There are memories from our past that can hinder us from moving forward, and we need to let them go. The apostle Paul needed to let go of the past. He was an ardent Jew who kept all the requirements of the law and was zealous in persecuting the early church. Could he let go of his past?
There were other things he needed to let go. When he became a follower of Jesus he summarized his life experiences. “What anyone else dares to boast about-I am speaking as a fool-I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am more. (2 Corinthians 11:21-23) Knowing himself as he did it would be easy for Paul to assume that he was more committed to the cause of Christ than anyone else. He had to let this go and not allow pride to control his life.
Paul said “I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:14). It was an intentional effort on his part. He did not live in the past he let it go and kept moving forward. At the end of his life he would state “the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Now there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me but to all who love his appearing. (2Timothjy 4:6-8)
This is the promise of God for all who keep looking forward, letting go of the past and remain faithful to their calling as followers of Jesus Christ.
Imagine your life being so focused that only one thing in life really mattered. Most of us have many competing loyalties and our life feels scattered and fragmented.
In the Old Testament there is a story of a young Jewish woman named Esther. Her life was about “one thing”. At the time of Esther the Jews were living in exile in Persia. The ruler wanted to display his wife before all the guests at a prestigious banquet he was giving. She refused to be treated as an object and subsequently was banished. A search to replace the queen was conducted and eventually the king was attracted to this young Jewish woman Esther.
Now Esther had been raised by her uncle, Mordecai who told her to keep her family background a secret. A royal official, a man called Haman loved to be acknowledged by the masses and he expected everyone to bow before him whenever he went into public, however one man Mordecai refused to bow in his presence. This infuriated Haman to such a degree that he formed a plan to exterminate all the Jews.
Mordecai, Esther’s uncle approached her and told her she was the one hope for the entire nation for only she could change the mind of the king. In fact even though she was the queen, her life would not be spared because she too was Jewish. Then Mordecai spoke to Esther words that have resonated throughout the centuries: “Who knows but that you have come to this royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Suddenly her life became focused: it was all about one thing-saving a nation.
Most are not called to save a nation but our life can be focused. What is the focus of your life? Do you need to get rid of some “stuff” in order to be focused? Ask God to give you the insight you need.
A lot of people live in the past and at times we hear them say, “what if” or “if only.”
If we allow the past to be the present focus of our life, we simply live out our days reminiscing or moaning about our failures or lost opportunities and we never look forward. Steve Jobs at 30 was fired from Apple. In 2005 he spoke of his experiences at the commencement exercise at Stanford University. This is what he said.
“I didn’t see it then but getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by a lightness of beginning again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like this: “if you live each day as if it were your last, someday you will most certainly be right.”
For the next 33 years Jobs asked himself every day this question, “if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am doing today?”
Living in the present is about the here and now, making the most of the opportunities that are before you. The Apostle Paul was a forward looking person. He wrote:
“One thing I do, forgetting the past, I press on 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 3:12-14)
How wonderful it is to be able to live in this way. Today make the commitment that you will live this day to the full.
There are many things in life that are hard to let go. It may be our plans, our family, our possessions or even our life. As I write this chapter it is during the season of Lent; a time when many people let of certain practices in order to focus on spiritual issues in their life. Notice how hard it is to give some things up. Imagine going for an entire day without use of your cell phone or checking your email. Some are going into withdrawal just thinking about such an idea.
Try this simple exercise. Take a coin and hold it in your hand and clench your fist. Hold it tight until your knuckles are white. Have you ever noticed how often people actually live this way? We make statements such as “I am trying to hold on.” “I am struggling to get a grip.” We perceive life as a struggle and we are desperately trying to cope as best we can.
Now slowly open your clenched fist and feel the feelings of relief as you allow the blood to rush back into your fingers. In our life of faith when we learn to let go, when we are no longer struggling, we discover that a sense of peace and calmness comes over us.
In the bible there are many examples of people who had to learn to let go. Jacob on of the two sons of Isaac was known not the most upright individual. He had plans to get ahead no matter what it cost him. He deceived his elderly, blind father into giving him the blessing that should have gone to the elder brother Esau. Consequently he had to run for his life for Esau sought to kill him for what he had done. Jacob eventually settled in Haran married, had a family and prospered. However his father inlaw Laban, did not like Jacob. He believed Jacob was stealing from him and Laban’s sons stated “ Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” (Genesis 31: 1) Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him had changed.
It was time to leave and go home. Forty years had passed since Jacob had last seen his brother Esau. On the journey home Jacob rested one night by the river Jabbok. A through the night Jacob wrestled with God. During the struggle God touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that he was incapacitated. It was at this pint in the struggle Jacob cried out to God to bless him. The blessing of God was the most important thing to him. It was more important than possessions or fame or power or prestige. But Jacob had to let go of all his previous plans if he was to receive the blessing of God.
Mary was a young woman who had plans that were radically changed. She was a young teenage woman engaged to Joseph a carpenter. I am sure she had plans of life together. They would have a home, raise children and live an ordinary life. All that changed when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel told her that God had found special favour with her and she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Further more the child she would bear had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary thought about this. Her life would radically change. What would Joseph think? What would her parents say? How would the small community to which she belonged react? She would have to trust God in all of this. It would be an incredible challenge for a young woman to face. Yet as Mary contemplated all that had been spoken into her life she made this amazing statement “ I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary was willing, no matter the personal cost to let go of her plans and surrender her life into the will of God.
The most profound example of letting go was seen in the life of Jesus. It began with his incarnation when he left the glory of heaven, came to earth as a baby, grew up as a young man, became a servant and died on a cross. The apostle Paul expressed it in this manner “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 6-8)
At the end of his life Jesus would let go. Prior to his arrest, judgment and crucifixion, Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Knowing what was ahead he fervently prayed that the Father would find some other way for him. His prayer that night is really a prayer that we need to learn as we surrender our life into the hands of God. Translator J.B.Phillips brings the prayer into focus “Dear Father …all things are possible to You. Let me not have to drink this cup! Yet it is not what I want, but what You want.” The prayer was not answered in the way Jesus wanted
Author Richard Foster writes: “here we have the incarnate Son praying through his tears and not receiving what he asks. Jesus knew the burden of unanswered prayer. He really did want the cup to pass, and he asked that it would pass. “If you are willing” was hiss questioning, his wondering. The Father’s will was not absolutely clear to him. “Is there some other Way?” “Can people be redeemed by some different means?” The answer- no!” (1)
This prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is a pattern for us. He could have avoided the cross. He could have compromised with the priests, bargained with the High Priest. Pilate wanted to release him and tried to get Jesus to say the correct words so that this ‘innocent’ man could go free. In the Garden on the night of his betrayal, Jesus had enough time to flee from the Roman soldiers. However he used his free will to turn the decision over to His Father.
As we think about these three different stories we discover some insight into letting go. Richard Foster in his book ‘Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home’ describes the prayer of Jesus as the Prayer of Relinquishment, which he says is a “grace filled releasing or our will and a flowing into the will of the Father.” (2)
This act of relinquishment, this letting go, is not easy. There is struggle. Look at the three biblical examples. Jacob wrestled for an entire night before he would receive the blessing of God. Mary wondered about the saying of the angel and was somewhat puzzled . How could she a virgin bear the son of God? As she ‘pondered’ all these things she came to the resolute decision to do as God asked of her. And Jesus in the garden repeatedly asked the Father to remove the cup. This was an issue he struggled with for the entire night of prayer. In learning to let go and to pray the prayer of Relinquishment, struggle is a significant element.
The late Catherine Marshall wrote that this prayer is not one of resigning ourselves to fate but rather it is an act of acceptance. “There is a crucial difference between acceptance and resignation. There is no resignation in the prayer of relinquishment. Resignation says, “This is my situation, and I must resign myself and settle down to it.” Resignation lies down in the dust of a godless universe and steels itself for the worst. Acceptance says “ True, this is my situation at the moment. I’ll look unblinkingly at it. But I’ll also open up my hands to accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends.” Thus acceptance never slams the door of hope. (3)
So hope is always present in the prayer of Relinquishment. We learnt to trust in the character of God. Foster writes “ Even when all we see are the tangled threads on the backside of life’s tapestry, we know that God is good and is out to do us good always. That gives us hope to believe that we are the winners, regardless of what we are being called to relinquish. God is inviting us deeper in and higher up. There is training in righteousness, transforming power, new joys, deeper intimacy.” (4)
So the apostle Paul would write about Jesus
In the 13th century Richard of Chichester wrote a prayer that was popularized in the song “Day by Day”. It was a prayer that expressed three factors to help us grow closer to God.
“ Thanks be to you , O Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us;
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May we know you more CLEARLY
Love you more DEARLY
And follow you more NEARLY
For your own sake.”
The first aspect of the prayer is to know Christ more clearly. This is much more than propositional truth. The apostle Paul’s prayer to the church in Ephesus expresses this truth. “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you , the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparable power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
The second aspect of the prayer is love God more dearly. The more we understand what God has done for us the more our hearts will overflow with love toward Him. John wrote “We love because he first loved us.’ (1John 4:19) As we know God more we love him more.
The final aspect of the prayer is that we would follow him more nearly. Following God is based upon trusting him completely. Even if he asks us to follow him through challenging and difficult situations we know that he only has our greater good in mind. Ken Boa stated “Obedience to Christ is the way we test and express our abiding relationship with him.”
Have you ever felt disillusioned with life? The writer of Ecclesiastes sometimes referred to as the philosopher felt disillusioned. He wrote,
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2: 10-11)
It is obvious that the writer was frustrated. He did not find satisfaction through intellectual pursuits, pleasures or projects he undertook and completed. No matter what we do there remains a deep longing within each person to know God intimately and without this there will be a deep dissatisfaction and disconnect.
Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons and the younger asked his father to give him the portion of the family estate that belonged to him. Without hesitation the father granted his request and the young man went away and eventually spent everything that he had on things that he thought would give him enjoyment. Suddenly he discovered that he had nothing. No friends, no money, no dignity, all was gone. It was at this point that he came to his senses and wanted to return home. When he did he discovered that his father welcomed him with open arms.
The father showed him extravagant love. That is what we need. We don’t thrive on ‘stuff’ we have accumulated rather we are meant for deep relationships. Without this everything else will disappoint us.
Oswald Chamber once said that a life of intimacy with God is characterized by joy.
When God created the first person, what distinguished him from the rest of creation was that he was created in the image of God. In other words he had the capacity to connect with God and to reflect God’s presence in the world.
This reality is revealed in the story of Adam and Eve. When God created them to live in the Garden of Eden, they had a wonderful relationship with God, with each other and with the created order around them. God told them that everything was there for their use and enjoyment, but the tree in the center of the garden they were not to touch of its fruit. Daily they enjoyed communion with God until that fateful day when they took of the forbidden fruit and ate it.
That evening the couple heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden and they hid from his presence. God called out, “Where are you?” It was not a question about their physical location but about their relationship with God. They were designed for intimacy with God, but now they were hiding from God.
Hiding from God has been the stance of humanity from that time until the present. God desires to be in a relationship with us, but we are living apart from God, and when that happens we discover how lonely and meaningless life can be.
Many do not seem to realize the power of their words. Some of our words may crush a person’s spirit, or step on a dream, or fill people with resentment, or make people afraid. On the other hand when we say the right words someone may realize they are loved, or they may receive guidance, or they may discover hope when they are about to give up.
The writer of Proverbs has some interesting things to say about our words.
The first thing to notice is that we should not be hasty when we speak. “Do you see a person who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than that person.” (Proverbs 29:20) In other words wise people do not speak too quickly, they think before they speak because they realize that a lot of misunderstanding can occur in our communication. So when the subject is sensitive or you are in conflict or you want to express deep concern for another, take time to think before you speak. The writer of Proverbs states “Even fools are thought to be wise if they keep silent.” (Proverbs 17:28)
But we need to be aware that our words can be very powerful. The writer states “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) Gold and silver a very precious elements. This proverb reveals how valuable our words are if they are spoken at the right time, to the right person, in the right spirit.
This week think about the words you speak, are they helpful or hurtful? Remember this, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)
Alice in the book Alice in Wonderland asked the Cheshire cat, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” says the cat. “I don’t much care where,” says Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” says the Cat.
So what is your journey like? Have you ever thought about your final destination? The journey is not always easy, in fact the Apostle Paul tells us there will be many challenges, obstacles and difficulties but we are urged to press on and not be discouraged. He pictured life as a race that needs to be completed and as he came to the end of his life he would be able to declare “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous Judge will award to me on that day and not only to me but to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:7-8
As you run the race of life do you keep your focus on the destination? Will you stay the course? Will you arrive safely? Every day is an opportunity to stay focused and to keep the end of the journey in mind as you take the next step.
Its summer time and many people are making plans for a “Road Trip”. This is an opportunity to explore the countryside and meet new people. Have you ever though about life as a “Road Trip”? In fact life is often spoken of as a ‘Journey’. There is a famous Irish blessing that states:
“May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rains fall softly upon your fields.
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
The road trip of life has many twists and turns and one never knows what to expect when you go around the corner. One thing we need to realize is that this journey is not as long as we might expect it to be. The Psalmist wrote “Show me, O Lord my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreath; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath…man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now Lord what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39: 4-7)
The prophet Isaiah contrasted the temporal with the eternal using a different metaphor. He said” All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)
These two writers are telling us that life is shorter than most of us realize. So as we are on the ‘Journey’ it is important to appreciate each day and to live it to the full being focused on that which will last forever rather than being preoccupied with things that are temporal. Life is shorter than most of us realize.