Forward Motion, Part 1

Any given day (but especially in the New Year), your heart may find itself in one of three places:

We can’t get your mind out of the past. For some it may be a good thing that you are dwelling on. Perhaps a Christmas present you really wanted that you got. Maybe you had a great year at work. Or a great year at school. But I suspect for some of you, the memories that are holding your mind in the past are not so pleasant. Pain. Suffering. Loss. Regrets. For some of us, life has dealt some very hard blows in 2014.

Or maybe we are distracted by the here and now. Our current circumstances are keeping you from being able to focus on any one thing. You know what I am talking about. Maybe you’re thinking about your new TV, or maybe you’re in love and your just can’t stop thinking about him or her. Maybe something happened at home that is not so pleasant. Maybe you are having a hard time in your marriage. Maybe you are financially in a very scary place. I am sure some of you are going through things right now that are keeping you from giving God your attention.

Or third, some of us are fixated on the future. Your worried about what might happen, what you need to accomplish, what needs to happen to keep your life on track. Our imaginations can run wild about tomorrow and what it will bring for good or ill. How many of us have discovered that all the energy we spent worrying about tomorrow ended up being unnecessary when tomorrow came. How many of us have found that our best laid plans could never have anticipated what tomorrow ended up bringing? Yet we still allow ourselves to get our minds stuck in the future.

There is nothing wrong with looking back to our past and learning from it. We should be aware and honest about what our circumstances and responsibilities are in our present. And it is certainly irresponsible to not plan for the future and to be diligent so we can be ready for the opportunities that come our way. But our sinful nature and habits often swings the pendulum of one or more of these things way out of balance so that we forget the God we love and the salvation He brings us.

I have been finding myself cycling through all three of these mindsets of late. So I want to share with you a helpful model for how we should think of our past, present, and future by looking at Philippians 3:7-16 (NIV).

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

In this portion of his letter to First Church of Philippi, Paul gives us a clear picture of how his faith in God and his love for God shaped his understanding his past, present, and future.

Verses 7-8 show how Paul views his past in light of his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul had many great accomplishments, like becoming a Pharisee; then being converted, he founded most of the churches throughout the Roman Empire and wrote the bulk of the New Testament. But these accomplishments when compared to knowing Christ were “rubbish.” Paul also had some very bad things happen in his past, he was a murderer or Christians, he was whipped, flogged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and often hungry and cold. But he did not allow these negative experiences to define who he was or limit what he thought he could become or accomplish.

Verses 9-11 tell us how Paul looked at his present: as an opportunity to become like Christ, by sharing in His sufferings, and growing into His likeness. Paul saw his challenges, pains, and heartaches as being as much a part of his growing in Christ as his good times, blessings, and successes were.

Verses 12-16 show us how his relationship with God shaped his view of the future. It was not yet in his hands, but it was waiting for him in God’s hands. The future was positive. Paul could run the race with confidence, courage, and boldness because his future was secure in Christ. Like my friend Charlie Jones used to say, “Run the race with joy, because the race is fixed!”

I will share more thoughts on this in tomorrow’s post.

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