Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tense About the Past, or Thinking Future Tense?

Like it or not, we’re creatures – and captives – of time. We live in the present, one moment at a time, but can choose either to dwell on the past or anticipate and plan for the future. Where we focus our attention makes a great difference.

Setting sail toward the future is
far more productive than
sitting still on the beach.
As a friend of mine has observed, "You can't bring back the past, but you can make the best of the future." Entrepreneurs understand this well. Rather than taking the safe route of working for someone else and receiving a certain paycheck, entrepreneurs risk failure – and sometimes experience it – while pursuing their dreams. The secret is not allowing the memories of those failures to preoccupy their thoughts.

Inventors realize this, too. Think of Thomas Edison and the incandescent light bulb. Those that dreamed up the “horseless carriage.” Or the person whose brainchild was a nifty device called Velcro. They certainly encountered failure repeatedly before stumbling on the needed solutions, but didn’t let the past become a repressive enemy. Instead, it became a springboard for their success.

It’s often been said that the only true failure is failing to learn from the past. Not learning from the past in many cases destines us to repeat it. The past can be a great teacher, but it makes a poor constant companion.

Some of us find ourselves paralyzed by “woulda,” “shoulda,” and “coulda.” You know: “I wish I woulda done something different.” “I shoulda chosen that instead.” “If only I coulda had another opportunity.” All three focus on the undoable past rather than the yet-to-be-determined future.

Without question, we all have moments or even seasons of our lives we regret, but until someone discovers how to build a time machine, there’s nothing we can do to undo what’s done. And even with a time machine, some theorize, to change anything in the past could very well rend asunder the fabric of time. So instead, concentrating on the promising future is a brighter, healthier perspective.

The apostle Paul embraced this reality. If anyone did, Paul had much about which to feel remorseful – leading the persecution of followers of Jesus; being a passive participant in the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr; arrogantly opposing all who embraced the teachings of Christ and believed Him to be God in the flesh.

But then, after a dramatic encounter with Jesus through a vision on the road to Damascus, Paul became one of His most ardent disciples. He could have dwelt on his vicious and tragic past, but after experiencing the grace and mercy of Christ, rightly chose instead to give his complete attention to the future, serving his Savior and Lord with unparalleled zeal.

Writing to believers in Philippi, Paul said, Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

His determination not to let a regrettable past master him, but rather to keep the future foremost in his mind, was underscored when Paul wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes through strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

That should serve as an example for us all. Are you haunted by failed relationships, unrealized hopes and dreams, regrettable words and actions? Let the past rest in the grave of history. 

Keep our eyes on the prize, resolved to faithfully serve and represent the God we worship. Moving toward the future, rather than constantly gazing what’s gone on before, is a safer and healthier way of proceeding through this life.

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