We are held prisoners by our past when we hold onto the bad experiences we’ve had and project those experiences onto our expectations of the future. This leads us to shy away from new things and to lose hope in what we previously dreamed about. This happens to all of us, and after the great message at Skyline this week I wanted to share encouragement and a few things that have helped me or others I know.
First, to identify what is keeping you prisoner, have honest conversations with God and with your good friends. Prayer and insight from a friend are the most helpful ways of identifying what has a hold on you. Often I’ve prayed about why I am not my usual self or I am reluctant to do something that I know would be a good idea, and it becomes clear that something is weighing on my mind and I need to take care of that first. It’s always helpful to ask a trusted friend for advice too—they often keep their opinions to themselves to be polite but if you ask them for advice they will gladly give it. You need to be honest too—if you are trying to hide or overlook something about yourself then it is almost definitely keeping you prisoner!
Second, remember that God is on your side, and that many accomplishments are a numbers game and can take enormous amounts of patience and determination. Paul reminds the Philippian Christians in Philippians 1:4-6 that “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God gives us hopes and dreams for a reason, and they will always come to fruition in our lives somehow if we will let Him do His work.
However, it won’t always be in the way we expect! If you place all your hope in one opportunity you will likely be let down. I was getting discouraged when I was turned down for some big opportunities and had a hard time finding another job, but then I told myself that if I had a one percent chance of getting any given job that I would apply to a hundred jobs before I started feeling bad for myself, and prayed that the right one would turn up. Sure enough, after applying to at least fifty jobs I ended up in a job I enjoy—it just took me a while to find it!
Third, remember that most people don’t care where you are from, and they will respect your actions and character more than anything. Southern Californians like to joke that we have a social caste system based on phone area codes—the Beverly Hills elite have 310, Disneyland and the wealthy Orange County residents have 714, and way at the bottom are the cow people of the Inland Empire like me with 909. This never bothered me much, but I often meet friends who are worried that where they came from, what they look like, or what their accent sounds like would shape how people saw them. This always broke my heart because these were wonderful people! I admire Joseph in the book of Genesis—he was betrayed by his brothers, enslaved, and imprisoned—but where most people would call it quits after ending up as a jailed slave in another country, his boldness and faith led him to become one of the most respected men in the world. Remember that your true identity is in Christ and not in your past.
Finally, find a trusted friend to help you with your trouble, but don’t lean on them forever. Find a friend who is good at the thing you have trouble with, and ask for them to help coach you along, taking steps and practicing in a safe environment, eventually stepping out on your own so they don’t become a crutch to you. Maybe they will help you revise your resumé and practice interviewing before the big day, or help you make a plan to approach a challenge you have been dreading for a long time. Moses had a common fear—he agreed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but asked God to have someone else to do the public speaking. His brother Aaron stood in for him for a while, but Moses eventually became famous for his speaking, teaching, and leadership on his own.
So, keep a keen eye on the things that imprison you, seek advice from God and trusted friends, and remember that your identity is in Christ and that He has the power to free you from your past.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.