What is it about the past that holds so many people captive?
When I was growing up I worked in my father’s sheet metal shop, and there were all types of machinery, and tables for working with all things metal. One table had weighted magnets that would swing out over the table and hold a piece of metal down to the table once they were turned on. The metal would then be unmovable as you worked on it.
From time to time, I would jump up on the table and try and pull a magnet to the point of breaking it free from the table. It was a strength game my bothers, and I use to play to see who was the strongest. I was never able to break the magnets free, and neither were any of my brothers. It always remained locked in place. The only way to break it free was to cut the power off to the magnet.
Some of you today need to do the same thing and cut the power off to the past that has you in its grips. You have tried to pull your way free from the past. You have struggled really hard to be stronger than your past, but nothing seems to set you free. The only thing that will free you is to cut off the power of the past. You do that by believing God is at work in your life in the present.
We all have a past. A past filled with memories so powerful and hurtful that to recall them brings nothing but a pain to your soul and a knot to your stomach. When we hang on to our painful past memories, we either become withdrawn and unsociable; or explosive, cranky, critical, judgmental, reactive and mean towards others.
Jan Glidewell once said, “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms to full to embrace the present.” I love the story of Joseph in the Bible. His story is one of my favorites. I’ll try and summaries and keep it brief as I give you some background and insight into his life and choices concerning his painful past.
- Joseph, son of Jacob, overcame a painful past.
- He was raised in what we would call a “dysfunctional family.”
- Sibling rivalry filled Jacob’s household.
- Joseph’s brothers caught him, threw him into a pit, and discussed killing him.
- One brother intervened and convinced them instead to sell Joseph as a slave In Egypt, where he became the property of Potiphar.
- Potiphar’s wife had eyes for Joseph and made continual sexual advances.
- He refused, she falsely charged him with attempted rape and he was imprisoned.
- While imprisoned, Joseph made friends with a baker and a cupbearer.
- Both promised to pull their political strings and secure Joseph’s release.
- In time, the baker was hanged, and the cupbearer was freed, but forgot Joseph.
- For two more years, Joseph’s remained in prison.
- One day Pharaoh had a dream that no one, but Joseph could interpret.
- Egypt would experience 7 years of plenty/7 years of famine.
- As a reward Pharaoh put Joseph over all of the agricultural activity in Egypt.
- The years of plenty came, and Joseph stored up. Seven years later the famine hit.
- This famine was so severe that even people outside of Egypt came to get food.
- One day, Joseph’s own brothers arrived.
- Joseph recognized them, but his brothers didn’t recognize him.
- Joseph sold them grain and tricked them into coming back before revealing himself.
1 Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Make everyone go out from me!” So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence.
They were terrified. They did not know anything about Potiphar’s wife and the undeserved prison sentence. Neither did they know about the abandonment by the cupbearer. But they remembered the pit and their bartering and selling their own brother. They had every reason to be terrified
And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.
Perhaps they expected a call for the royal guards, and the punishment they deserved for the cruelty they had shown their own brother. But no retaliation comes. These brothers did not know that Joseph had made peace with his painful past. His own words indicate he had let go of any vindictive feelings he held against them. He had cut off the power to the past.
5 But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
How was Joseph able to put all his painful past behind him? What was Joseph’s secret? He practiced true forgiveness. Joseph could have struck back and felt the exhilaration that comes from getting even. Instead, Joseph chose to forgive. Until you forgive, the pain of your past will continue to be felt in your present.
I chagllege you today to cut of the power to the magnet that is hold you in the past. Forgiveness is how the power switch is cut off. It is hard to forgive but possible.