Phil 3:13-14 …But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. NIV
Pressing on, a term that the apostle Paul uses twice in verses 12-14 of Phil 3 speaks of going forward. This principle was a guiding force in Paul’s life. Paul continually moved forward in his relationship with Jesus Christ. He was always looking ahead to what God wanted to do next in his life. When he wrote this letter to the Philippians, he had been converted to Christ for about thirty years. In that time, the impact he had on the church was second to none, yet Paul says in verses 8-11 that he had not yet attained the “greatness of knowing Christ.” So he would continue going forward.
May I suggest, that most of us have the same desire as Paul. We want to move forward in our relationship with Jesus. We would like to know Him more and be more like Him. We desire to grow in our faith. Sometimes, however, it seems as though we get stuck in one place. We can’t seem to move forward and we don’t know why.
There is a key to getting moving again, that Paul mentions in verse 13. Forgetting what lies behind. You see, what often keeps us from going forward in our relationship with Christ and “pressing on toward the goal,” is our tendency to dwell on past mistakes or even past successes.
Think about your own life. Have you ever thought that you wanted to take a step of faith and do something of value for the kingdom of God, but did not do it because you felt that you had done too many bad things in your life for God to use you? For example, maybe you felt a strong urge to start a neighborhood bible study but then you thought back to some times that you had treated a neighbor badly. Then you think, “I have no credibility with these people, I can’t do that.” Maybe you want to speak to family members about Jesus and what He has done in your life, but because they had seen you in your worst days as a substance abuser or gang member, you think, “They would never listen to me.”
It is reasonable to think that way, but it is not how God wants you to think. If Paul had thought that way, he would never have had the impact on Christianity that he did. In 1Ti 1:16 Paul called himself the “worst of sinners.” He wasn’t just being humble. He was the worst of sinners. He, being religious, persecuted the church, putting innocent people in jail and even approving of their being put to death. Early in his ministry, some believers were still afraid of him (Acts 9).
You might be thinking, “but I cannot forget my past.” Well Paul didn’t really forget his either. In fact he brought it up many times when he would testify to the work God had done in his life (check Acts 26). The idea of “forgetting” in this case, simply means to not let it hinder you from what God wants you to do now. The word in Greek is a combination of “to lose out of mind or neglect” and “to lie hid.” You might say, “Give it no regard.” You may think that is impossible but remember, …”with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)
I mentioned earlier that not only past failures keep us form moving forward, but past successes as well. We can have a tendency to “rest on our spiritual laurels.” When you have walked with the Lord for a great length of time, you can begin to think you “you have attained spiritual maturity.” That can cause you to stop seeking to grow closer to the Lord.
How do we recognize that? If, in your conversations with people, you find that the things you share about spiritual victories seem to be things that happened years and years ago, you are probably spiritually stagnant. God wants to do new things in your life. If you sometimes think, “wow, I used to lead Bible studies, minister to the homeless, serve as an usher in the church, but now I am not doing any of those things,” it is time for renewal in your life. More importantly, if you are thinking, “I used to spend a lot of quiet time with Jesus and now I hardly ever do that,” it is time to press on.
Don’t fret about the past. Give no regard to what you have done well or what you have not done well. Press on. Make time to spend with the Lord, put him first in your life and allow the Holy Spirit to begin His work anew in your heart. Regard each new day as a fresh opportunity to do His will. Trust that He will do a new work in your life, for “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;” (Lam 3:22-23 ESV)
God bless you