Consumed by our past (Two thieves and the present series)
“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves; regret for our past and fear of the future.” (Fulton Oursler)
In this three study series we're going to be looking at an interaction between Jesus, while he was on the cross, and the two thieves who were hung on either side of Him. It's found in Luke 23:29-43. Each of these thieves took a different standpoint. The first was worried and stressing over his very short future ahead, and the second was terrified of God from a past that sent him deservingly to death on a cross. We're going to start off by looking at the second guy and figuring out that God longs for us to run to Him regardless of our past mistakes.
God wants nothing to do with our messy, dirty, far from perfect, sinful pasts. Where we get confused is when we think that God wants nothing to do with US because of our past, and we allow that lie to pull us away from His perfect love, mercy, and mostly His forgiveness. You see, “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves; regret for the past and fear of the future.” (Fulton Oursler) We engulf ourselves with all the times we've messed up and all the mess we have behind us, all the imperfection behind us, that we dare not even think about a perfect God. We allow this petrifying fear to seep into our minds and hearts and we become self destructive. We forget about the one who lived perfect in our defense and took all of our downfalls, screw ups, and baggage upon Himself. We forget about Jesus Christ who has died our death, and paid our ransom, so that when our perfect Heavenly Father looks upon us all He can see is a white robe. Jesus calls us to come to Him with our pasts so He can show you just how much He loves you.
Matthew 11:28 says, “Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This open communication with Jesus is what will save us from our imperfect pasts. This simple act of coming to God with our past struggles and sins will “give you rest.” We were created by a God who longs for us to call Him “Abba, Father.” So don't allow your past to weigh you down and pull you away from God. Our struggles, sins, and temptations are like bricks in a backpack. With each act of sin, with each time we give into a struggle or temptation, with each thought that pulls us farther from God, we are putting bricks on our backs. Each of us might have slightly different shaped or colored bricks that we're putting in, but they all have the same effect on us. They leave us weary and are heavy burdens.
I feel that as our past begins to really wear down on us, we tend to focus more and more on the weight which is causing us to become so weary. This is where I mentioned earlier that we can fall into and be consumed by our past mistakes. Our focus is shifted almost completely on our failures that we find ourselves continuously falling back into all of our past mistakes. Making them occur over and over and over as we create a constant cycle in life. This is when we can really get caught up and messed up. This is when we can get so consumed with regret of our failures that we feel unable to escape them. We start saying things such as, “I can't quit this drug because I've been addicted so long” or “I can't stop drinking because I've drank alcohol for as long as I can remember. It's a way of life for me” or “I can't stop having sex with my girlfriend because I've already ruined my virginity” or “I can't quit looking at pornography because my mind is so used to it, it has such a tight grip on me, that I couldn't escape.” This is where we have to be extra careful. This is where we can almost create a second life that we hide from everyone around us, because this is when we feel as if we are alone in our struggles and hard times.
I can remember my freshman year of college a time when I crucified myself with my past. I had an on and off struggle with pornography since fourth grade, I was in a very unofficial relationship with a girl who I wasn't allowed to be with or even talk to, and I was a leader in my church's youth group. I not only had a double life, but I was getting into the triple life, and I was good at it. There were times when I would watch something inappropriate and then immediately go to write my Bible lesson from my small group without the blink of an eye. I quite literally would have almost three different personalities when I was in those three different aspects of my life. I had to learn the hard way that, focusing on my past struggles and sins, and NOT coming to Jesus with that junk in my life produces death. You see, no matter how good you are at living separate lives, they are going to weary you down and will literally make you feel a heavy burden on your shoulders and mind. I had fallen into the lie my freshman year that I was alone in what I was going through and struggling with and had sent myself spiraling out of control. There were times when I thought the only way to get rid of the lives I didn't want was to kill myself. There was a time that I cut myself mainly to hurt one of my lives, but a part of me wanted to feel something. Then I remembered a verse I memorized when I was little.
I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bare, but with the temptation provide a way of escape.”
The light finally went on in my head. I haven't ever gone through something that someone else around me hasn't been confronted with or made it through. And just as I wasn't alone in my struggles and hardships, none of you are either. God puts people in our lives to help us keep our gaze on Him through whatever is thrown at us. I found that I wasn't the only one who has messed up and sinned in life, but everyone around me had struggles and hardships surrounding their lives as well. The only way I was able to get out of my cycle of sin was making those sins made known. First, to God; lifting them up to Him and crying out for a heavenly rest that comes from being honest and open with God Himself and admitting I am dependent on Him. And second, to others; being honest and open to what I've been going through and struggling with in life is something Satan hates. Because then we have accountability with others and the darkness in our pasts have been brought into light.
This backpack, this cycle, this almost dual life, isn't something that God ever intended for us to carry by ourselves. So it is vital to, as Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens....” And...? Jesus doesn't say that, once you come to Him, “you get a pat on the back.” or “you get judged” or “I'll make you feel bad.” He says, “I will give you rest.” I know I need rest right now in my life, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.
My challenge to everyone reading this is to come to God with your past. Don't allow past struggles and hardships to pull you away from God, but allow those challenges to bring you closer to God. Don't allow yourself to ask “why has God allowed me to fall into this or go through this,” but get yourself to ask “What is God trying to teach me through these.” Also, don't allow yourself to focus on the sin of your past and, in doing so, allow yourself to fall into a cycle of the same sins over and over. Instead, seek God first and accountability from others to get to Him. For we serve a God of overwhelming love, unlimited mercy, and infinite forgiveness. We serve a God who longs for us to cry out “Abba, Father” and run into his vastly caring arms.