Difficulties and hard times can either be a ball-and-chain of the past dragging us down or a catapult to launch us forward into the future. We all have made bad decisions, took some wrong turns and yes, sinned.
All of us have had some hard knocks brought on by no fault of our own, some delivered by bad people meaning us harm and sometimes even good people making bad decisions.
One thing about the past, there is nothing we can do to unravel it. We cannot undo things we have done. Certainly, we can rectify some things by apologizing for our wrongs, repenting to God for our sins, or even bringing some restitution to our wayward deeds such as paying an overdue debt.
As we have jumped into a new year, let’s consider leaving the past in the past and pressing forward into the future.
Consider the life of the Apostle Paul. In his early life, he was an aggressive persecutor of the young Christian church. He consented to the execution of Christians and had others imprisoned for their faith. Most of us know the story well. He was headed to Damascus to arrest Christians but on the way, he was “arrested” by Jesus. A bright light and voice of Jesus overpowered him on his way, revealing to him the truth of Jesus being the Anointed One of God.
He had a real “come to Jesus” experience and became one of the greatest apostles and Christian missionaries in history. The former persecutor became the persecuted for his faith in Jesus. He rehearsed his bouts of persecution in 2 Corinthians 11:24-25 (NKJV), “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep.”
In his first Roman imprisonment, he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. A portion of his letter to the Philippian Church, he speaks about forgetting the past and pressing forward. Here are his words:
Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV (12) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. (13) Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, (14) I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
What was Paul pursuing and attempting to lay hold of? He was speaking about God’s purpose in him. Jesus had confronted him on the road to Damascus and he came to an understanding of why Jesus had laid hold of him. Jesus had a purpose to fulfill in Paul of spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire.
God’s purpose was always in front of Paul and the inheritance of eternity just beyond him. Temporal pursuits seem to never be on his radar. His only earthly concerns were about cloaks to keep him warm and parchments for his study and writing.
He was pushing forward in the pursuit of God’s purpose. God has a purpose in the whole of the universe and in all of time. We are blessed to be included in it. It was the reason we were conceived in our mother’s womb. Knowing that God has a purpose for us, will get us out of the bed in the morning. Life takes on a new dynamic when we realize God has a purpose in us. God’s purpose in us does not cease until is fulfilled or forfeited. It ceases when it is fulfilled when we die.
One cannot have a true purpose outside of God. Too many life purposes are narcissistic. The purpose is not about us. We do not create our own purpose. We should not have a purpose of our own creation. No, God has His own purpose for us. We are vessels through which His purpose flows.
God’s purpose for our future should not be hijacked by our past. The past needs to be left in Christ’s forgiveness, so the destiny of God’s future can be realized.
Leave the past behind and embrace the future God has planned for us. “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil. 3:13 NKJV).
Some things in our future cannot be grasped because we are holding onto grievous things of the past. We cannot flow into the future with God’s purpose if we are anchored by our past failures.
Multitudes continue to grovel in past sins long ago confessed. We cannot go back and live life over. Why would we grieve over yesterday when we can live today and tomorrow?
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV).
The Apostle Paul could have lived in his past as a persecutor of the church, but he embraced the purpose of God and became a planter of churches.
Be a victor not a victim. Some people in our present time, place a value in being a victim. God wants us to be a victor not a victim. We need to identify as a victor through Jesus Christ. When I pitch a pity party, no one shows up but me and the devil.
When we are pursuing the purposes of God, there will always be resistance. You cannot coast in life; you have to press forward. We press forward because there is resistance. Satan pushes back on us; putting obstacles, people, and situations in our path to resist the plan of God in our lives. The resistance of today makes us stronger for the battles of tomorrow.
If we just drift with the current of the river, we will end up in the sea where all waters eventually go. Only if we paddle against the current will we reach the source of the waters.
Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment and continued His work of evangelizing the Roman Empire. He was rearrested under Nero and was executed by beheading in about 66 A.D. Before he died, he wrote to his spiritual son, Timothy. This is a portion of his farewell message:
2 Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV (7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
This ole war horse of the Gospel laid his head on a Roman executioner’s chopping block having fought the fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. The last few feet of his journey on earth, he walked through the gauntlet of Roman guards to the blood-stained block. Once executed, his next experience was a parade in the glories of Heaven as the Host of Heaven welcomed the old soldier home. The pressing was finished and the crown of righteousness, now a reality.
Don’t give up, keep pressing forward with Jesus. Leave the past in the past and press forward.
Yours on the Journey,
Harry L. Whitt