"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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14).
Sometimes when we suffer, we get hung up in looking back . . . back to a time before the pain began . . . back to a time when life was simpler . . . back to the moment when we made a bad decision and would give anything for the chance to do it over.
Sometimes we tend to dwell on the past, mulling over what we should have done differently in order to avoid our present pain. We think that perhaps if we had obeyed God when He tried to get our attention on a matter, or perhaps if we had sought God more heartily when we were happier, then we wouldn't be suffering now.
But looking backward is a double-edged sword—it has the potential to become either a blessing or a curse, depending on how long we allow our thoughts to linger.
Life, for everyone, is filled with mistakes. But God, in His mercy, grants second chances (and thirds, and fourths, etc.). Mercy calls us to look back just long enough to repent, if we need to, and to LEARN so that we can move forward. But looking back through the lens of regret is a snare of the enemy designed to block our progress.
We can learn more about looking back from a few examples in Scripture:
....Before God sent judgment upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, He sent two angles to lead Lot and his wife to safety. The angels warned them not to look back; however, Lot's wife did look back, and she instantly turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:23-26).
....When God delivered the Hebrew children from Egypt and they encountered a time of testing in the wilderness, their hearts began to look back...to long for the food they had formerly eaten. With this God was displeased. Inevitably the Hebrews were unable to enter the Promised Land because they refused to look forward in faith. (Numbers 11:1-6).
....When the teachers and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, hoping He would punish her, instead Jesus forgave her and said, "Go, and leave your life of sin." (John 8:1-11). In other words: MOVE FORWARD NOW.
FOREGET WHAT IS BEHIND
If anyone had reason to look back and regret, it was the Apostle Paul who had persecuted the church of Christ, ordering Christians to their deaths. Later, Paul beseeched God to remove a painful "thorn" from his side, but God refused, reminding Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul to move forward. What if Paul had taken God's refusal as a sign that he was not forgiven? That he was unuseable? That he wasn't right with God?
Instead Paul embraced God's words in faith and continued to move forward with the work God had called him to. Had Paul done otherwise, he would have missed out on the high calling of writing what would eventually become a major portion of the New Testament.
We will never be able to move forward in our lives until we are first able to move forward in our minds, accepting our trials not as obstacles that hold us back, but as opportunities to discover the grace of God.
"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." (2 Corinthians 7:10).