Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
Brothers and sisters, 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.
Paul was one of the most influential and greatest leaders that the early church had ever seen, but he was not full of himself and thought of himself as anything more than a committed servant of Jesus Christ. Paul knew that God had a lot of work left to do on him and that he had not “arrived” yet. Paul knew that his time was valuable in the sense that he was starting churches all over Asia Minor, he was mentoring and guiding young leaders, and he was taking the gospel to every place that his feet could carry him, but he reduced everything that he did down to “one thing.” If we would put it in today’s cooperate executives language it would be, “A Rigorous Commitment to a Singular Objective.” And this objective would have two distinct parts: not spending all our time dwelling on the past and reaching ahead to achieve the vision for the future.
Not dwelling on the past. In the scripture used in Philippians, Paul is saying in “Forgetting” that we are not to dwell in, like moving into a house or apartment, taking up residence. That in this forgetting we are not to stay there or live in the things of the past. It is one thing to honor and remember but dwelling is harmful for the mission that we are on. The past can bog us down like being in mud up to your knees, unable to move or navigate.
There are two ways that the past holds us and can get us stuck. One way is regret, haunting memories that brought shame and regret for opportunities that past by, or failures to follow through with ministry moments that the Spirit prompted and there was hesitation as individuals and as a church. It can cause a pastor or church leadership to question every decision that needs to be made, clouding the judgement to move even with the urging of the Holy Spirit. The fear of past failures paralyzes the church into future ministries saying, “we tried that before and it didn’t work.”
Another, and more prominent, way the church and its members get stuck in the past is reliving past glories over and over again. The church in years past had a successful and fruitful ministry which has since past and faded away but everyone including the pastor continually refers back to “back when we…” or “I remember when…” If a church is living in the past, whether it is because of failure or success, takes their eyes off the ball and out of focus. Paul is saying, “Hey! forget the past and move on.”
Reaching for the Future. Paul makes it very clear where our attention should be focused. The church should be straining with every ounce of energy to reach forward for the fulfillment of the vision that God has for that congregation. We are being encouraged to discover and embrace a God sized vision, one that not only has a positive impact on the church but more importantly one that transforms the community that the church exist in and furthers the Kingdom of God right there.
Remembering and defining the “Why” is crucial in the life and mission of the church. The Prize is knowing and doing the vision and mission that God has laid out before your congregation. What are some of the past failures or success that your church needs to leave behind? Is there a God sized vision that has gripped your heart that until it is accomplished will not leave you alone? The day our memories become larger than our God given dreams is the day our lights start to dim.
Rev. Rob Beckett, Pastor Shepherdsville Nazarene Church Shepherdsville KY
“Restoring the Image of God to the hurting and broken”