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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: What Do You Do With Your Burdens?

Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: What Do You Do With Your Past?

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What Do You Do With Your Past?

Today, as you look back over your shoulder, what do you see? Do you see that which brings joy and satisfaction to your heart? Or do you see that which brings distress, heartbreak, and shame to your life? I’m wondering — are we prepared to make a true assessment, a regular inventory, of this past year, with all of its happenings as far as we are concerned?

Well, there’s one axiom that we can lay down for all the years that preceded it: The past is gone, and there is positively nothing that we can do about it. You and I cannot change one event or one experience.

In a great American drama, one of the first ever written, titled “The Great Divide,” one of the leading characters says this, “Wrong is wrong from the moment it happens until the crack of doom, and all the angels in heaven working overtime cannot make it different or less by a half.”

May I say to you that this might be true in American drama, but Paul the apostle said that there is something a Christian can do about the past. In fact, Paul made it very personal. Paul said that there was something that he did concerning the past. Will you listen to him:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13, 14)

He says, “This one thing I do.” That is a simple statement of the simple life. In the complex civilization in which we are living, we need to sharpen it down to one point and be able to say, “This one thing I do.” Most of us today, even in Christian work, are busy with pots and pans as Martha was. We are busy with this and that, and we have quite a few things we are attempting to bring to a boil. But the interesting thing is that we don’t seem to be able to watch all of them.

But Paul says, “This one thing I do.” Call it the power of concentration if you will, or call it the consolidation of purpose, or call it singleness of heart. Call it anything, but it’s something that is needed in our Christian lives today. In fact, it is Bible all the way through. David said this: “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after …” (Psalm 27:4). David had reduced his life to the lowest common denominator. In this day of nervous activity, this day of ceaseless motion, this day of building tensions — oh, to reduce our lives down to this one point and be able to say, “This one thing I do.”

What is this one thing that Paul did? Well, I lift out only one phrase from Philippians 3:13: “Forgetting those things which are behind.” As we look back, there are many things that we are to forget. And this is what Paul did with a great deal of his past.

On the other hand, God gave us memories, and there are certain things we are to remember. As Someone has put it, “God gave us memories so that we could have roses in December.” The Bible has a great deal to say about remembering. Like a bugle blast, the word remember goes all the way through the Word of God. God says to man, “Remember!” He said to the children of Israel, when He brought them out of the land of bondage, “Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage …” (Exodus 13:3). They were to remember this and never forget it. You find as you go through the Scripture — and it’s quite interesting to notice — how the word remember is usually associated with God and the word forget is associated with man. God is the One who remembers better than we do. You find toward the beginning of Genesis that God remembered Noah. And you find man is constantly forgetting until finally the psalmist sums it all up by saying, “They forgot God, their Savior …” (Psalm 106:21). And that was tragic. They were not to forget God!

The Scriptures are clear on the fact that to forget certain things is sin. All the way through the Bible He says to us, “Remember.” “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth …” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). And even after you leave this life, my beloved, you are still called upon to remember, and you’ll remember throughout the endless ages of eternity. It is in Luke 16 that Abraham in sheol said to the rich man yonder in torment, “Remember.” And to take a memory like his into eternity, my friend, wouldn’t need much fire to make it a hell!

Although there are some things that we are to remember, there are other things that we are to forget. In the biography of Richard III — that villain who wore a crown — the author said of him, “He forgot the things he should have remembered, and he remembered the things he should have forgotten.” And how true this is of many of us today. There are certain things we should remember, but there are certain things that we should forget. Many a man goes through life shackled and crippled because he will not forget the things he should forget.

We are not dealing here in generalities. What are some of the things we are to forget? I want to deal with specifics and mention some of them — not all of them, I’m sure — but some of them.


The first one that I would like to mention is stupidities or blunders. We should forget our blunders. What blunderers we all are, and what blunders we make! Or perhaps I’m wrong in including you. Perhaps you do not commit blunders, but I do. To be frank, we all make blunders, don’t we?

Well, let’s forget them. In “forgetting the things which are behind,” we are to forget our blunders. Sometimes we put our clumsy hands on the heartstrings of a friend and do damage that we did not mean to do. I imagine there are some even today who are saying, “Oh, as I look back over the past year, I said something I wish I had not said. I wish I had bitten off my tongue.” Or, “I did something this past year I’m sorry I did. I would not have done it intentionally for anything in the world.”

My friend, may I say this to you: Correct what you’ve done and then forget it! “Forgetting those things which are behind.” As you know, Simon Peter was a great blunderer. Matthew 14:28-31 records the incident of Peter walking on water. Peter said to our Lord out yonder on the Sea of Galilee, “Bid me come unto thee on the water.” Now don’t say that Simon Peter didn’t walk on the water because he did. He started out and probably took quite a few steps. But, you see, this fellow was so in the habit of stumbling that he even had to stumble walking on water! He took his eyes off his Lord, saw those boisterous waves and began to sink.

Then you may recall the incident yonder at Caesarea Philippi:

When Jesus came into the borders of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:13-16)

Having given that glorious confession of faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he later opened his mouth and said something he should not have said. In Matthew 16:21-23, when our Lord forewarned the disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to die, Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him. “Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee.” What a blunderer!

And then yonder as they left the Upper Room, our Lord said, “This night you will forsake Me. As sheep are scattered, tonight you will be scattered” (see Matthew 26:31-35). And Simon Peter said, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” Again, what a blunderer.

But, thank God, this man Peter knew how to get up, dust himself off, forget those things that were behind, and press on to those things which were before him. This man on the day of Pentecost, without mentioning his own base denial, stands up before his countrymen and says,

Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)

It brought conviction, and thousands turned to Christ!

May I say to you that Paul also was a blunderer — Peter didn’t have a monopoly on it, you know. In Acts 15:36-39 Paul could say in effect, “I don’t want John Mark with me. He failed on the first missionary journey, and I will not give him a second chance.” It was a mistake not to give John Mark another chance, and there came a day when Paul acknowledged he had been wrong. In his final epistle, his swan song, he wrote: “Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul blundered, but he corrected it and went on.


What is a sensitivity? Well, that’s the quality or state of being sensitive. To our stupidities of the past we add our sensitivities.

We are living in an age in which transportation and communication, the increase of population, mass production, and urban life have brought us all together. And we are closer than we have ever been. When you get people close together, they are going to rub against each other. And when you rub any two things together, you get friction. And when you get friction, you get aggravation — and none of the major oil companies have an oil product that will relieve this kind of friction!

Our contemporary society is a hotbed of rivalries and competition and alienations and personality conflicts. In this rough-and-tumble day in which we live, my friend, you are going to get hurt. Somebody is going to offend you. You’re bound to be wounded in life’s struggle. What are you to do? Oh, how many people up to this present moment are still nursing a grudge and a hurt. Today you may be carrying ill feelings and spreading among God’s people disruption and disturbance. What are you to do? Forget them! “Forgetting those things which are behind.”

There is a plant that is peculiar to the American continent. It is known as the sensitive plant. Its botanical name is mimosa pudica. The characteristic of this little plant is that the minute it is touched by human hand, the stalk withers and the leaves curl up and close tightly.

There are a lot of human beings who are sensitive plants in America today. And they come in under the classification of mimosa pudica. Oh, my friend, don’t let your life be ruined!

In the Bible, the Book of Esther tells about a man who was like that. His name was Haman. He was a little man, little in mental stature, little in his emotions, little in his character. He was the great anti-Semite, and do you know what teed him off? Well, the king of Persia, Ahasuerus, had elevated Haman to the highest position in the kingdom and had made him prime minister. At the entrance to the city there was a judge, just a petty judge, by the name of Mordecai. Word had been sent around to all the politicians that since Haman had been promoted to such a high office, they were to bow before him. And they all bowed, except that little fellow Mordecai.

Now Mordecai was little physically, but he had great moral courage. He refused to bow. You see, he was a Jew who was true to his God. He had been taught from the Old Testament that he was to worship no one except the Lord his God; so he just would not bow, that was all. You would think that Haman as the prime minister would be big enough to overlook it. But not Haman. Haman went home and complained to his wife — you really find out about a fellow in what he tells his wife! He said to her, “Here the king has lifted me up and made me prime minister, and I am in this exalted position, but I’m not happy because there is a little fellow by the name of Mordecai who won’t bow to me!” Because his feelings were hurt, he started a wave of anti—Semitism!

My friend, don’t be little. Some people today are bleeders, hemophiliacs, and I am told that the bleeding cannot be stanched. Also some folk are “bleeders” in the social realm. They get pinched or hurt, and they start bleeding — and there are not blood transfusions to keep them alive.

Oh, my friend, today as you look back into the past, have you received personal injury? Then forget it. “Forgetting those things which are behind.”


There is a third thing that we are to forget: our successes. We are to forget not only our stupidities, not only our sensitivities, but also our successes. Candidly, success is the most difficult of all to forget. Paul could say this: “… I have learned, in whatever state I am, in this to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound …” (Philippians 4:11, 12). To abound, to be successful, is most difficult to forget.

Dr. Harry Ironside used to tell the story of what happened to him in Grand Rapids. He went there every year to speak at Mel Trotter’s mission while Mel Trotter was still alive. One year when he went up there, he found that a fine-looking new hotel had been built and that he was booked in this new hotel, up on the top floor in a suite of rooms! He had never had anything like that before. It was luxury personified. He went around just looking at everything in the room, all brand new. He came at last to the door, for they had to publish the price of the room. When Dr. Ironside saw the price, he went immediately to the telephone, called Mel Trotter, and said, “Look, Mel, you don’t have to put me in a room like this! If you could just get me a room somewhere with a desk so I can study and a bed for me to sleep in and a washbasin so I can wash my face, that’s all I want, and that’s all I’m accustomed to.” Mel Trotter, in his characteristic manner, said, “Look, Harry, the manager of that hotel was saved several years ago at the mission. He was an alcoholic, a drunk. He’s never been able, he says, to repay me. And so when he put up this new hotel, he said, ‘I’ll reserve the top floor suite for every speaker you have.‘ Now, Harry, it won’t cost me a penny, and it doesn’t cost the mission a penny. Learn how to abound for the next week.”

It is hard to know how to abound, my beloved. Many of us know how to be abased, but very few of us know how to abound. You and I live in a land where success is the watchword. In America we measure a man with the dollar sign. How much money has he made? Has he been a success in business? We measure a man by the schools where he was educated, by his job, and by his influence. My beloved, these values I think are wrong. Many a man is called a success who is a sorry failure at home. Many a person today has a name of fame that makes the headlines but is a rotten failure in marriage.

Do you know that Samuel, one of God’s men, was a failure in his home? Oh, I tell you, his life sounds like a success story until you read the following verses that tell of his failure:

And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his first-born was Joel; and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after money, and took bribes, and perverted justice. (1 Samuel 8:1-3)

What a failure he was as a father! My brother, if you have made money this past year, if you have attained the position you were after, may I suggest this as a friend: forget it! “Forgetting those things which are behind.” We do well to forget our successes.


May I mention the fourth thing briefly. We are not only to forget our stupidities, our sensitivities, and our successes, but we are also to forget our sorrows. Perhaps this past year the death angel knocked at the door of your home — he knocked at many. It may be that tragedy came your way and sorrow fills your heart.

My friend, I do not mean to be pessimistic, but if sorrow did not come, it will come. The death angel is no respecter of persons. He knocks at the door of the palace of a pharaoh and the hovel of a peasant. He pays no attention to the status of the individual. He knocks at all doors. He will knock at your door.

If tragedy did come your way and sorrow did fill your heart, may I say to you kindly: forget it. “Oh,” you say, “you’re not asking me to forget my loved one?” No. But forget your sorrow. I receive many letters that ask, “Why did God let this happen to me?” My friend, God let it come to you as a child of God for a definite reason. Will you listen to Him?

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them who are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)

God has let you, child of God, go down through the valley of the shadow of death in order that He might comfort you. Neither I nor anyone else can comfort you. I disagree with the people who tell me, “You said something that comforted my heart.” No, my friend, if your heart was comforted, it was God who did it. He is the God of all comfort. He alone can comfort you. And He comforts you so that you in turn can go to someone else, and His Word can bring comfort through you.

King David had a little son born to him and, according to the record in 2 Samuel 12, that little one hung in the balance between life and death. David went in before God, fasting. He was down on his face before God, and you could hear him weeping. After a week the little one died, and the servants were afraid to tell David, thinking that he might be so distraught he would do himself bodily harm. David saw that they were whispering and turned and asked, “Is the child dead?” They told him, “Yes.” David arose and washed his face, changed his clothes, and went to the house of the Lord and worshiped, then went home and had a good dinner. Even the servants couldn’t keep quiet. They came to him and asked, “How is it that when the little one was still alive you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead you are no longer mourning?” David was God’s man, and in concluding his reply he said, “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” In other words, “I’ll forget the things that are behind, and I’ll move toward the things that are ahead.”

Friend, I say it kindly, forget your sorrows.


Not only are we to forget our stupidities, our sensitivities, our successes, and our sorrows, but we are to forget our sins, too. What do you do with your sins? The Word of God says to confess them. Confess them promptly to God, and then forget them, my friend, forget them.

I sometimes think that God gets tired of our reminding Him of our past sins. Of course, we are to correct what we have done when we have injured some person. But after we have dealt with the thing and confessed it, He says to forget it — “forgetting those things which are behind.” Confession is to be made to God privately — not publicly — and when we have done that, then we are to forget the sin.

Oh, to take the book of the past, tie it with the red ribbon of forgiveness (for that red speaks of the blood of Christ), seal it with love, and then mail it to an address which David gives us: “Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? And thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Psalm 88:12). I don’t know the location of the “land of forgetfulness.” I don’t know whether it is north, east, south, or west. Wherever it is, it is the proper place to send the failure of your past — “forgetting those things which are behind.”

On the other hand, perhaps your sins are not forgiven, or perhaps you are not sure they are forgiven. May I ask this personal question? Would you like to wipe out the past, with all of its sins and all of its stains? Would you like to know, as far as your past is concerned, that all is forgiven? Well, God will not only forgive you your sins, friend, He will do something else: He will forget them. God says:

… For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

God says that He has put our sins behind His back, and He won’t turn around. He will forget them.

In closing, let me tell you a story that comes out of my native state of Texas. Years ago out on the plains of South Texas a ranch house caught on fire one night. Quite suddenly it went up in a blaze. There were a father and mother and several children in that family. All died in the fire with the exception of one little girl about six years old. She came crawling out of that burning inferno, horribly burned on the face. Neighbors took her in. Doctors were called, and they worked with her and nursed her back to health. But the little girl did not have a living relative, so they sent her to Dallas, to the Buckner Orphanage.

Dr. Buckner met her at the train. There she was, a little six-year-old girl all alone, her eyes red with crying and her face horribly scarred. He went up to her and asked, “Are you Mary?”

She said, “Yes. Are you Dr. Buckner? You’ll have to be my Daddy and my Mama both. I’ve lost mine.”

He promised he would do his best. He took her out to the home, and she got acquainted with the other children. As you know, sometimes children that age can be rather cruel, even brutal. On one occasion Dr. Buckner had to be out of town, and when he returned all the other children came running, and he put his arms around them and kissed them. Then he saw little Mary standing over to one side. She’d been weeping again, for the children had told her she was ugly. They had told her how horrible she really looked.

So Dr. Buckner went over to little Mary and said to her, “Mary, why didn’t you come and kiss Daddy Buckner like the rest?”

“Daddy Buckner, I know I’m ugly. I know I’m awful-looking. You wouldn’t possibly want to kiss me. If you’ll just say that you love me, that’ll be enough.”

Do you know what Dr. Buckner with that great heart did? He took her up into his arms, and he kissed those little scarred cheeks. He said to her, “Daddy Buckner loves you just as much as he loves any of these others. You’re just as pretty to me as any other.”

Oh, my friend, I was that burned child. Sin is what had scarred me. I came to the living God and repented with bitter tears. He forgave me, and through His written Word He said, “I see you in Christ. I accept you in the Beloved. You are lovely to Me. You are My son. You can call Me Father. And someday you will stand before My throne without spot or blemish.”

Friend, we are to forget those things which are behind, and we are to look to Jesus today.

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

What Do You Do With Your Fears? ← Prior Section
What Do You Do With Your Future? Next Section →
What Can Believers Do in Days of Apostasy? ← Prior Book
What is Christmas Without the Resurrection? Next Book →
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