From a Roman prison, Paul penned his most joyful epistle to the Philippian believers and shared the secret of a fruitful and enduring faith: Forget the hurts and failures of the past. Reach for the blessings of the present. Press toward the future (Philippians 3:12-14).
Many get stuck in depression, lamenting the past, or focusing on the problems of the present. This outlook leads them to think that things can never change, and they are defeated. But when we take hold of the present with joy, keeping our eyes on Heaven’s goal line, we are propelled forward, and the failures of the past fade away.
A month before my grandson Brayden turned two years old, Benny and I watched him while his mom and dad attended a formal wedding. We were to bring him to the outdoor reception later, as children were not allowed at the ceremony. Up until that point, he had been riding in infant car seat that was rear facing. Our daughter Sarah purchased a car seat for us to keep in our car since it is a hassle to keep switching from car to car. Because he was bigger, she was able to purchase one that was forward facing.
Riding in his rear facing car seat, he only had a small view through the back windshield, as his head was flanked on both sides by protective pads. To keep him content, Sarah placed a child proof mirror on the seat in front of him. It was in his direct line of sight, and he would point to his reflection in the mirror and say, “Brayden.” He could focus on Brayden all the while he was riding in his rear facing seat. That was pretty much all he could see—himself.
The first time in his two-year-old life he ever rode in a car facing forward was that day with us. He loved it! He kept turning from side to side, looking out the windows, saying, “WHOA! OOOH! WOOOW! (He enunciated just like that.) He was smiling ear to hear, taking in all the sights. From my passenger seat up front, I could turn around and talk to him, and he was happy, because he could see me.
Then he started singing—all on his own! He happily jibber-jabbered a tune, because he wasn’t looking behind—where he’d been—he was looking at where he was in the moment—side view, and where he was going—front view! He wasn’t focused on Brayden in the little mirror. He had a bigger, better, happier, exciting perspective! And he was giggling and singing, WHOA! WOW!
When we arrived at the venue, his mom came to the car to get him, and he didn’t want to get out! He was enjoying his new front facing, forward-looking perspective of the world around him.
Rear View Christians
Over the years, I have ministered to people who keep looking back at the past, at all their hurts, disappointments; sometimes real abuse and rejection. They are always focusing on self—What happened to me; why I’m having problems now, because of what happened to me then.
They don’t enjoy the good things they have in life now, and they are too wrapped up in the past to be able to look forward to the future with hope and expectation of good things to come. If you’re the driver, and you keep looking in the rearview mirror, you will crash. If you are the passenger, and the Holy Spirit is the driver, He will steer you on the right road, keep you in the right lane, and at the correct speed limit. Because in God timing is crucial.
But if you keep looking through the rear window, you will not enjoy life’s journey on a daily, current basis. Your perspective is to narrow, and you don’t see the bigger picture from God’s viewpoint. You are self-focused, and everything is about how I feel—why did this happen to me?
That’s okay for babies and two-year-olds, for new Christians who are freshly out of the world and learning to overcome their past and walk in the Spirit. But if you’re not a baby Christian, it’s time to sit it in a big boy’s seat—a big girl’s seat and enjoy the ride with Jesus. It’s time to get your focus off the past and off of yourself: What your mom did, or what your dad did or did not do for you—forget it!
Turn your prayer chair around and face forward. There are blessings all around you, but you can’t enjoy them while you are looking in the rearview window.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is his most joyful of his 14 epistles. Yet he wrote it from a Roman prison dungeon where he was under the sentence of death. He had been faithfully serving his Lord, planting churches all over Asia Minor, installing pastors and elders, and writing and teaching the revelations he received from God. His future—earthly speaking—was uncertain in terms of how much time he had left. But he had never been more certain of the goal or the outcome! And he was fixated on the goal:
“It is not as though I have already attained, or am already made perfect, but I follow hard after the thing for which Jesus Christ apprehended me that day on the road to Damascus.”
Paul said that he had not attained perfection at his conversion, but he did not dwell on the past. Too often a trip down Memory Lane only stirs up pain and shame. He did not dwell on his pre-Christian life when he was a blasphemer and an enemy of the Gospel, having condemned many Christians to death. He claimed that he was the chief of all sinners. He also didn’t dwell on his mistakes and failures as he grew in grace and knowledge in Christ. Neither did he dwell on his successes as an apostle and church builder and recipient of many New Testament revelations. And he did not dwell on his many severe sufferings he endured for the sake of the Gospel: Shipwrecks, snakebite, beatings, fastings, hunger, jail time, and betrayals from brethren. He was not carrying all that junk and baggage with him into the future with all of its bitterness, anger, and regrets.
And what about his present? It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. He was guarded 24/7 by Roman soldiers. Prisoners were kept in dark, dank cells that were cold and damp, and Paul was in old age. Yet, inexplicably, he was full of joy and exhorted the Saints to rejoice in the Lord always.
He was reaching forward—The Greek word can be translated stretching out—to the things that were before him—pressing toward the mark—the finish line. The Greek word for press means “to run swiftly to reach a goal,” and you can’t do that if you are always looking behind you to the past.
First, you have to let go of the past. Secondly, you must reach forward, taking hold of the present, and finally, press—run fast and steady. Paul’s metaphor points to a runner in a race who has turned the corner for the home stretch, the final lap. This is where the finish line is in clear view—for the Christian—the prize of the calling up on high. Heaven is in our view, and the saints who have already finished their course are calling out: “Don’t give up! Don’t faint! Whatever you do, don’t look back!”
Today 2017 is in your rear view mirror; don’t keep looking back at its troubles. Look toward 2018 with renewed hope in Christ, because He is the great game-changer. Keep your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith! (Hebrews 12:1-2). This is the secret to running with endurance and joy.