What is your background? Do you think fondly of your life story to this point? Or have you had a difficult past that has shaped you through struggles and pain? Are you generally proud of your accomplishments and confident in your experiences? Or are you ashamed of your past, your decisions and your life’s path? Maybe you are somewhere in between, confident in your identity but embarrassed of that one story or those few years tucked in back there.
The root of both dispositions, when it impacts our personality and worldview, is pride. Either was have the normal expression of pride which considers our thoughts, values and experiences as superior or we exemplify the victim and shame mentality which draws on pride saying “I deserved better” or “I should have known better”. God gives us experiences and plans our lives very intentionally. It is not wrong to remember fondly or to feel sorrow over the past, as long as we intentionally turn the glory and honor back to God. We should praise God for the successes and we should cling to God for the strength and truth needed to repent from failures and sin. Both responses rightly bring glory to God. Anything else robs God of His glory and brings praise or attention to ourselves.
The Apostle Paul, arguably the most influential man in Christianity after Jesus, wrote poignantly on the subject. Before his conversion, Paul was the shining example of Jewish religiousity and legalism. Not only did he keep the rules and preform above and beyond his peers, he also had the pedigree which set him apart from birth. He had everything going for him. He knew it, and everyone else knew it. Then Jesus radically transformed his life. He literally knocked him off his horse, called him to repentance and salvation verbally, and blinded him for a few days to consider Jesus’ power and calling. After his sight was restored and he was baptized, Paul went away to the wilderness for three years where Jesus and the Holy Spirit personally taught Paul and prepared him to be the first missionary to the non-Jewish world.
After years of successful ministry and disciple-making throughout the known world, Paul wrote this in a letter to one of the churches he founded, in regards to his personal past:
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
– Phil 3.8-14
Paul consistently shared his testimony of conversion and church planting. This is, in fact, how we know so much about him: he wrote it in his letters which are much of the New Testament! He had achieved unmatched success and position in the Jewish world before Christ, and after his conversion he almost single-handedly planted churches throughout the entire known world. At the point of his conversion, Jesus revealed to him that his efforts were in deed persecuting and hurting the Church and Jesus personally, and his life was radically transformed – such that he became just like those whom he sought to kill. Thus, he had reason to boast in himself, he also had reason to be ashamed of himself, and he had reason to boast in his accomplishments for the Church.
His response, however, was to give glory to God for that path down which he had walked, but to always look forward to eternity with Jesus. His focus was so eternal, in fact, that he essentially “forgot” what was behind him. He did not literally forget, obviously, but he considered it to be of no consequence to where he was going. It did not define him, hinder him, or give him grounds for boasting. He was focused only on Jesus, on becoming more like Him and striving after the goal of eternity with Him.
This is perhaps the greatest example of true humility. Often times we consider humility to be when a person thinks less of himself than his value, thus the truest opposite of pride would be some form of self doubt or self hatred. But in reality, Biblical humility is spending one’s efforts to focus on God and not one’s self. It is not thinking less of one’s value but spending less time thinking about one’s self and thinking more about God and others.
We can also learn from Paul’s example that no matter where we are in life we should always be looking forward and pressing on to maturity and growth. It is easy to become complacent. It is easy to allow ourselves to think that we deserve a break from work, ministry or discipline once we reach certain mile markers in life. But God never gives us a pass. God does not allow our Spiritual growth to reach its fullest potential until we are freed from our physical bodies and in His presence, thus even if we are retired or confined to a bed, we can still grow in our prayer life, in our witness, in our knowledge of God and in our devotion to Him.
Let us leave it to those who write our eulogy to determine our greatest moments and achievements. Let us never consider our past to be our glory days, nor our moments of shame. Let us continually look forward to the prize, to the goal of eternity with Christ and let us forget what lies behind. We should always remember what God has done and the victories He has won, but let us always be expectant of His miraculous movement yet to come. Let us remember the sin from which He has freed us and because of it press on to greater maturity and more intimate fellowship with Him. Let us remember the trials through which He has brought us, but let us continue to seek to die to ourselves and let Him live through us more.