“Never look back.”
“Forget about the past.”

You’ve probably heard statements like this from your Christian friends.

Such exhortations are consistent with the Scriptures. Jesus, for example, warned against looking back after you’ve put your proverbial “hand to the plow” (Luke 9:62). Paul told the Philippians he was “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:11). Dwelling on certain aspects of the past (sins, regrets, etc.) are counterproductive and can even be destructive to our souls.

But there is a place for looking back in our spiritual journey. Here’s what I mean: there are times when it is particularly helpful to remember God’s faithfulness in your life. Otherwise you may be guilty of “spiritual amnesia.”

The Scriptures are full of examples, but two scenes have come to mind as I’ve been thinking about this:

Scene #1: Exodus 14

The Lord had called Moses from exile and used him to bring the world’s most powerful empire to its knees. The stubborn Pharaoh finally yielded after losing his son in the tenth plague. The Israelites were marching to freedom, guided by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But the king of Egypt changed his mind and decided to pursue his former slaves. The Israelites were terrified when they saw their former oppressors in pursuit. This was their cry to Moses:

They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
–Exodus 14:11

Scene #2: Mark 8

Most are familiar with Jesus’ miracle of feeding over 5,000 people with a simple meal. But Mark and Matthew record a similar miracle some time later in the life of Christ. Jesus was moved with compassion for the hungry crowd following him—4,000 men (plus women and children). The Lord expressed His desire to see them fed since they had not eaten for three days. But the disciples’ were skeptical, even though they had seen Jesus feed a greater crowd. Here’s their response:

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
–Mark 8:4

We know how both stories end—God provided for His people through mighty demonstrations of supernatural power. But the reactions of both the Children of Israel and the disciples of Jesus intrigue me. They responded in fear and doubt, quickly forgetting all they had seen in recent days. Would God really go through all that trouble only to allow the Israelites to die in the desert? Would it be difficult for Jesus to feed a crowd of 4,000+ after doing the same for a group of over 5,000?

But I can’t point my finger at either group. It is easier, after all, to have faith when you already know how the story will end.

We’ve all had moments when we can’t understand what God is doing. You may find it especially helpful to look back on God’s faithfulness in your life during these trials (keeping a journal is especially helpful for this purpose). Remember the times God has shown Himself faithful and expect Him to do it again. Look back, then look ahead.

Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
–Psalm 103:2