Brothers, 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.
Philippians 3:13 (NIV, 1978)
What is the “it” to which Paul is referring which he has yet to take hold of? The previous verses refer to Paul’s desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection as well as the pain of His suffering. Regardless of what he has already done for the sake of the Gospel, Paul clearly feels he is “not there yet” in this journey of faith in his quest for “it.” The illusive “it” of verse 13, when achieved, will result in the heavenly prize promised in verse 14. The key phrase, however, in our verse is more about the strategy of the journey than the prize itself.
There is a battle in Paul’s life in which he must be victorious if he is to attain the goal for which his very life exists. It is a clear and present struggle that is present in the lives of so many believers. He states that, in the midst of all of his responsibilities as a teacher, preacher, church planter, and lover of all believers, there is one singular priority that gives him perspective and focus for his life—forget the past and reach for what is ahead.
It’s a loose translation, but I once heard Pastor T. D. Jakes say, “We are starving the tomorrow’s dreams because we choose to feed only the memory of yesterday’s mistakes.” Paul’s resume was filled with extracurricular religious activities that he would just as soon forget. He had been a brutal persecutor of those who had begun to followed Jesus Christ. Only his encounter with the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus put his life’s mission on a different trajectory. But the memories remained of the person he used to be.
It may be true that our character is formed by our experiences of life—good and bad. But those experiences cannot be permitted to define who we are. I have often said, “Memory Lane is a great place to visit, but we just can’t live there.” Spiritual maturity comes when we learn to release our failures to Jesus so that we can reach forward to experience the victories that He has intended for each of us.