24th January 2011

Our Past Or Our Future?

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,”
Philippians 3:13 (NRSV)

It wasn’t that long ago that we welcomed in the new year 2011, and many of us resolved to make improvements in our lives.  This of course meant that there were aspects of our lives that we felt were not what they ought to be and needed changing. Wasted opportunities, hurtful things that we did to others, bad habits that we got into and now find difficult to get out of, and many others.  Many of these occurred when we were in our teens, when life was new and there were so many opportunities for experimentation.

The older (and wiser?) we get, the more aware and regretful we become of these black marks.  They can hold us back because we ponder over how different and better our lives, and maybe the lives of others as well, would have been if we had known then what we know now.  It can become so depressing.

Paul felt like this.  His youth was taken up with an enthusiasm for the traditions of the Jews, to the extent that he could boast about his ancestry and excel as a Pharisee, a sect that was noted for their dedication to their law and applying it to the utmost degree.  He even destroyed the lives of those who claimed to be Jews but not like he was, and especially those who revered a ‘renegade heretic’ (Jesus) more than Moses.

Then he came to know this ‘renegade Jew’—or rather, this Jew made Himself known to Paul—and he realised that there was much in his former life of which he was ashamed.  Thankfully for us Paul did not get all morose, reflecting on the errors of his past and how things could have been so much better if he had known and done then what he subsequently came to understand.  He recognised that Jesus had forgiven the warts in his life and would continue to use him for His purpose in his future.  Paul made a resolution (a new year’s one?) to focus the remainder of his life on whatever Jesus wanted him to do and not let the past get in his way.

Paul was not the only one whose past could have impeded his future.  What about Peter who thought he had forfeited his right to be called an apostle of Jesus because he denied Him on the eve of His crucifixion.  What about Jonah who, when called to go to Nineveh with the message of God’s grace, chose to go in the other direction.  What about Samson who was called by God to be a leader of the Israelites but spent his life sporting with women of questionable character.  And what about us?  In fact what about everyone?  There is only one person who fulfilled the purpose for which He was born, and on the way used every opportunity to do good, bear witness to the Father, and select and train those who would continue His work after He had left this world.

We are therefore in good company.  Nobody but Jesus has led an impeccable life.  The question is what do we do about it.  Paul, Peter, Jonah and Samson all sought and received God’s forgiveness and went on to do greater things in His name.  We too can forget what lies behind and strain forward to do what lies ahead.  It isn’t easy because these remembrances keep popping up, but we know what to do.  Whenever this happens we can, with God’s grace, focus our attention on where we are going rather than where we have been.

Loving Father, we thank you that you have removed our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west.  We ask that you will enable us to continue growing in grace and moving forward, rather than allowing our past to dominate our present and impede our future.  We ask this in the name of him through whom we have been called into your service.

Study by Christopher Reeve 

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