While my children are still at home (although college and adult lives for them are getting ever closer), we still have occasional opportunities to go out into the world as a family, and take on a challenge. It might just be shopping, or going to see a movie together. Or, we could be on a trip to see relatives (who, in our case, all live at least a couple hours’ drive away).
When it’s time to move on from one activity and move onto the next (even if that just means getting back into the minivan after a stop), I will sometimes announce the next step in our family’s adventure with this “inspiring” rallying cry: “To the Future!”
OK, so it’s not necessarily a life-changing motto. My kids point out that we could go to the future by just staying where we are, and doing nothing (which, I admit, I am pretty good at). This slogan doesn’t really provide direction on what to do, nor does it explain why a particular action is important. Still, my family has grown tolerant to this, and at least knows what I mean when I say it.
However, perhaps there is still a bit of value in this statement. Consider what Paul wrote, to the church in Philippi:
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward 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.
Philippians 3:13-14 NLT
Perhaps few would have judged Paul if he had stopped working so hard at this point in his adult life, and just stayed put. He could have settled down at any one of the congregations where he had shared the good news about Jesus, and become their pastor for the rest of his days1. He could have also retired from ministry, deciding that his history of persecuting the Lord Jesus (to whom Paul had since given over his life) was too much of an obstacle. Or, the ongoing pain of being beaten, stoned, and generally abused by others could have pushed him into staying in bed and resting his tired body.
Paul wasn’t OK with that, though. As long as he drew breath (despite being left for dead at least once), Paul understood that there were great things left for him to do. He had a mission to complete, and stopping early wouldn’t have yielded the reward for which Paul was striving.
No matter who you are, I think that all of us share some commonalities with Paul, and can find inspiration from him as we march “To the Future”.
In the first case, the Past is the Past: We don’t live there anymore, so we look To the Future.
Unless you’re still a relatively young child, we pretty much all have junk in our past. Maybe you made some bad choices that you regret. Maybe you made yourself an enemy of God for a while. Maybe (like Paul) you actively went out and looked for followers of Jesus, and then put them in jail or had them killed. Regardless of how you have fallen short, welcome to the human race! Compared to a holy and perfect God, you and I are no more or less fallen short of God’s ideal than Paul was.
Or, maybe you had some great successes in the past. Maybe you helped someone with material needs, or showed a lost soul how to find freedom in the salvation that Jesus offers to us. Perhaps you had a successful tour of service as a leader in the church, or working in a specific ministry, or even being a missionary far from home. Those are great things to celebrate.
Even in a time of life where Paul could claim both of these things, neither of them was a reason for Paul to quit. God showed Paul that He could change Paul’s life, and that none of Paul’s baggage couldn’t be replaced with a brand-new purpose. In addition, Paul wasn’t ready to be content just polishing past medals for what God had already done through him.
Today, let us look “To the Future!”, no longer dwelling on the successes or failures of the past. Both of these types of experiences may be part of the larger plan, positioning us to make a difference as a result. However, the past is not our goal, and going backwards doesn’t get us to the finish line.
In the second part of this article, let’s consider why looking ahead is profitable.
- By the way, I’m definitely not opposed to individuals serving one group of believers for the entire duration of their ministry. While it is important to not make a person (other than Jesus Christ) the focus of a particular congregation, there is much to be gained by having continuity of leadership and God-led vision. That just didn’t happen to be Paul’s calling. ↩