“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.”
Have you noticed that some people live their lives locked in and weighted down by their past experiences?
For a very long time, I had difficulty sitting in the passenger side of the car, when riding next to large transport trucks or buses. As a child, I had been riding with my mom when a public bus forced its way into the lane our car had been occupying. Wildly honking her horn to get the bus driver’s attention, my mother refused to brake until the friction from the bus’ rubbing up against the car caused small sparks to fly outside my passenger window. When my mother did finally brake to allow the bus to pass, I burst into sobs. So traumatized had I been by the event that well into my thirties, I would still tense up if I found myself in the passenger seat with a large vehicle to my right.
Having survived my oldest brother who died in a plane crash, I grieved his passing then eventually moved on (or so I thought). It would take my husband flying out on his first business trip (my brother had been flying on business when he was killed) for me to realize that I had been harboring a deeply rooted fear of my husband dying in a plane crash. The closer in age my husband got to the age my brother was when he died (35 years old), the more oppressive my fear grew.
I know women and men who have ruined good, healthy relationships because they can’t let go of the pain from their last relationship. Why do human beings do this? Why do we allow past fears and struggles to stunt our present growth and hinder future progress? How do we allow ourselves to become imprisoned by the ghosts of poor choices? Better yet, how do we get free?
Craving that which destroys is a by-product of the Fall. As fallen human beings it is our nature to crave whatever is bad for us and to avoid whatever is good. I recall the first time I drank a cup of wheat grass. The Jamba Juice employee handed me the tiny opaque cup with the warning that if I’d never drunk the stuff before, it would taste a little funny. What an understatement. It tasted like…well…liquid grass. I was tempted to spit it out, but having paid $3.25 for the two-ounce serving, the miser in me took over and gulped it down. An involuntary shiver seized my head, neck, and shoulders as my eyes rolled upwards and the corners of my mouth strained downward in an attempt to reach my knees. “Blech!,” or some other eloquent outburst was about all I could manage. I may have said something along the lines of, “People pay to drink this stuff?” Certainly I thought it. The smoothie barista explained to me that mine was the typical reaction of the uninitiated and (in my case) the unhealthy. It seems that I was suffering from a perverted palate. So corrupted had my taste buds become from all the crappy, death-filled “foods” (and I use the term “foods” loosely) that I had become accustomed to consuming, that the taste of a superfood nearly reduced me to a state resembling anaphylactic shock.
Hyperbole aside, it is the same with sin. So corrupted is our humanity that whatever is good, honest, just, or pure naturally repulses us, bores us, or frightens us. But anything that is horrible, gross, raunchy, or depraved arrests our attention immediately and elicits from us an almost primal urge to partake. You need look no further than any local media outlet to confirm this fact.
In the instance where sin – either that which we’ve committed, or which another has committed against us – has left us further damaged, we find it even more difficult to turn our attention away. Life in Christ promises and delivers freedom in its truest form. But even many believers decline the Lord’s invitation to experience complete freedom, and instead choose to exist in limited obedience. Sure, they’re saved and going to heaven one day, but on earth they eek out half-lives, bound by fear, plagued by worry, hobbled by doubt, and shamed by guilt over their past.
If believers in the One True God who came “to set the captives free,” can struggle against and often allow themselves to be oppressed by their past, how is the average person bereft of the Holy Spirit’s power likely to fare?* In the verse above, former Christian-killer, the apostle Paul, explains how he dealt with an unsavory past. He practiced forgetting and straining. Once we’ve come to faith, confessed our sins, poured out our grief over what we’ve done, or what has been done to us, repented, and/or extended forgiveness, we are to forget the past. It seems so simple, but yet so many of us (myself leading the way) fail to do exactly that. Instead we fixate on it, making it the singular point of reference in our lives.
Notice Paul’s action is continuous and consists of two steps: forgetting and straining. You may be familiar with the phrase “nature abhors a vacuum.” Wherever a vacuum is created, something rushes in to fill it. This is true in science; and it is certainly true in our spiritual lives. We guarantee spiritual and behavioral failure when we simply remove a poor habit. Paul encourages believers not only to continually get rid of the memories of the past by forgetting, but to replace them with God’s vision for the future. Surely each of us was saved for a reason. God has always had a plan from before the beginning. We are all part of it.
So what role to you play? What is the high call on your life? If you know, then I beg you, go after it with everything you’ve got, keeping your focus on the One who called you. Refuse to settle for a stinky, small half-life. If you have no clue what work God has set apart for you, then keep seeking it, while keeping your focus on the One who knows. Make God the center of your focus. Eat, sleep, and breathe His word. Allow your thoughts to be perpetually occupied by his thoughts. Bask in his presence. Luxuriate in his lavish love. Participate in your healing. A great exercise in what I call “God immersion” is the 60-60 experiment. A full explanation of this simple and profound way to connect or to reconnect with God can be found in the book, Soul Revolution, written by Pastor John Burke. You are precious to God. He knows you by name. He was there when your past happened. He waits for you in your victorious future. Most importantly, he is here with you in the present to help you to overcome. Won’t you allow him to pull you through?
I am free from both of the above phobias. That doesn’t mean that fear does not threaten from time to time. But the more victories I gain over it, the more confident I become. As of the date of this blog, the last time my husband flew out of town on business, I nearly forgot that he wasn’t at work here in town! So much, have I gotten into the habit of pressing into intense praise and worship when the fear of losing him strikes, that the fear stopped striking. As I actively resist the devil in this area, he flees. When large vehicles loom to my right, I have learned to pray for the driver. Taking my focus of myself and resettling it on God or the needs of others has garnered many a victory in my life. Now I, too, can say along with Paul,
“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.
Be blessed, Family!
*Many people who do not have the Holy Spirit overcome their fears. It is my opinion, however, that the only permanent, positive change comes from the Holy Spirit alone. Not to mention that the un-empowered who accomplish even long-lasting change are the exception, not the rule.
by Sheeri Mitchell
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