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“FORGETTING WHAT LIES BEHIND”
by Philip Owen

            An axiom in sports is that to be successful an athlete must have a short memory.  On the one hand, the pitcher who has just served up a homerun ball must forget that failure and concentrate on placing his next pitch where it needs to be.  The quarterback who has just been sacked must ignore the pounding feet of the approaching linebacker, stay in the pocket, and deliver the ball to the receiver.  On the other hand, the tackle who drops the quarterback for a five-yard loss must set aside his glee and attempt to do the same thing on the next play.  And the pitcher who strikes out a batter on three pitches must calm his excitement and concentrate on throwing a pitch in the strike zone to the next batter he faces.  Plainly, whether positive or negative, the past can have a debilitating effect on the present.  The apostle Paul understood that and would have none of it.  “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14).

            An essential element of spiritual victory involves forgetting the past.  Clearly, Paul is speaking in figurative terms.  He is not advocating the impossible, namely, erasing from our memories decisions, events, and actions indelibly printed there.  Rather, he suggests that he will not allow the past—whether sinful or righteous—to distract him from the goal that still lies before him.  We should emulate Paul.

            The tense of the verb forgetting is highly instructive. In English it is called the present progressive or continuous present and indicates a constant or continuous on-going action.  As moment-by-moment we create what will immediately become our past and as with each passing day it grows larger and more weighty, we must deliberately and consciously look to the future and not dwell on the past.  Except as the Spirit of God uses it to warn  or encourage us, it is a weight that slows us down from accomplishing what we need to do for the Lord today or a distraction that hampers our hearts and minds from focusing on the Lord and His will now.

            Past Sins and Failures.  Hebrews 12:1 reminds us of the dangers of these hindrances.  “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  Past sins and failures encumber and entangle us.  Dwelling on things that have been confessed, forgiven by God, and forsaken can lead to unholy feelings of guilt and depression and a debilitating sense of failure.  It is not a righteous act to brood on our flesh; rather we should remember the Lord’s great mercy and forgiveness, His power to restore, and His willingness to continue to use us.

            Past Victories.  Though perhaps less obvious, past victories may prove equally distracting, even destructive, if we dwell on them.  The natural mind has a way of robbing God of the credit due Him for anything and everything we may have accomplished—a misapprehension that leads to pride and self-righteousness.  I Corinthians warns us against this danger:  “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (10:12).  Even if we have a proper perspective on past achievements, dwelling on them channels time and energy away from actively pursuing the Lord’s will today and always runs the risk of engendering self-esteem.

            May we use this last week of 2017 to put our hands to the plow and not look back.  According to our Lord, “No one,” who does so, “is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62).  May this year find us forgetting the past and plowing a straight furrow in the garden of the Lord. 

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