The grace of Jesus Christ not only covers our past and sustains our present, but also creates for us a future.
In him our sins are forgiven and we are declared righteous. In him we are sanctified and progressively being transformed into his image. In him we are inseparable from the Father’s love and we can rest assured — no matter what distress may come — he is never letting us go. Past, present, and future.
Our tomorrow is profoundly secure, and one of the best ways to remember this today is to think about our yesterdays.
Why Think Back?
Some call it meditating on God’s providences — that spiritual exercise bound to sweeten our lives and lighten our burdens, as Puritan pastor John Flavel says. He writes,
There is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what evidences and outbreakings of his mercy, faithfulness, and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. (The Mystery of Providence, 118)
Simply put, this time-tested pastor advises us to think back on God’s faithfulness in our lives, which deepens our experience of the now and fuels our faith for the future. But simply put doesn’t mean simply done. This isn’t easy, especially if we find ourselves in the midst of hardship. How can we possibly look backwards for God’s goodness when everything around us is so bleak?
It is difficult, but the pastoral wisdom of Flavel may help. He has written instructions for us on how to think on our past, and my aim here is to build off his advice. The exercise is to read your own history — to pinpoint where you are now and jump backwards, working your way back up to the present. And during this reading, there are some specifics for which we should be on the lookout.
In considering God’s past providence in our lives, here are seven details worth tracking.
1. See God’s care for you.
We should know, and feel, that God cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) — and looking back on our lives will bear this out even if those memories bring more nightmare than nostalgia. There is certain to be pain, and maybe even the tiniest thought still hurts, but look for the Father’s care. It is there. Look for how he brought you through when all hope seemed lost, when your trouble seemed insurmountable, when miserable circumstances seemed to suffocate your faith. He brought you through — is bringing you through.
2. See God’s wisdom for you.
Consider those instances when delightful results came by the most unlikely means. It’s those times when, in the moment, you never saw them turning out the way they did. They could have been different, and it all feels so fragile now. One decision or opportunity turned another way would have meant you missing out on blessings now. Sometimes it’s even the smallest things. We weren’t even sure what we were doing, but God knew and he got it right.
3. See God’s grace for you.
If God’s wisdom uses unlikely means for our good, his grace is that we would receive any good at all. We see, on one hand, how things could have turned out. And on the other hand, we see how they should have turned — and would have apart from God’s grace. We do not deserve the least of his mercies and he has withheld none. In fact, he will show us the boundlessness of his grace toward us for all eternity (Ephesians 2:7).
4. See God’s humility for you.
Think about answered prayer. Think about the wonder that God hears you, that his ear is always ready to bend down for you. He has never been too distracted that he can’t attend to your simplest plea, however imperfect it is. He listens to you — your praise, your complaints, your tears, your cynicism — all with marvelous patience.
5. See God’s goal in all your provisions.
See that God’s aim in providing for you has been your transformation, not your ease. The toils and snares through which he has brought you haven’t been for your earthly comfort so much as your eternal good. His goal is to make you like Jesus, and that he will do (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:6).
6. See God’s goodness in comfortable stuff.
Comfort is not God’s goal, but that doesn’t mean we should begrudge it. Consider God’s goodness in things like a warm house in subzero temperatures, or a succulent meal when you’re hungry, or even the most seemingly non-spiritual things like Smartwool socks and dark-roast coffee. See them, as Flavel writes, “appointed to refresh you in your way to far better and great mercies than themselves. The best mercies are still reserved for last, and all these are introductive to better” (130).
7. See Jesus Christ as the way of God’s mercy to you.
Every detail of God’s goodness to you has come through the blood of Jesus. Look back on these providences and remember that you’ve earned none of them. They come by Jesus, or they don’t come at all. His cross is the most vivid demonstration of God’s love for us, and every little good we’ve seen has flowed from that glorious fountain. It did yesterday, and it will tomorrow.