They say the past is not what it used to be; nor is nostalgia! But it can be hard to get past the past, hard to shake off its hold – something we are well aware of in Northern Ireland.
At the weekend I was preaching about Paul’s famous statement in Philippians 3 about forgetting what lies behind and pressing on towards the goal. What did he mean? In what sense do we need to leave the past behind?
- Sometimes we look back at the past with a sense of nostalgia. The good old days when the summers were longer, the sun shone brighter, they played decent music on the radio, there were no old bits of chewing gum on the pavement, and your bank manager knew your name. Church folk look back to a time when the preachers were more godly, the sermons more powerful and the music more reverent.
- We can also look back with a sense of painful regret. A choice we made that we now wish we had made differently; an opportunity we missed or turned away from; something that fills us with shame every time we think of it. The dark secret.
- Or we look back with a sense of hurt. perhaps hurt at an injustice (real or imagined) that was done to us. We watch the reruns over and over and – like sports’ pundits – we analyse from every available perspective.
‘If only’ and ‘what if’ become parts of our inner vocabulary.
However longing for the past, wallowing in our regrets, or nursing our hurts will inevitably make us less effective in the present.
Real as all of these challenges are, I don’t think they are what Paul was thinking about in Philippians 3. I think he is reflecting back on things he has talked about earlier in the same chapter, specifically his religious heritage and his zealous pursuit of its cause. These things could have been a source of great pride for him: they had all been big pluses in the balance sheet of his life, but they had become nothing once he met Jesus who had become the passion of his life and the focus of his trust.
So his challenge is a challenge to those whose past is illustrious and whose achievements are the envy of everyone. Dare to forget that past and press on in knowing Jesus.