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Learning From Our Past: Looking Back to Move Forward

Apr 7, 2015

Anything is possible.

On Easter Sunday, in churches all over the world, pastors talk about the transformation and change the Resurrection of Jesus makes possible.

Some of us balk at this as sensationalizing or cliche-making.

But consider this question.

How big is the gap between who you were five or ten years ago and who you are today?

Would the you of 2007 or 1998 have put who you are today in the “possible” or “impossible” category?

Look at the steps you’ve taken along the way. Study the moments you planned and the moments you didn’t plan for at all! Reflect on the things you wanted to happen and the things you fought against with all of your might.

Did you see all this, even in your wildest dreams?! Probably not.

 

Time Machine and Transformation

You might have dreamed it if you have been thinking like a computer. This is the Mac app known as Time Machine.

Available on all Mac computers, Time Machine enables the user to save the current version of their hard-drive to a backup drive. All of the user’s backups line up into infinity. Ideally, the user can go back to any of their past backups and access the files as they existed when that backup was created. It’s a great program and it looks even cooler than it works.

While our memories are not saved in this fashion, this image is a great picture of how far our past often seems from our present.

Our present will one day be as far away as our past looks today.

If your life were entered into Time Machine and you were able to look back across all of those moments, stacked up into space, what would you see in the transition from the first “backup” until now? What would you learn about how God been at work in your life? How stark would the change and transformation be in you? What would you see that you had forgotten or lost sight of?

 

Three Thoughts About Transformation

When I look back on my life, I see that anything is possible. I see that what I deemed improbable in the past is actually playing out today. It’s crazy!

More specifically, as I’ve looked back on my past recently, I’ve discovered three lessons from my past experience which I think we all need to heed.

1) We often over-estimate our short-term potential while under-estimating the value of sustained progress.

I’ve learned that turning potential into action involves much more than a flurry of unfocused action and energy. We consistently confuse activity with progress. We believe busyness is the path to success.

Actually, sustained improvement is the key to lifelong success. Great skills are not developed overnight. As a young leader, I was encouraged to use this season in my life to experiment, risk, try new things, make mistakes, pursue opportunities, and gets gobs of feedback. I’m reminded of a quote I’ve heard attributed to Bill Gates, Craig Groeschel and Mark Batterson.

“We over-estimate what we can accomplish in 1 year and underestimate what we can accomplish in 10.”

We must take the long view and work with the goal of peaking at in our sixties or seventies, not twenty-five.

 

2) We learn and change as much if not more from failure than we do success.

We avoid our greatest teacher. When I look at the Time Machine backup of my life, I see places where I changed because of the hard experiences, not easy ones. It was the hard conversations, the failures, the disappointment that shaped me. Easy rarely changes us.

The Scriptures affirm this truth. David was not humbled by success, rather by his failure in his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. Moses grew in courage by a season of great fear. Job became known as a man of faith even amidst a season of great doubt. Peter became the rock only after he faltered.

As we get older, it takes bigger crises to rock our worlds and shake us up. Sometimes a moment of failure is the great catalyst for personal change.

 

3) We are powerfully shaped (positively and negatively) by our relationships.

The people we get closest to (and those who get closest to us) make a huge difference in shaping who we become. I can look back on each season in my history and find people shaping the choices I made, my attitude and my responses to life events. Regularly, I’ve been reminded by authors and speakers that I am the reflection of the 5 people with whom I spend the most time.

While I do believe it is important to recognize the impact of other people on us, I believe we are called to change agents. One of the people who most challenged me to be a change agent was Jon Randles.

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My parents met Jon and became friends while attending Texas Tech University in the mid 1970s. Jon spoke at my dad’s church growing up as a revival speaker and he spoke for me in events targeted at college students. I watched him once speak to students late one Friday night. He went for nearly two hours, with just a few notes, and no one went to the bathroom, checking their phones or fell asleep.

Jon passed away in April 2015 after battling cancer. In the wake of his passing, I discovered some of his final sermons. Listening to them has been refreshing. One of Jon’s mantras was “you either are changed by the room or you change the room. Be a room changer.”

A long-haired wild man with a great intellect which was only exceeded by his energy, Jon called every group he addressed to become room-changers. Jon knew that we are not only shaped by those we spend time with; we’re called to shape them too.

Someone else is impacted by you. How are you impacting and influencing them?

As things end and begin in our lives (and they’re constantly ending and beginning), wisdom tells us to look back into our past, mine the lessons about God and ourselves, and fix our eyes on what lies ahead so we can live forward into a bright future.

“We may understand life looking back, but we can only live looking forward.”

I hope you’re learning and growing because of what you’ve discovered in your past. I pray that it is equipping and empowering you to embrace what God is doing in your future. I am excited and hopeful about what lies ahead for me because I see clearly what God has done in me through my “Time Machine”. And it blows my mind because I’m remembering that anything is possible!

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