My baby turned 17 this week. He’s pretty much grown up, with just a year left in school. Where have the years gone? Back then, when he was just a little boy, I really didn’t think of these days. I didn’t have the time to wonder what it would be like when my kids grew up. So many experiences, so many thoughts, so many words, and today I wonder, did I say everything I need to say? Have I made the difference in his life that will propel him on to manhood and success, not only in this physical life, but in his spiritual life, as well?
While it is normal to ask these questions about life, to reminisce and evaluate, to take stock of what I have accomplished and what I have done, it is also important to let those evaluations make a difference in the person I will be. You see, all the retrospect I can muster means nothing if it doesn’t result in a changed life.
Where do you stand today? Are you looking back and wondering, “Where did the years go?” Are you considering the experiences of the past and either congratulating or chastising yourself for actions taken or not, words spoken or not? Often we are too busy to think about these things, but in the evening, when you are sitting still, how do you handle the thoughts of the past?
Paul, the apostle who had once been the persecutor of Christians, had much to remember about his past. He was well educated, taught God’s Word, knew many languages, and probably had even younger protégés who followed his every word. He had much to be proud of. Yet he also was a murderer clothed in the garb of religion, chasing those who believed in Christ and either arresting them or presiding over their stoning, as with Stephen.
When it comes to his accomplishments, Paul recognized that even his greatest accomplishment was nothing compared to Christ’s sacrifice.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).
The things I have done right while raising my children, the words I have spoken to loved ones and my neighbors, and all the achievements that adorn my resume—these are nothing compared to knowing Christ. If I find glory in my successes and lift them up to show who I am (except in a job interview), I risk ignoring the one thing that truly makes me successful, victorious, and strong in this life, the knowledge of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Likewise, when I look at that inventory and realize all the things I haven’t said, the things I haven’t done, and the things I have done wrongly, the inventory serves to accuse me and tear me down, dumping shame and guilt on top of my already bruised ego. I begin to live in the “If only I would have (or wouldn’t have).” I begin to bargain with God for resolution of things I should have taken care of long, long ago.
Paul also knew these feelings. He also recognized his failures in the past, and in the present. “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Romans 7:21-23). He knew the struggle of looking at one’s own life and regretting choices, thoughts, words, and actions.
The truth mentioned earlier, that our accomplishments are nothing compared to what Christ did for us and in us, applies here, as well. You see, just as glorying in our successes brings us pride and arrogance and tell us that we don’t need what God has to offer, so also wallowing in our failures and sins teaches us that even God cannot help us. You have heard the saying “the past is over, you can’t change it.” While true, there is something more to that.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). My friends, just as glorying in the past is wrong, so is wallowing in it, because there is One who takes the past and makes it new again, who takes all that we have said and done and weaves it together to make something new and precious.
Where are you today? Are you looking at your past and rejoicing in it or lamenting it? Instead, take a moment and give your past to the Lord, knowing that God makes all things new. To quote an old saying, “Today do your best and to God leave the rest.”