As leaders, we sometimes forget what God wants us to remember and remember what God wants us to forget.

We need to remember his faithfulness and his promises, but forget the results, good or bad! The entire book of Deuteronomy is a book of remembrance; the Israelites are being reminded of God’s promises and faithfulness as they prepare to enter the land. If they dwell too much on past mistakes and failures, they will lose courage and the hope of entering the land. They needed to be reminded of God!

Learning from the past but not stuck in the past

Paul explicitly states in Philippians 3: 13,14 that the one thing he does is to forget what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead. I believe one defining characteristic of a leader is being future-oriented. There are, undoubtedly, times to look back in order to learn, but the key is not to get stuck there, either with the failures or the victories.  I like to think of using the past as a guidepost, not a hitching post.

My leadership philosophy is to learn from the past, plan for the future and live in the present. Living in the past or living in the future can rob one of the energy and focus to live in the present–what God is doing right now.

I love what Sparky Anderson, of baseball lore, said: “I have my faults but living in the past isn’t one of them. There ain’t no future in it.” You can’t move forward if you are constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

Joseph’s two sons

The naming of Joseph’s two sons is very instructive on this issue.  In Genesis 41 we read that Joseph named his two sons:

  1. The first son he called Manasseh, which means God has made me forget

  2. The second son he called Ephraim, which means God has made me fruitful

I believe one of the steps to fruitfulness is being able to let go of the past; good and bad. Repeating methods (without updating due to changing times) that led to past successes can lead to irrelevance and failure in the present.  Dwelling too much on past failures can lead to paralyzing fear that keeps one from trying at all. So, learn from the past but don’t live in the past. Remember what you should remember and forget what you should forget.