“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13-14
I use the term, “living in vain,” not to suggest there may be no reason to live, but to argue against aspects of our lives that can only be described as vain. In looking back through years of past articles, I was somewhat surprised to find that I have never commented exclusively on this oft-quoted and important passage from the writings of the Apostle Paul. I’ve referred to it many times, I’m sure, but it definitely deserves repeated personal and public scrutiny. Perhaps it takes reaching a point where there’s more behind you than what’s ahead to fully grasp its significance. J Whatever the motivation, I invite you to “listen in” as I counsel myself, according to the admonition of the Holy Spirit through Paul.
Note to Self: Make sure you’re not living in….
Some things should not be forgotten, like just how undeserving we were of God’s saving grace (Isa. 51:1), and the manifold privilege of being chosen beneficiaries of God’s bounty (Psl. 103:2), to name only two. On the other hand, to constantly revisit our past sins, wasted opportunities, foolish decisions, hurtful words, and unhealthy relationships, is an exercise of vain regret. In fact, you won’t even find the word in Scripture. Repent, yes; regret, no. Regret may lead one to repentance, but once that has been taken care of, regret has no more purpose in our lives. Had Paul not admonished us to forget the past, common sense would tell us this. And frankly, to allow something that cannot be changed or altered to effect and hinder our present looks less like regret and more like sympathy seeking. “Don’t expect much from me; I’ve had a lot to overcome.”
Note to Self: Make sure you’re not living in…
“What’s this?” you say. “I thought Paul said to rejoice in the Lord always (Philip. 4:4)” Yes, but he didn’t say all rejoicing is good or right. As a matter of fact, there are people who rejoice in evil (Prov. 2:14); and James rebuked others who considered their boasting to be something worth rejoicing about (4:16). It would seem to me, if the greatest portion of my rejoicing is about the “glory days” of the past, I’ve given up on God. At least as far our personal fellowship and my ministry for Him is concerned. The world may change and my capabilities may falter, but God has promised my usefulness to Him has never been more important than it is right now. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (Eccl. 11:6). That verse says to me, what I do in the evening of my life can be just as good as what I did in its morning.
Regret and rejoicing…they both have their place. But they both can vain, a waste, useless to God and ourselves. There is nothing in our past, saved or lost, that we have the power to change…but it can change us today, if we let it. Ask Paul. His blasphemous past did not stop him; rather, it motivated him, “the least of the apostles,” to serve God “more abundantly” than all the rest. And when we’re tempted to look to the past for our times of rejoicing, remember, for all practical purposes, the past is dead. And as Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Our watchword now must be, “I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Someone once said to me, “There’s no sadder words than these: ‘What might have been.’” Maybe so, but if so, there’s no happier words than these: “What might yet be!”