Don’t look over your shoulder.
I heard that rule when I was running track. Don’t get caught looking over your shoulder. When you look back, you lose momentum and you lose sight of your goal. When you look back, you slow down and your opponents catch up to you.
So, don’t look over your shoulder.
There are many times in life when we can get caught looking over our shoulders. We lose sight of the goal — the big picture — and we look back. Maybe, it’s that we carry baggage from something that has happened in our past. We struggle to forgive, to let go and to more forward. So, we keep looking back.
It could be something as simple as fear. We’re afraid of what comes next and we want to hold on to what we know. We want to grow but not be changed. We’re angry about something. Someone hurt us. We stumbled and fell. Everything fell apart.
So, we look back over our shoulder.
Yet, if we want to grow and move forward, we have to stop looking back. Yes, we evaluate those moments of our lives and we learn from them. However, if we want to continue to move forward, even to move toward God, we have to stop letting those moments keep us anchored.
We have to stop looking over our shoulders.
Paul wrote about this idea of trying to move forward and getting caught looking over your shoulder in a letter to the churches at Philippi. This book of the Bible called Philippians is written to a group of people that Paul loved. He’s writing this as encouragement.
In Chapter 3, Paul is writing about what it looks like to be all in for Christ and then he moves to encouraging his readers to press on, to strain for something bigger. Here’s how he describes it in Philippians 3:
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. – Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)
Those words from Paul can give us some encouragement in our journey to move forward and our struggle with looking back. Here are four things that we can pull from these verses.
1 – We’re not there yet
If you read much of the New Testament, you realize the contributions that Paul has made to faith. He planted churches, he trained leaders, he suffered greatly, he wrote and wrote. He did all of that and, yet, he still didn’t consider himself to have “arrived.”
And, if that is the case for Paul, the first super-missionary, then it is going to be the case for you and for me. We are, simply, not there yet.
When Paul says this, he’s combating arrogance and pride. It’s easy to think that you’ve somehow mastered something in life. It’s easy to pray that prayer that says, “God, thank you that I’m not like that guy over there.” It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and think, “Look at me! I’ve made it.”
But, the harsh reality is that we’re not there yet. It hasn’t completely taken hold yet. It’s a reminder to quit thinking that we’re somehow, someway, better than another person.
2- Direction matters
These words from Paul show us that direction matters. Sometimes, when I lead people in prayer, I ask them to open there hands and hold them with the palms up. The person I learned that from said it was impossible to grab onto something new from God when we still have our hands wrapped around the old stuff.
Paul gives us a contrast of two opposing directions. One direction leads us to life, to the eternal gift, to something bigger and better on the horizon. The other direction pulls us back and stops our momentum. Spending too much time looking in the wrong direction keeps us from reaching the destination.
Yet, Paul shows us that it is so much bigger than casually choosing to change directions and look toward the things of God. It’s a strain, it’s work and it takes incredible effort. Think about all of the things that hold you back, the mistakes that you’ve made, the sins you have committed. That’s probably not a difficult task for most of us. It’s so easy to look back and head toward the wrong direction.
That’s why Paul uses two action words. First, “forgetting” what is behind. In other words, letting that go, letting it stay where it is in the past. Forgetting means that we don’t keep going back to that same well to beat ourselves up. Forgetting means that we stop letting our past be an anchor that holds us back.
Then, we are”straining.” Think about the times you’ve strained to reach something. You’re pushing every single muscle you have, you’re trying to find just one more inch, one more finger length. The pain and the struggle of straining toward something drags your entire body closer to the object. Now, imagine that strain that it takes you to let go of the past, to forget it, and then with every ounce of who you are, you strain and pull and drag yourself a finger length, an inch, a hand’s length closer to the prize.
You don’t get there the first time, the second time, etc., but you keep forgetting and you keep straining and pulling and eventually, inch by inch, moment by moment, you pull yourself forward and closer and closer to the image of Jesus.
3 – It’s about the finish
Paul’s words of encouragement to the Philippians are words of encouragement to us. Imagine, it’s halftime in your life story and you are behind on the scoreboard. Paul steps up to give you the pep talk and says something like this: “I’ve been here before and I’ve done it. Listen, I know it is difficult and I know you’re hurting. You might even feel wounded and scared. But you’ve got to let it go. You’ve got every right to hold onto it, to be angry and to lash out, but, look at me and listen, you’ve got to let it go. Forget the first half, forget the scoreboard, and concentrate on the finish line. You’ve got to give it all. You’ve got to leave it all on the floor. You’ve got to sweat and bleed and strain and drag yourself with everything you have toward the goal. Stay in this race. Press on. Give it everything you’ve got. You can still win this.”
In one of his sermon bottom lines, Andy Stanley said, “Direction, not intention, determines destination.” This race that Paul is describing is not about having great intentions, about trying to be good or trying to earn it. This race is about the finish and reaching the finish line. Your start doesn’t matter; it’s the way you finish.
4 – The prize is bigger than the struggle
Paul ends these verses with a reminder that the prize is so much bigger than the struggles we might be experiencing or have experienced. The prize is from God who has called us heavenward in Jesus Christ.
In the moment, the struggle seems beyond our ablities to handle it. It’s that moment of not being able to see the forest for the tree that is in front of you. You might be overwhelmed and it might seem like all hope is lost. Yet, Paul says hang on and keep fighting because God’s bigger than what you are facing.
God can handle your anger, your pain and your struggle. God’s bigger than anything you face. And the prize at the end of this rest will make all of those other things pale in comparison.
Where are you in your journey? Are you straining to pull yourself forward or are you being pulled back into the past? It’s time to take the encouragement from Paul to forget what is behind and strain for what is ahead. It’s time to grab the prize that calls us to God through Jesus Christ.
ReigniteMyStory.com is based on the idea that every life story can be reignited when we reset it, renew it and redeem it. You can contact me with ideas, questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by following me on Twitter at @reignitemystory.