but rather he placed them in the larger sequence of the purposeful sovereign acts of a loving God.

Once I had a disciple who sought to hold God hostage in order to manipulate him to change what had happened in his past. Though God redeems the past he does not change it and so he placed his relationship with God in an irreconcilable position. He had created a scenario where the only way his relationship with God could be restored is if God would change the events of his past. This position forced him to daily relive the pain of his past through the gate of his memory, which only increased his bitterness.

A couple of ideas in closing:

  1. We give an entire evening to each person being discipled to share his story with the whole group. Here different spiritual gifts can detect how the disciple remembers his past as well as discern what God’s purpose may be for his life.
  2. A priority for our ministry is to take the opportunity to meet the parents, siblings, and friends of each disciple to gain a complete perspective of his past.
  3. Help your disciple to look at his memories from the perspective of the sovereign purpose of God for his life.

Redeeming Memories

The identity of your disciple is shaped by his memories. To understand him and his behavior you will need to become familiar with these memories. A way to explore both his good and painful memories is for the two of you together to develop a timeline of his life. This needs to be done in a context of trust because he will feel vulnerable as he discloses both his cherished and wounding memories. (It is hurtful for a cherished memory not to be valued by another.)

Your disciple’s memories may be distorted so it is important to discern how he remembers his past, whether accurate or inaccurate, because how he remembers events and people affects his behavior today. For example, he may remember his second grade teacher as not liking him because she placed him in “time out” over a minor playground incident, when in reality she may have been an excellent teacher, but what he will carry with him into adulthood is the inaccurate memory of “mean” Miss Crump. I have also had a disciple remember his family as “wonderful” but in reality it was dysfunctional, while still another presented his family as a bad experience but in actuality it was a loving home.

Israel’s fear distorted their memory of Egypt and the Exodus. They remembered things how they wanted them to be remembered in order to justify their actions:

The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’  (Exodus 16:3)

Israel remembered how wonderful Egypt was but in actuality they had been miserable. Moses corrected Israel’s memory with the truth of their past so that they could rightly live in the future.

A couple things to keep in mind:

  1. When exploring his memories your disciple will be dealing with powerful emotions so expect contradictions and illogical conclusions, this is part of the memory correcting process.
  2. Remembering the past will take months for your disciple to process.
  3. The more painful his past the more resistance he will be to drawing up memories.
  4. Talk to your disciple’s family and friends to get an accurate view of the history of his life.