I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
One of the greatest benefits of the new life which we have as followers of Jesus Christ, is the awareness that our sins and failures, our falling-short of God’s goodness, is completely dealt with. Each new day, is a new start, and we do not carry any baggage with us from the past. There may be consequences, but there is no guilt, no more isolation from God, no threat of judgement to come, to shadow our lives.
We are in a wonderful sense, set free from our past, and rightly we rejoice in that freedom. Paul encourages us to embrace that freedom, to refuse to allow inappropriate guilt to hold us back from fresh commitments to obedience and service of our God. He did not dwell on his early opposition to and persecution of the church, did not allow that to prevent him from becoming not only a great theologian, but also a pioneering evangelist and church-planter. He trusted that God could deal with those who doubted him because of his history, since it did not prevent God from calling him to serve.
How easy do I find it to allow my past failures to prevent my present obedience? I set limits on what I am willing to attempt for God, because I am afraid of failing again. What does that say about how I believe God is transforming me, is giving me his power to achieve the tasks which are appointed to me? Yes, I will go on sinning, until death ushers me out of this mortal frame, but God has not made my usefulness to him dependent on my perfection! I can and should embrace each new task with a joyful confidence in his enabling, and a humble thankfulness that my failures will not prevent that work from being carried out.
In other areas though, it can be hard to let go of the past, to accept that precious days, sweet relationships will not come again. When a parent sees a beloved child step into independence – or begin to do so – there is a bereavement, because something beautiful has come to an end. It is a natural and right ending, but nonetheless, those days, that intimacy will never come again. The season for those things is past.
I was blessed to grow up in a particularly strong and loving church, and there are aspects of that life which I miss very much, and would dearly love to recreate. But time only moves one way, I am not in that place anymore, and much has changed. Those days will not come again. So what do I do? Is it right to allow past blessings to prevent me from appreciating what God is providing for me now? Surely not, nor to argue that I can only receive blessing in that particular way!
The apostle James wrote that, “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1.17)
God is the source of all good things, and His purpose and character never change. So if He chose to bless me in one way in the past, He may choose another way today but his purpose remains my transformation into the likeness of Christ, and ultimate enjoyment with him of glory. All the good gifts are for a purpose, for my growth in faith and understanding, in trust and obedience. Let me recognise and give thanks for past blessings, but also discern the new things God may be planning to use for my good.
My God is too great and wonderful to be limited in His actions by my understanding, to be restricted to doing things in the same way over and over again! May I learn to trust that He is always good, and always loving, and look for the ways He is choosing to bless me now, so that I may – like Paul – forget what is past, let it go, and face the future with confidence in my great loving provider.