“One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” Philippians 3:13b-14a
One day, when my son was younger, we got in the car to run a few errands together. My husband had driven the car the day before, and, as usual, had adjusted the mirrors. So I reached up to give the rear-view mirror a tweak before putting the car in reverse. My son asked me “What’s that for Mommy?” I replied that it was to allow me to see what was behind me as we drove. In his sweet, simple thinking he said, “You don’t need to know what’s behind you, just what’s in front.” Isn’t it amazing when God gives little children such profound wisdom? My son was echoing Paul’s words in our key verse.
Granted, on the road, we need to know what may be approaching from behind us, but on the journey of life, we often spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror that we do looking out ahead. I have been guilty of that myself, but I am determined to apply Paul’s words to my life and look ahead rather than behind.
Paul’s emphasis in Philippians 3 is the futility of relying on past successes. Paul had quite an impressive ancestral history, and had much room to boast about his personal success as a zealous and devout Jew. In our culture the “self-made man” is highly regarded and even from childhood we are driven to succeed in education, sports, and relationships. As adults we are pulled into the relentless pursuit of success in our careers so we can have the biggest, the newest, the shiniest and the best. For Paul, as for so many today, the mirror is filled with trophies, accolades, honors and wealth.
But you may be more like me, and the rear-view mirror is filled with dark clouds of pain, heartache, betrayal, grief, mistakes, and sin. Life is full of struggles – I don’t believe anyone escapes difficulties these days. Sometimes the pain is self-inflicted, sometimes the heartache comes at the hands of others. A job loss, financial pressures, health problems, strained relationships, disappointments – just to name a few – can make life hard. Perhaps your mirror is filled with a hard good-bye: the loss of a loved one, or the end of a marriage. Maybe you’ve made some choices you regret and you are living with the consequences. You may find yourself broken by a season of sinfulness. Maybe not your own.
What do we do with all this? We take the advice of my son and Paul. We look ahead, not behind. We look ahead and “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). We set our focus on our Great High Priest and move forward. We move ahead trusting that God will turn our sufferings into perseverance and character and finally hope (Romans 5:3-5). We leave the past in the hands of “Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) – “His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). We trust Him with it all, believing that what was intended to harm us, God intended for good, to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 50:20).
The Living Bible paraphrases the first part of our verse by saying “I am bringing all by energies to bear on this one thing.” That is an excellent perspective, because living with past regrets weighs us down and drains our energy. Here is one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever received. “It’s done. You can’t change what has been, but you can affect what will be.” You need to preserve your energy for the next phrase in our key verse: “straining toward what is ahead…” Paul is using a racing image here, picturing a runner stretching forward, pushing and accelerating through the finish line. God intends for you to finish the race, and not only to finish but to win! 1 Corinthians 9:24 is Paul’s exhortation to “run in such a way as to get the prize.” And what is the prize? “a crown that will last forever” (v. 25). A crown that we will cast before the throne of God, declaring him “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:10-11).
Do not allow your past – either success or failures or heartaches – to bog you down. God has your life in His mighty and able hands. He will not let one hard moment go to waste in the fulfillment of His plan for you – if you will entrust Him with it. I keep coming back to one of my favorite verses, Psalm 13:8 which says “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” The New King James reads “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” God was not caught off-guard when you were hit with the hard things of this life. He was not wringing His hands wondering how to bring about His purpose in light of my mistakes and sin. God is still working in your life and mine, still moving toward His intended plan for you, still loving you with an unfailing and lavish love. He is not finished with you. He has such wonderful things in store for those who love and trust Him. Listen to the Psalmist who sings: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with Him: (Psalm 126:6)
Put the past in your rear-view mirror and look straight ahead at the harvest that God will bring from your life.
Holy Father, I surrender my past to You, all my sin, all my heartache, all my sorrows and regrets – and all my successes too. I claim by faith Your promise that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Amen.