2021 Rooted Devotions for Students: Take Your Eyes Off the Rearview Mirror

Going back to school in a pandemic was tough in 2020; it might even be harder in 2021. Disagreements about vaccines, the threat of catching COVID, the looming possibility of cancellations and shutdowns – and the strife surrounding it all – leave us exhausted and searching for solid ground. The promises of God that we find in Scripture are that solid ground. Over the next two weeks on the Rooted blog we will offer short devotions for you to share with your teenagers*, examining promises from God that our writers find profoundly comforting. In an uncertain world, God says, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6); may his faithfulness fill us with hope and joy in the months to come.

It is tempting to live our lives by looking in the rearview mirror, wondering what could have been if we had only chosen differently. That view can be darkened by our own failures to follow Jesus, the sin pattern that seems impossible to break, or the overall feeling of not measuring up. The guilt and shame we feel over our past sins and failures not only defines our view of the past but it can define our outlook on the future as well. It’s all too easy to believe lies: that we are too broken to be used by God, that our best days are behind us, or that God has pushed us to the side and no longer loves us. We come to believe our past condemns us to a hopeless future.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” – Romans 8:1-2 ESV

To be condemned is to stand in the court room, consumed by the guilt of your sin, waiting on the judge’s gavel to fall, and anticipating the public exposure of your sin and punishment. In the book of Romans, Paul describes the purpose of the Old Testament law being to expose our sin. When we look at the 10 Commandments, we see a list not of our successes but our failures. The law strips us bare of our own attempts at goodness and forces us to see our sin and ourselves as hopelessly broken sinners.

The beauty of the gospel is that the dark look in the rearview mirror is not the lens we should look through. At the cross, Jesus took the payment and penalty for our sin. Our sin was placed upon Jesus, the gavel of the Holy Judge condemned Jesus in our place, and Jesus died to set us free. The Holy Judge could then speak the words over us: “no condemnation.” We are no longer defined by our past, and we can now live free to walk by the Holy Spirit’s power into a new life.

When we find ourselves staring in the rearview mirror of our past sins, when the voice of the enemy condemns us, when we find ourselves paralyzed in the courtroom waiting on the gavel to drop, we have an answer. We no longer face the condemnation our sin deserves. We can look to the cross where Jesus took all our sins (past, present, and future) away, and we can joyfully walk with Him into a new life.

As we start this new school year, will you spend your year staring into the rearview mirror of past failure, or will you walk with the Holy Spirit into the story of a free future where God is leading you?

Lord, help me to take my eyes off the rearview mirror. Help me to walk with your Holy Spirit as you lead me today. Amen.

*Click here for a printable pdf of this devotional.

Ben Birdsong is a church and para-church student ministry veteran and currently serves as the Minister of Missions at Christ Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also an adjunct professor teaching children, youth, and family ministries at Birmingham Theological Seminary. Ben also helps churches with custom curriculum through Your Youth Ministry Curriculum and authors with book projects through Birdsong Innovations. Ben has bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Human Resource Management from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a Master of Divinity degree from Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, and a Doctor of Ministry in Ministry to Emerging Generations from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. As an author, Ben has written the devotional books Words from the Cross: 7 Statements that Will Transform Your Life, journeying through Jesus’ final moments before His death, and James: Everyday Faith. He is also a monthly contributor for parenting and family ministry content for Birmingham Christian Family magazine. Ben also wrote the John study and a portion of the Psalm study for Rooted Reservoir. Ben is married to Liz. He enjoys reading, writing, watching movies, and blogging at www.benbirdsong.com.

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