Closing out the year and preparing for a new one is exciting. We recall fond memories and fine times hoping for more to come. Oftentimes, as we look back on the best of times other thoughts slink in, thoughts that dim the outlook of the future. It happens to all of us.
Fortunately, there is an antidote for the poisonous thoughts of the past as well as strength for surging ahead. It’s found in Philippians 3:12-13:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,”
Re-read those words long ago penned by Paul. He wrote them while in prison. He wrote them as one who had known ups and downs, successes and failures. Now, re-read those verses again knowing that a man, just like us, in a hard place, just like we experience, wrote them. It amplifies their message, it concentrates their potency.
Through Paul, God gives us these verses as some of the most powerful and penetrating truths in regard to how to handle the past and the future. Let’s take in these spiritual truths — which also apply to the rest of life — one by one.
First, Paul shows us that growth is a process, not an event. He stated that he had not “obtained this” or become complete, yet. All growth is a process. Often, it is more gradual and tedious than we prefer. Progress in your spiritual life, at work, regarding health, or in relationships moves in inches, not feet. Paul knew that he had not reached his goals, and that it would require ongoing effort and dedication to become who Christ wanted him to be. The same is true for us. We must resolve in our minds that growth takes time, and then set our minds to moving on.
Speaking of moving on, Paul outlines a second truth that tempers us for growth. His response to not being where he wanted to be resulted in this determined statement in verse 12, “but I press on …” Paul was a Christian who was full of grace and grit! He would press on! We must press on, too. That is the solution to many of the down times, or mediocre times in life. When you do not feel like reading your Bible, or exercising, or overcoming a bad habit, press on anyway. You might be asking, “how do I press on, or how can I press on?” Glad that you asked.
Verse 12 reveals how Paul could press on in the toughest of times (remember, he was in prison). God provides a two-sided key to unlock our chains so that we can press on.
First, remember that you belong to Christ and are empowered by Him. Pressing on is not possible without realizing and relying upon this. Paul said that he could press on because, “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Don’t miss that one. Because Christ has made us His own He will also provide what we need. Hope, strength, grace, and discipline are all gifts that He offers to His own. When you lack, ask. He provides abundantly.
Second, Pressing on requires moving on. Paul described moving on as “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Stumbles from the past — whether recent or long ago — can cripple growth in the present. Whether it was a recent bad moment, or a tragic event long ago, the past can paralyze the present, and assassinate the future. How many times have past struggles or shortcomings caused you to lean back from a challenge? We all have. It’s part of being human. But, it’s a dragon that can be tamed, and banished. It is defeated by trusting God through Christ to forgive us and to empower us to forget the past. Quick question: Why do we continue to recall and relive a past that God has already forgiven? Hmmm, it’s worth pondering. Back to the point. Paul moved ahead by moving on. Paul had plenty to forget, and he did so through Christ. Forgetting isn’t the whole solution, pressing on also requires “straining forward.” What a great picture! Paul tells us to forsake and forget the past and to strain, or press, ahead. I began running in 2016. It has given me new appreciation for this verse. In many 20K or half marathon races over the past year I have had to “strain ahead” toward the finish line. As you near the end the miles seem longer, not shorter, and more difficult. That is when we have to strain ahead, press on, grit it out. Whether you are running life on tired legs, carrying a heavy heart, or nursing a bruised soul you must push on.
In the verses that we have considered we have seen that God gives us the key to growth: forget the past and press on toward the future. Just in case we didn’t get the idea Paul begins verse 13 with “I press on … “ You get it. God wants us to move on from the past, it’s hurts, and the inner voice that continually brings them up. Forget the past, push toward the future. The future, including the next year, next day, and next hour are full of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace. You are powered by Christ to forget and press on. What are you waiting for? Go on!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Ole Bearded Acorn!