I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, and I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us… Philippians 3:13b-14 (NLT)
God has placed us all here for a purpose. It’s like a race course set in front us which takes time and energy to navigate. But too often our energies are used up dealing with the past, and we don’t have the power to move ahead.
In Philippians 3 Paul talks about the race of life and warns us to quit worrying about the past or we can never start moving into the future. To do this, we need to forget some things. Here are 4 specific things we must forget in order to be free of the past.
1. Past Mistakes
We all do it, we all make mistakes. Yet, even though we know everybody does it, we often waste a lot of time dwelling on our own stupidity, and feeding our minds with negative thoughts. This can keep us from moving forward or trying new things for fear we’ll blow it again.
The Bible tells us how to properly handle our past mistakes in 3 steps: 1) Forgive ourselves and move on. 2) Learn from our past and, with God’s help, don’t make the same mistakes again. 3) Forget them – God has.
2. Past Sins
Like past mistakes, past sins need to be dealt with, then forgotten or they will keep us mired in yesterday and unable to move forward. Dwelling on something we chose to do wrong, or even something we didn’t think was wrong at the time, is sinning even more because it means we are not turning it over to God.
If we admit our sins are sins, offenses against a holy God, we have this beautiful promise: “But God is faithful and fair. If we admit that we have sinned, he will forgive us our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure.” (I John 1:9 NIRV)
That’s the simple way to deal with past sin! Once we have confessed a past sin and turned it over to God, we need to take the next step forward and forget it. In Jeremiah 31:34 God gives believers yet another promise about past sins: “for they will have my forgiveness for their evil-doing, and their sin will go from my memory for ever.” (BBE) Think of it this way: if God has forgiven us, how can we not forgive ourselves?
3. Past Pain
We can all point to some person or situation in our past which caused us pain. Getting hurt is just part of life. Whether it happened in our childhood as we dealt with an abusive parent or later in life when a friend said something false about us, we experienced pain firsthand. Maybe it was emotional pain from a divorce or loss of a child. It didn’t hurt less because it wasn’t physical.
When pain enters our lives, we deal with it the best way we can. But sometimes that pain lingers far longer than it should, and all our attempts to deal with it don’t move us past it. This is one of the biggest things we need to forget if we are to reach the end of our race and receive the winner’s prize.
When we are hurt, we have 2 choices: 1) allow the pain to fester and grow like a cancer until it produces bitterness, or 2) forgive the person who hurt us and forget the pain. According to Paul, we should always choose the second course of action. We must let go of the hurts before they start to consume the rest of our lives.
Forgiving someone who hurt us is never easy, but we have a strong example in the person of our “forgiver,” Jesus Christ. If He can forgive us for sending Him to the cross, we should be able to forgive others, too. God can and will help you through this process. He can provide the will and strength to forgive, and also the ability to forget.
The process may take some time, but the end result, the freedom we will gain, is worth the struggle. Day by day the forgetting will be easier until one day we are free.
4. Past Regrets
Many people waste a lot of their lives fretting about the “what ifs” in the past.
“What if I had taken that other job?”
“What if I had married someone else?”
“What if I had never moved from that town?”
When we give in to this kind of useless speculation, we are unable to live each day to the fullest. We are stuck living in the past-and not even a real past, but a fantasy based on “what if…”
Just as sad are those of us who live life wondering how different we would be “if only…”
“If only my parents hadn’t gotten divorced…”
“If only I hadn’t gone into the service…”
“If only God had let my husband live…”
No one can live in yesterday. Our old dreams are gone, our past opportunities are lost. Far too many of us are unhappy with our lives because we have hoped for something that never happened or never could be, and we can’t get over the disappointment. It’s safer to dream about happiness than to go out and look for it. Face this truth and ask God to give you peace about the “what ifs” in your life.
The New International Reader’s Version of the Bible translates Philippians 3:14b like this: “I forget what is behind me… I move on toward the goal to win the prize. God has appointed me to win it. The heavenly prize is Christ Jesus himself.” Forgetting can be a difficult day-to-day exercise, but the end result is well worth the effort!
References: The Bible in these translations
Bible in Basic English (BBE) – in the public domain.
New International Reader’s Version (NIRV) Copyright 1995, 1996, 1998 by Biblica All rights reserved worldwide
New Living Translation (NLT) copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.