Just recently I noticed a phenomenon whenever I did a search for something on google or visited particular websites. Adverts, suspiciously like what I had been previously searching for, would pop up at other websites I visited or on my Facebook page.
I suppose I should marvel at the power of modern communications and the ability to track my tastes and present me with the kind of offers and options that are tailored to my tastes and my own browsing history. Or perhaps I should be concerned that big brother really is watching me!
Personal history can have a habit of shaping our lives and others expectations of us. Sometimes that is not a bad thing, since our personal history can be very positive and healthy. Sometimes however, our personal history can cast a long shadow that seems to stalk us and darken whatever we put our hand to.
Many of the great characters of the Bible felt the unhelpful hand of personal history on their shoulders.
Paul had a more illustrious personal history than most of his peers. Certainly in the early church his religious pedigree was unmatched. Even so, personal history threatened to undermine Paul’s message of grace and he took a ruthless attitude towards it (Philippians 3.1-8).
Jacob was another who struggled with personal history. Genesis 25-27 records his earliest years. The picture we have is of a young man growing up in a divided family. Jacob himself is carrying a dubious identity: his name can either have the connotation of deceiver, or it can be understood as a statement about God’s protection.
Yet we know from the rest of Genesis that Jacob, despite such shaky beginnings went on to greatness. Somehow the dark angel of his personal history was not strong enough to cancel out God’s purpose for Jacob.
How do we ensure that our personal history does not become a haunting presence that undermines the grace of God?
Firstly, we need to accept that we cannot change our personal history. You can’t rewrite the past. You can’t erase the past.
Secondly, we need to believe that we are chosen. Our identity is not based on our natural background. It is has its roots in God’s grace: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1.4-5)
Believing that we are chosen by God is the key to living above the constraints and restrictions of personal history.
Thirdly, choose to change. Grace frees us to make good decisions. God does not give us His grace just to save us from the past. Or even to secure us for eternity. Though both of these aspects of grace are wonderful. He gives us His grace so that by our choices we can shape our future: 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2.11-12)
Embrace grace and put your personal history in it’s proper place.