Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Sometimes our past mistakes and failures hit us unexpectedly. Some thought or phrase, maybe even a song or a particular place will trigger the memory of a time or event we would rather forget. Unlike memories that we cherish and revisit fondly in our minds, these thoughts pull at us, drag us down, and fill us with remorse. We all have them, we all hate them, we all wish we could turn back time and correct some of the awful mistakes we have made.
The Apostle Paul had such memories. Such an awesome man of God he became, but, oh, the pain he caused and endured in finding the path to his destiny. Born a Roman citizen, he was entitled to all the luxuries such citizenship afforded him. He was highly educated and a member of the Sanhedrin Court---a position of high rank and honor. He was also a Jew and followed the law of Moses to the letter. As such, he could not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah of God and, so, obtained legal right to persecute those who followed the teaching of Jesus Christ. He was so zealous to protect the religious law he so deeply cherished, that he honestly came to believe that those who did not honor the law were deserving of persecution and imprisonment. On a journey of tracking down believers, his whole life changed in a moment of time.
Paul (whose name was Saul at the time) was struck down on the Damascan Road, blinded by God, and given instruction specific for his deliverance and healing. He heard the voice of God for himself and came face to face with who he was and what he had done. For the first time in his life, Paul was helpless and needed to lean on others to get to where he was going. God had a special plan for Paul, but He needed to get Paul's attention first. The end result was Paul's deliverance, healing, and acceptance of the teachings of Jesus and the yielding of his life to the will of God.
Paul is my favorite New Testament character. But, here of late, I have been thinking about the significance of Paul's words found in Philippians 3:13,
"...this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before...".
It brings me to the realization that Paul had much to forget from his past. I am sure many times he had to shake off the memories of the faces of those he led to persecution. How many times did the faces of those he imprisoned haunt him as he journeyed from place to place? Did he ever hear the cries of the mothers separated from their children or the sobs of husbands and wives taken from each other's arms? I wonder how often he bowed his head and, once again, asked forgiveness for his ungodly crimes? Though he thought he was acting in the will of God at the time, once he came to really know God and His son, Jesus, his actions would rise up to haunt him.
I, too, have been in this place. My unkind words and deeds have often caused me grief. I have recalled the hurt looks on faces I loved, and the disappointment of those who had trusted me. I have looked back with regret that I didn't spend more time with my children, that I didn't pay enough attention to my parents or that I should have been more devoted to my church. I have chided myself over personal faults and failures and have, many times, questioned why God made me the way I am.
But oh, dear friends, I have learned, as Paul learned, that we cannot cling to the past and look to the future at the same time. Looking ahead, asking God's guidance day-to-day, doing the best we can to live above our frail humanity, these are the secrets to "forgetting what is behind". It is only through God and His amazing Grace, that we are able to move beyond ourselves and walk in the joy of the Lord.
My father says it so well, "The only thing we do when we dwell on the past is mess up the present. We can't change the past, but we can control this moment and the choices we make now.".
Perhaps there are some of you who, like me, struggle with the memories of past failures and mistakes. Let me encourage you to leave your past with our precious God who loves us so much. A dear friend of mine once said this to me, "It is a divine prerogative of God that He cannot remember something He chooses to forget.". If God, as awesome and great as He is, chooses to forget, can we not do the same? I don't know about you, but, today I'm doing my best to avoid looking back. I have my human nature to deal with but I have a God who gives me strength and overcoming power. I have come to realize that the best way to avoid looking back is to change my field of vision---I'm looking ahead.