Footsteps echo in the dark alley. As I peer into the darkness ahead I search for a beacon to guide me. No bright light lays ahead, not even a candle or a flicker of light. My steps falter and I stop. All of my senses are on high alert. My ears strain to hear that still small voice in the silence. I’m not sure which way to turn.
From behind me there is a whisper. I know that is not the voice I’m listening for so I try—and fail—to block it out. I can’t help listening. When I shift my gaze away from the road ahead I hear the whispers more clearly.
The whispers snarl at me.
“You deserve what happened to you.”
“You are not good enough.”
“You’ll never amount to anything.”
Taunts and regrets crowd around. Fear rises up in me.
When I focus on the mistakes of my past I don’t move forward. I’m all for learning from my mistakes so I don’t repeat them but past events can be a roadblock to the future. The past isn’t a bad place to visit if we can focus on the things God has done for us: his fulfilled promises, provision, and protection.
But when all we can see is the bad stuff, it’s a great relief to know that God has our past covered.
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:8
The New Living Translation says: “The Glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.” God will protect us from the failures in our past. Move along, people. There’s nothing to see here.
When memories of our past mistakes get stuck on replay, our view forward gets clouded. We all have things we regret. But if we’re always looking behind us, we are unable to see what is ahead.
“But Lot’s wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt.” Genesis 19:26
We probably won’t face the extreme physical consequences that Lot’s wife realized when she looked back as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. But looking backwards all the time can halt our forward momentum as effectively as if we’d been turned into a pillar of salt.
God protects us from behind so we can embrace the future he promises.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19
As we forget the former things, and choose not to dwell on our past, we can trust God to bring us good things even when the way ahead is dark and murky.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God directed them towards the Red Sea. I think most of us would prefer a hard journey to be as short as possible especially when there is an army on our tail. But when our slog through the valley goes on longer than we think it should, we can be assured God is with us in the hard places and uses these circumstances to shape us and force us encourage us to trust him.
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.” (Exodus 13:17-18)
God did this because he knew that his people had to be cut off from their painful past so they would have to embrace their promised future. We’re not very different from them.
“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’” (Exodus 14:10-12)
Fear of the unknown had them nostalgic for the good old days of oppression and slavery. God knew if he let them take the easy road, they would have run back to what was familiar. But he wants more for us than what we are willing to settle for.
Sometimes our past mistakes sneak up behind us in a dark alley every once in awhile. Sometimes they are constant companions keeping us afraid to move forward. We don’t have to stay stuck in the past. God will protect us from behind while he lights our path ahead.