One of the worst places to be in life is “between a rock and a hard place.” In this regard, I’m referring to the past and the future. Most people make the mistake of living in the past or the future, regretting the past or looking to the future for a better day.
Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega or the Beginning and the End, told us not to live in either place “for today has enough troubles of its own” (Matt. 6:34). I think this is one reason the Bible speaks so little of heaven because we would be spending all our time focused on its glories rather than living a life full of God’s business down here.
That doesn’t mean we can’t fondly remember the former days or look down the road a bit to imagine what things would be like if the grass were greener. The problem with this scenario is it may keep us from enjoying the NOW of life. For a lot of people it’s trying to relive another time or another place, which may be GONE forever. On the other hand, “If I can only get to next week, next month or next year, things will be better” can be extremely frustrating as well. A wise pastor once told me with a chuckle, “Soon to God is at least five years!”
“My times are in Your Hand”
The Psalmist David, who understood God’s ways quite well, wrote, “My times are in your Hands” (Psa. 31:15). In other words, our life belongs to God to be lived, according to His day-to-day plans. We are uniquely designed to adapt to the changes in our lives, but not without God’s continuous intervention.
Our tripartite makeup of spirit, soul and body is to respond to the Lord’s designs for us. The spirit in us, as directed by the Holy Spirit, actually has no time limits upon it. Obviously, the brain and the body do. They both will perish. But the eternal spirit, as led by God’s Holy Spirit, can show us things to come from a prophetic point of view or help us recall something buried in the past that the brain can’t remember. Both these wonderful tools are available to us because of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Refusing the bitter cup
Life can certainly pour us a bitter cup, but we can choose not to drink it. Some people, no matter how much pain and agony they’ve endured, live joyfully and love God in spite of their lot in life. I’m always amazed at these kinds of people. However, most of us, in some way or another, have allowed bitterness to seep into our souls and spirits, which has blinded us to the reality of everyday enjoyment. Solomon said this concerning both types of people:
“He who is satiated [with sensual pleasures] loathes and treads underfoot a honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” (Prov. 27:7 Amp).
Suffice to say that if life is all about sensual enjoyment, we will tread underfoot the sweetest things right at our doorstep – a child’s sweet prayer, enjoying an early morning songbird or gazing at a beautiful rose. “Hungry people” find joy and happiness in the little things.
Overcoming the bitter past
God has provided sweet water through the power of His cross. In the Old Testament we find a prophetic picture of how this happens. The Israelites, who had finally been released from bitter enslavement in Egypt after 400 years, had embarked on the trek to the Promise Land. After a short while, water became scarce, and the people got mad and began to complain. They reached a place called Mara, which means bitter in Hebrew. Here they found a pond, but it was filled with bitter water. As usual Moses did his thing, interceding for the people:
“Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them” (Ex: 15:25).
If we are stuck in our past because of bitterness, God has an answer for us: His cross. This is more than saving us from our sins; this is about saving us from ourselves! Think of the bitter people you know. They are usually unhappy, critical and sometimes mean, less healthy than they should be and likely making those around them miserable as well. As we forgive those who have wronged us and bring our past bitterness to death on the cross, we discover that “tree” once again that makes bitter water sweet. If we don’t, we are stuck in the past, agonizing, grieving and pouring over things we cannot change.
Back to the future
The past in one thing, the future is another. Are your current circumstances less than desirable, and do you constantly long for the future? Likely your expectations weren’t met, and you can’t wait to move on. But you’re stuck. Nothing seems to change. You’re going in circles. This is what happens when we ask why something happened instead of for what reason. People who don’t want God’s will often find themselves in this place. Instead of seeking God’s will, we want our own, so He sends us in circles. No? Consider the Israelites trek to the Promise Land, which should have taken three weeks to a month to travel. Instead it took them 40 years!
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways. So I declared on oath in my anger, they shall never enter my rest’?” (Heb. 3:7-11 NIV).
What causes a “hard heart”? Besides being a self-protective device, quite simply, it’s caused by bitterness from not getting what we wanted, when we wanted it and how we wanted it. Someone said the definition of lust is “I want it now!” It’s obvious from the previous Scripture that entering into God’s rest (this doesn’t refer to heaven but a restful and peaceful but productive place in God) is precipitated on not hardening our hearts.
Giving up or Giving in?
Most Christians are taught that we are to just keeping holding on to the promise until somehow they “twist” God’s Arm to give them what we want. Although this may work in some instances, in others the answers come by giving into God’s will, which may not be found in the promise they were holding on to! Self-will is so strong sometimes that we convince ourselves that our insight is right no matter what! Conversely, sometimes if we go ahead and give in, yield and submit to the Lord Himself concerning the promise, He will let us have it BUT NOT ATTACHED TO OUR DEMAND (see my blog “Sumo Wrestling with God”). The wisdom in this matter is trying to have no mind of your own but to find God’s mind instead.
Moving on in God works much better if we find out which way He’s going and go in that direction instead of deciding what we think is best first and then asking God to bless it.
As we wait
As we wait for things to change – leaving the past behind and moving forward — we can become bitter or better. The longer some people have to wait, the bitterer they become. God designed having to wait as the numero uno character builder. After all, tribulation works patience in us, which produces a harvest of righteousness:
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Rom. 5:3-5 NIV).