Two Reasons We Must ‘Burn The Ships’ In Our Past In Order To Claim Our Future


I recently read a story about Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes who, in 1519, set sail for Mexico with a total of 11 ships, 13 horses, 110 sailors, and 533 soldiers.  He faced a population of five million indigenous people, which meant, the deck was slightly stacked against him as he approached land. 


Previous expeditions had failed.  But what Cortes did after landing was something seismic.  He issued an order that turned this mission into an all-or-nothing proposition.  He yelled out to his crew, Burn the ships!  On his order, they set everything ablaze, watching their fleet burn before their eyes. 


They had to burn everything that gave them an option for retreat, if they were going to lean-in and embrace the challenges of conquering new territory, of fighting an unknown enemy, of reaching out to lay hold of their uncertain destiny. 


While the historical context of their pursuit can be debated, what I am learning about my own journey is how easy it is for me to keep one hand reaching forward into the future while tightly gripping things in my past.


As a therapist, I see the past as a necessary exploration to understand and heal so that we can successfully unhook from the powerful forces that forged an unhealthy, unbalanced, unclear identity within us. This freedom allows us to embrace a new identity, rooted and planted in the soil of our belovedness, firmly established in life-giving forces that lead to greater boldness, clarity, and strength for our future.


Like the children of Israel longed to return to slavery in Egypt, we too, have a tendency to go back to the familiar, to lean on an identity of victimization, of anger, of brokenness that has defined us, but has never yielded the life of abundance for which we’ve longed.  The past can be so easy to revisit, to distill, to own as our soul-self even though it has brought no healing, no relief, certainly no life.


What I know is that at some point in our lives, each of us must make the choice —to burn the ships of our past identity in order to reach forward and cultivate our new identity in Christ, or to stay chained to our past, its influences, and heartaches and continue to live out of its power and its pain.


Here are two reasons we need to burn the ships of our past identity and claim the destiny God has for us.


You cannot bring the old into the new.


You cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.  You cannot bring Egypt into the Promised Land —its beliefs, traditions, its ways.  It will contaminate you.  Infiltrate you.  Overtake you, every time.  The only way to move into and claim your new country, your new identity as God’s Beloved, healed, whole, complete, is to release all that has held you captive, all that has defined you, writing both unholy and unkind words over your life.  You cannot build a new, healthy identity on an old foundation that is cracked and crumbling.


            2 Cor 5:17-18 (NIV)tells us, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:


2 Cor 5:17-18 (NIV)tells us, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! Click To Tweet


            You have an idea what the new country looks like. Still, you are very much at home, although not truly at peace, in the old country. You know the ways of the old country, it’s joys and pains, its happy and sad moments. You have spent most of your days there. Even though you know that you have not found there what your heart most desires, you remain quite attached to it. It has become part of your very bones.

            Now you have come to realize that you must leave it and enter the new country, where your Beloved dwells. You know that what helped and guided you in the old country no longer works, but what else do you have to go by? You are being asked to trust that you will find what you need in the new country. _Henri Nouwen – “The Inner Voice of Love”


You can burn the ships of your past.  You can let go of the identity that has broken you, and brought you to this place.  Right here, right now, lean forward and grab hold of the truth of your authentic self, as one who is held and loved by God.  Claim compassion, kindness, truth, as your identity instead of condemnation, deception, and destruction.  Claim your freedom —today.


Your past identity says:

I’m broken

I’m bad

I’m not enough

God cannot love someone like me

Others will leave me

I’m not worthy of love


Your present identity says, because of Christ:

I’m healing

I am worthy

I am enough

I am loved with an eternal love

God will never leave me

I am God’s Beloved and I am worthy of love


Burn the ships!  The old country is not an option.  The new country is right before your eyes.  And what it has to offer you is worth it!


To read more about identity, read “How To Walk Away From Your Pain and Embrace  a Life of Peace!”


You Cannot Claim Your Destiny As Long As Plan B Is An Option


You survived your childhood, you did.  You were a brave little thing. No one should have experienced, endured, or overcome so many obstacles, much less scaled the mountainous terrain that stood in your way.  You made it.


But the survival skills you needed in your childhood are hurting, limiting, even destroying your life and relationships today as an adult.  They squeeze you from the inside out. Suffocate any hope of something different, something new, something boldly healthy.


As long as Plan B is an option, you will always willfully linger.  Subtly stagnate.  Hesitation will cover each step you take and you will never gain traction, heart-momentum, or passionate vision for your healing or your future.


You must burn the ships.  You must stop looking back, longingly, to the old city like Lot’s wife did.  It will winnow away any hope of conquering, of claiming this new life and this new land that is yours to possess. It will leave you as dust.


            Genesis 19:26 (NIV) warns, But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.


Your new country, your new identity is full of hope, freedom, and a future. Your relationships are safe, solid, and strong because your identity is the very same.  Fear no longer holds you captive. Shame no longer calls you by name. 


Your name is Beloved.  Remember that —Beloved.  You indeed are worthy, enough, safe, complete, whole, and prized.  This is your identity and your destiny.


Your name is Beloved. Remember that —Beloved. You indeed are worthy, enough, safe, complete, whole, and prized. This is your identity and your destiny. Click To Tweet


Burn the ships!  Your future awaits you!

For anyone who needs to burn the ships of the past in order to claim the freedom, the identity, the future that God has for them!



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  1. A huge YES! to setting fire to those old ways, and also to “putting to death” all the ways of escape that might tempt us to turn back!

  2. This is so powerful, Lisa! May we remind ourselves of these truths again and again! A friend recently reminded me that we need to reframe every little corner of our lives with the truth of our belovedness! Shared this on Twitter today!

  3. Put the past behind. Look forward to Him. Amen

  4. Great post! It is hard to let go of the past sometimes, but so necessary for moving forward into all God has for us.

  5. I love the story of Elisha when Elijah showed up to commission him to be Israel’s next prophet. If you remember, he was plowing a field and when Elijah reveal God’s plan to Elisha, he burned his plow and sacrificed the oxen to the Lord. Now that’s all out commitment and exactly what God wants us to do too.

  6. A message near and dear to my heart, Lisa. I am just finishing a series on rising above emotional pain of the past. Much of what I touched on, you wrote about here. I love the story of the ships and I found myself nodding yes-yes-yes- and AMEN again and again! Thank you so much for joining us at #MomentsofHope. I love when you have the opportunity to link up. You and this post are one of my #MomentsofHope features this week, too! ♥

  7. This is such beautiful truth and hope, Lisa. I have chosen your post as my feature on Grace & Truth this week. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Dear Lisa!

    Thank you for sharing.

    I love the all-or-nothing proposition 🙂

    It was encouraging to read how you combined the story of the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes and your therapeutical background/experience.

    Let’s create a new and better future!

    Edna Davidsen

  9. I’m very thankful for Gods precious grace that allows us to burn the ships of our past and move forward. Great insight, Lisa.

    • Yes, only God’s grace can free us from the pain and the shame of our past and move us into His love, His grace, and His hope for our future. Blessings, Wendy.

  10. Burn the ships! I love it and it is a great visual of letting go to move forward. Thank you!

  11. From someone that suffered a lot of trauma as a child, we do build up certain defense mechanisms that serve us poorly in adulthood. It is only in an identity in Jesus that we can truly begin to leave our pasts behind and embrace who we are in Christ. I have to say that for me though, it has been a process, slowly burning one ship at a time.

  12. I can be my own worst enemy in this way. I hold on to the past and beat myself up. I have found that I can’t move forward until I let myself release the old hostility.

    • I think we can all be our own worst enemy, Carly! Yet we cannot move fully into the future God has planned for us if we are clinging to our past identity and condemnation. Blessings!

  13. Lisa, thanks for this reminder that we need to leave our old self-identity behind and claim a new identity in Christ!

  14. Wow! What a powerful post, Lisa. I appreciated this historical example of why we need to burn the past. You are right, it is so easy to remember the past, long for the past, glamorize the past and every moment we do that, we are not in the present and/or planning well for the future. The scriptural foundation for this truth is solid as a rock. May we learn from the past, but not dwell there. Thank you for this great message. Very timely for me personally. God bless you!

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