At my current stage of life and ministry (59 years old, 37 years of ministry). I often find myself thinking about “what was.” I think about activities I actively pursued at 25, when my mind says, “You can still do it, go for it,” but my body quickly rebels and loudly protests, “You fool!”
It is so easy to begin reflecting on the “good years” of ministry, good memories of “what was.” But tucked away with the good memories are the painful memories. Memories of hurt, betrayal, disappointment, voices of the past that seem to pop out of the memory bank unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient times.
“What was” can be so demanding of time and attention, the good memories of the past being compared to the present, “Oh I wish I was back there.” The sad memories, “That wasn’t fair, or right or I didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.” But the reality is we cannot go back there and life isn’t fair. Most of us don’t have the emotional energy and the spiritual fortitude to constantly focus on the “what was.” For me, when I allow my mind carte blanche to focus on “what was” it ends up like a black hole. That is not to say we should never examine the past, but there must be very clear mental boundaries in place before we entertain the memories of “what was.”
There is only one thing good about the past, and that is what we can learn from it. That must be the very clear plan and purpose for reflecting on the past. We must also have in place the filter of truth as we examine the “what was.” Truth is the foundation for which we can look at the past and learn from it. If you are looking at “what was” to learn from it, you need to, in advance, put a time limit on your reflection, because the longer you meditate on the past the more likely you are to allow the thoughts, feelings and emotions to rob you of the truth of learning from the past.
We are far better off to focus our time and attention on “what is” instead of “what was.” When we filter our thoughts, feelings and emotions through the truth of “what is,” our perspective of life changes. Our circumstances may not change, but how we view our circumstances radically changes.
In Dr. Robert McGee’s classic study The Search for Significance, he gives an example of “what is,” in my Identity in Christ.
“Because of Christ’s redemption, I am a new creation of great worth. I am fully pleasing, totally accepted by God and absolutely complete in Christ.”
That is “what is!” With that in mind let’s look at Philippians 3:13-14:
“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.”
No one talks to us more than we talk to ourselves; therefore, we better make sure we are telling ourselves the truth. “What is,” is far more important than “what was!”