In Philippians 3, Paul says: “…but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
We know that dwelling on the past is wrong. But it feels so good because it creates a world that revolves around us – our needs, our losses, and our pain. It’s a subtle form of idolatry, and the devil holds many Christians captive to that mindset. So how do we kill this false god? As Paul says, by “reaching forward” – getting busy with doing exactly what God wants of us right now. Paul compares it to an athlete zeroed in on his goal. The more we strive and push ahead with obedience, the more spiritually clear minded we become, and the more our memories and failures fall away. They don’t matter any more when we’re in the thick of a supernatural battle where we see God’s hand at work every day. We see the beauty in faith, and experience peace in the midst of warfare. This isn’t just for super-Christians, this has to be the way of life for every Christian.
The joy of serving God doesn’t come over us in a cloud of glorious emotions that we float on for the rest of our lives – that’s the devil’s fairy-tale version of being a Christian. The more you hope for that kind of mystical happiness, the more depressed you become when it doesn’t happen. Joy and the renewing of our spirits is very real, but not emotion based. They’re faith based. Faith begins with cold, rational choices that end up bearing fruit that revives and energizes us.
Example: Bill showed up at church newly divorced and feeling like a heel. He’d contributed to the disintegration of his marriage through his anger, drinking and dishonesty. It cut him to the core to see his wife take their young children, knowing that her new husband was the man they would know better than him. He repented and surrendered his life to God, and began the process of obeying even in the toughest times. He stopped the pornography, quit drinking, and chose to forgive his ex. But what began as sincere repentance became emotional self-mutilation, as if he carried an invisible whip to beat himself day and night. He was sorry, but he couldn’t get over what he had done.
“But how can I forgive myself? I’ve ruined my life and I’ve scarred my children forever,” he’d tell me. Because of his guilt, he allowed his ex-wife to manipulate him into less time with his kids. He couldn’t bear to discipline them anymore and they lost respect for him, making visitation weekends miserable. This wasn’t God’s idea of repentance – it was the devil’s plan to continue tearing Bill apart even though he’d quit his old sins.
Bill only got free when he began to zero in on his goal. Priority number one had to be his relationship to God, otherwise he’d be useless to anyone else. He began to ignore the temptation to wallow in guilt, and to act in faith despite his emotions. He prayed harder and stronger at home, in the car, during lunch break – all the time. He rebuked demonic thoughts, and prayed the power of God over his kids, commanding the devil to leave their hearts and minds. Then he sought God for ideas on how he could serve Him more, and discovered that some of the guys at work needed encouragement, and God gave him just the words they needed. They started praying together, and he brought some to church. In time, Bill was overflowing with the joy of serving God, of hearing His guidance and seeing many answers to prayer.
Bill pushed forward actively without waiting for the past to fade away. He replaced it with the goals of the present, with what God wanted from him now – and then did it with all his might. Our faith has to push forward, even when we don’t understand all the whys and whats of our past, the goals God sets before us give us freedom and healing when we pursue them with all we’ve got. Ask God what He wants from you right now, and zero in on that alone. Soon your past will be a beautiful part of your testimony to glorify God, the very best revenge on the devil.
Therefore, since we are encompassed with such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and your hearts give up. (Hebrews 12:1-3 MEV)