Paul Clark

“Those who embrace the future are generally happier than those who embrace the past.” (Unknown)

“Continually reminiscing about the past means missing out on the future.” (Greek Proverb)

Let me say from the beginning that it is imperative to look back and thank God for what he has done in and through my life and ministry.  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:29)

Recently hiking up a mountain, I was encouraged after looking back from time to time, to see where I had come from.  However, to reach the summit, I exerted all my efforts and energy, moving step by step forward, keeping my eyes focused on what lay ahead. If I would have only kept looking back, I would have never made it to the top.

As humans, we often have the tendency to over focus on what “was” in the past, both that which was positive, as well as that which was not so positive.

Psychotherapist and counselors spend much of their time helping clients work through past life experiences, that range from deep personal hurt to, often insurmountable traumatic occurrences. Julie Gregory writes, “But the memories that hang heaviest are the easiest to recall. They hold in their creases the ability to change one’s life, organically, forever. Even when you shake them out, they’ve left permanent wrinkles in the fabric of your soul.” 

Men and women who are captives of their past, have great difficulty coping with the present, having little hope for the future.

When dealing with difficult situations in ministry as well as in life, there is often a tendency to yearn and long for the better days of the past. Many of the challenging situations we face today as leaders are directly linked to the overwhelming changes occurring in our culture These changes directly affect the lives of men and women we desire to serve.   

Over 50 years ago Bob Dylan wrote and recorded the song “The times they are a-changin…” This song was as an expression of the major social and cultural changes occurring throughout the western world in the 1960s. Those changes then, even now effect many of the cultural and social issues we are dealing with today.  In Bob’s own words,

“If your time is worth savin’ Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin’.”

We cannot turn back the clock of change, even though some Christians attempt to do so.

I spoke at a church several years ago and their website still today boldly states; “We are church like you remember it use to be.” The style of music and church service in general reminded me how it was back in the 1980s. Interestingly enough, there was a high percentage of young people and young families in attendance. 

One of the major challenges for Christians throughout history is presenting the Gospel when everything is changing around them. The Gospel Message never changes but our methods do. The varying opinions among Christians about methods cause many of our church conflicts. I am sure you have heard about the “worship wars” in many churches during the past decade. Do we really have to go to war over Christian songs and the way we sing them?

I remember vividly the Jesus People Movement in the 1970s that swept North America and Europe. This was an era in time when it seemed so easy to speak or “rap” about the claims of Christ to a restless generation who was seeking the deeper meaning of life. A genuine spiritual awakening occurred then among young people to an extent, that we have not probably seen since. Still, there is no need today to be over sentimental about the Jesus People Movement.  You and I desperately need the Lord to give us wisdom and understanding in reaching the lost in our culture today who have never experienced the resurrection life of Jesus in their lives.

The Greek philosopher Heraklit, who lived 400 years before Christ observed; The only thing that is constant is change.”

The Evangelical church today generally no longer sings out of hymnals, but look instead to lyrics on the wall or screen. Large wooden pulpits with matching royalty like cushioned platform chairs have been disposed of along with men’s ties. (By the way, are you old enough to remember how every church had a piano on one side of the platform and a Hammond organ on the other side?) Obviously, these are not the main issue confronting the church today, yet it is surprising to see, how many in my generation long for outward expressions of the ‘good old’ days.

One of my German pastor colleagues recently posted Ecclesiastes 7:10 on Facebook: “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.” One pastor quickly replied: “The question is superfluous in itself because the past was not always better than the present. At times, we are just very forgetful.”

Okay, I have rambled on enough. I want to encourage you to be open for change and always remember methods have little to do with the true message of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul’s assertion to the Philippians can be applied to many of the cultural tensions the local church is facing today. “But what does it matter? Here is the important thing. Whether for reasons that are right or wrong, Christ is being preached about. That makes me very glad. And I will continue to be glad.” 

Always thank the Lord for the past but spend more time envisioning what God can do through your church today and into the future. I appreciate what Bill Gates once stated, “I spend most of my time thinking about the future since that is where I will spend the rest of my life.”

Let the words of the Apostle Paul speak into our lives today. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” (Philippians 3:13 NIV)