I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. Philippians 3:13 (NLT).
Looking backward can be a great hindrance to moving forward. Regret over past mistakes afflicts many people. Past victories and triumphs can also impede forward progress.
20th-century philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is value in learning lessons from our past, but nothing is gained by reliving or returning to our past lives.
Is there pain in your past that still hinders you? Have other people hurt you? Maybe you had a bad experience in church? Do you believe that sometime in your past, God has let you down?
These are all reasons, perhaps excuses, for the lack of forward progress.
Let Go of the Past
There is a story about a racecar driver. Before a race, he went over to his car and grabbed the rearview mirror, ripping it off. As he tossed it aside, he said, “what’s behind me is not important.” The problem with rearview mirrors is that they do not accurately reflect what is behind you. Many car mirrors have this warning imprinted: “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.” In other words, what we see behind us is distorted.
One of the most significant obstacles to moving forward is looking backward. It might be regret over past decisions, or it might be nostalgia in remembering “the good old days.” But, if you cannot let go of the past, you cannot enter fully into your future.
When Israel left Egypt in the Exodus after hundreds of years of slavery, it didn’t take them long to peek at the rearview mirror. The manna was not to their liking. In looking back, all they remembered was the food, not the slavery and oppression. They had a distorted view of their past.
Lot’s wife was famous for one thing. She looked back.
Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! Luke 17:32 (NLT)
It wasn’t just because Lot’s Wife turned around to get a good look at the destruction of Sodom, but many commentators believe that she turned around intending to return. Yes, Sodom was under God’s judgment, but it had been her home. Perhaps there were good memories. Not everything in the past is terrible, but it isn’t easy to progress if we focus on our history.
“You Can’t Go Home Again,” a novel by Thomas Wolfe, expresses the concept that if you try to return to a place you remember from the past, it won’t be the same as you remember it. The past is not an option. Going forward is the only way to progress.
…with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14 (NET)
We live in the tension of the present. There is a gravitational pull from the past which tries to draw us backward. God is calling us upward and forward. It is effortless to be trapped by the past. Whether it is victory or failure, we must have forward momentum to escape. Think about the phrasing that Paul uses in this passage: “I focus on this one thing,” “straining toward what is ahead,” and “I press on toward the goal.”
Escaping from the past requires intentionality. In the same way that a rocket requires thrust to reach orbit, we cannot afford to be confined in an earthly, carnal subsistence.
Not everything in the past is terrible, but it might be a distraction. Good or bad, too much attention on what is behind us makes it impossible to go forward.
We need encouragement to go all the way. We are not alone. At times, we may be unaware of those pulling for us to succeed, but they are there. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)
At times it won’t be easy. We will grow tired and weary, but not only is Jesus waiting for us at the finish line, but he is also with us every step of the way. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:2 (NLT)
Trophies are not handed out at the beginning of the race. To win the prize, we must finish. Paul said, “… my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me… Acts 20:24 (NIV). It would be nice to think that most people who start the Christian life will finish well, but sadly it is not supported by the evidence.
About four hundred individuals in the Bible were given leadership responsibilities, but only about 25 percent of them finished their lives in the will of God. That is, approximately one hundred of those leaders completed their journey on earth in a context of obedience to His will.
Undoubtedly, a failure to keep their eyes on the prize contributed to their defeat. Do not underestimate the value of encouragement. Cultivate an environment of encouragement. You may not need encouragement today, but tomorrow the story might be different. With the understanding that we will harvest what we plant, let us be generous in sowing encouragement to those around us.
We do not run our race alone. We must do our part to encourage each other not to be distracted by what is behind us and focus on the goal before us.
 Ron McManus, Effective Leadership : An Independent-Study Textbook, Second Edition (Springfield, MO: Global University, 2010), 36.