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Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all done things in our past we’re not proud of. We’ve all made mistakes and bad choices, but whether we can forgive ourselves determines if we can move on with our lives or if we get trapped in the past. We see some people who constantly agonize over something they did wrong ten or twenty years ago, and we notice they keep reliving the pain all over again. Life is too short for that; we make more progress when we admit we made a mistake and stop beating ourselves up over it.
Our mindset determines how well we handle the inevitable mistakes in life. If others draw attention to something we did wrong, we don’t have to dwell on it; and if people who are feeling guilt or shame over something in their past try to shame us, we don’t have to accept it. An attitude that says “I have a past, but I don’t live there anymore” can help us. We can accept ourselves even though we know we’re not perfect. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:12, 13, NLT).
This was written by the apostle Paul, who had a compelling reason to focus on his future and put his past behind him. This was the same man who had persecuted Christians and approved of their murder (Acts 8:1-3), yet, after receiving Christ as his Lord and Savior, he was forgiven for his past. In spite of what Paul had done before, God used him in a powerful way; he wrote much of the New Testament. Paul had plenty of opportunities to let his past drag him down into guilt and condemnation, but when he encountered individuals who reminded him of his past sins, he continued to press forward.
We can love ourselves because God loved us first (1 John 4:19). This knowledge gives us the courage and strength to overcome whatever threatens to tie us to our past. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or even if whatever is shaming us is something for which we’re not responsible. Jesus forgave a woman with a questionable past (John 4:4-29), and He offers us the same forgiveness.
God wants the best for us, but looking back on the past causes us to focus on the wrong thing. Whatever we focus on is the thing to which we give strength, and focusing on hurtful things in our past blocks us from reaching the good that He envisions for us. Obsessing over something we did can paralyze us and blind us to future opportunities.
We can choose what things to consider. As free moral agents, we can either focus on the good or the bad. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:8, 9). Doing this gives us God’s peace.