I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 3:12–14 NIV
When thinking about the past, I find it helpful to keep in mind that our future isn’t limited by our past. No matter what decisions you have made in the past and what point you’re at now, the future is still as bright as God’s promises—one of which is “all things are possible if you believe.” (Mark 9:23) If you’re not where you want to be, there is time to change that!
If some choice you made seemed to have had a bad outcome, or one that wasn’t what you had in mind, remember that you probably haven’t seen the full outcome yet. What seems to be a stone or a serpent may yet turn out to be bread—or a three-course meal of blessings instead. (Luke 11:11–13) As Orson Welles once said, “A happy ending depends on where you stop your story.” That principle is certainly true for those who love the Lord; He will work all things out for our good. Or, put another way, “Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end yet.”
When you look back on the past, count your blessings, not just your times of “if I only had.” Remember those good, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy things that also make up the story of your life. (Philippians 4:8) And thank the Lord for the wonderful future that you’re going to have with Him, both here on earth and forever in heaven!
Eyes on the goal
A runner in a race doesn’t keep looking back at who is behind him, lest he trip and fall on his face. Instead, he is intent upon the goal up ahead. How many people do you know who seem to live their life looking backward? They count their losses, their regrets, their failures. No wonder they are defeated.
Thank God for forgiveness! In Christ, we can find forgiveness for our own failings. In Christ we can find the grace to forgive even the deepest hurts. So Paul doesn’t look back. “Forgetting” is the Greek verb epilanthanomai, “not to have remembrance of something, forget.” I don’t think that this means our mind is wiped clean of any remembrance of past hurts and failures, but that we choose not to go there any longer. We choose not to remember. We choose instead to look forward.
We can’t run the race looking backward. We must turn our minds and hearts to the present race and to our goal. Paul looks toward the goal line, Greek skopos, from a root meaning “to look into the distance.” Here it is the distant mark looked at, the “goal or end one has in view.”
When I was in high school I played on the varsity tennis team. How many times my coach would shout at us, “Keep your eye on the ball!” In baseball, a batter must keep his eye on the ball. A Christian must keep his eye on the goal—fully surrender to and in fellowship with Jesus Christ. If our eyes slip to the temporal world, we lose focus on the spiritual world and lose our bearings. Forget what lies behind. Keep your eye on the goal!
—Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Press on to what lies ahead
No one ever won a race by focusing on what has already passed. If we are going to stay in this race until the very end, we are going to have to develop the habit of forgetfulness.
Paul had a past, but in order to be effective for Christ, he had to leave his past behind. He used to beat up Christians and have them put in prison. He was an accessory to Stephen’s murder. What sort of useless disciple would Paul have been if he hadn’t confessed his sins of the past and asked the Lord for forgiveness? You can’t run a race when you are dragged down by the guilt of the past. It’s like trying to run a race with lead boots on. If you are going to be free from the guilt of your past, you have to confess it, ask the Lord for forgiveness, lay it at the foot of the Cross, and choose to walk away from it. The Lord will forgive you, but if you choose to not forgive yourself, you are making a choice to stay trapped in your past.
While he was still running the race, Paul had this vision of standing on the rostrum before King Jesus, and hearing Jesus say, “Well done!” That was his focus. His eyes were on the prize. He was looking ahead.
Wherever you are in this race, press on. Strain toward what is ahead. Give it everything you have got. It’s going to take everything you have, but with God’s help, you will make it to the end. Let this be the motto for the rest of your life:
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14 NIV)
The path of the just
When we look back over our past, we often feel some regrets and wish we had done this, that, and the other, or at least done certain things better.
The Lord knows exactly how each of us feels, better than anyone on earth can, because He knows our heart and thoughts. Every single one of our thoughts, including every deed, is written in His book. Also written therein are the results of our thoughts and prayers and actions—the minds that were changed, the hearts that were touched, the lives that were transformed, and the effect that we had on the people around us, and on the world itself.
When we reflect on our past, we only see a small part of our past, and even that imperfectly. But the Lord sees the making of a man or a woman—the depth of compassion we’ve gained, the wisdom we’ve attained, and the maturity we’ve developed through all our experiences. The Bible says that the path of the just is as a shining light, that shines more and more until that perfect day. (Proverbs 4:18) He’s promised to light the path of our future before us, as He guides us to that day when He will reconcile all things to Him. (Colossians 1:20)
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