By J.R. Miller
"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
Most people think that the way of successful living, is by acquisition, by getting things and keeping them, by accumulating and conserving. But it is by abandonment, by letting things go and leaving them behind--when they have fulfilled their purpose, that we really grow. Accumulation of worldly things, is not greatness. It is in being, not in having--that character consists.
Paul gives us in a remarkable sentence, a plan of life, a scheme of progress. He says it is by "forgetting the things which are behind--and stretching forward to things that are before," that we grow. As we ponder this, we see that this is the only true way to live. Childhood is very sweet and beautiful--but no one would want to stay a child always. The boy is not sorry when he feels himself growing into manhood. He seems to be leaving much behind--much that is amusing and attractive. Perhaps his mother grieves as she sees him losing one by one, the things she has always liked--his curls, his boyish ways, his delicate features, the qualities that kept him a child--and taking on elements of strength, marks of manhood.
But if he remained always a boy, a child with curls and dainty tastes, what a pitiful failure his life would be! He can press to the goal of perfection--only by putting away, letting go, leaving behind--the sweetness, the gentleness, the simplicity, the innocence of boyhood.
The same principle runs through all life. Manhood is stern, strong, heroic. It would seem that childhood is more beautiful. It is sweeter, daintier, more winsome. But who regrets passing from childhood's gentleness and attractiveness, to man's strength and ruggedness, and man's hard tasks?
Nazareth was easier by far to Jesus--than what came after--the homelessness, the long journeys, the enmities, the persecutions, the struggles, the sufferings. But when he left the carpenter shop and went to the Jordan to be baptized, thence to the wilderness to be tempted, and thence started on the way to his cross--was he sorry? No! He was eager to go forth from the quiet of his peasant home and his happy life among friends and neighbors in the little Galilean village, to enter upon the great work for which he had come into the world.
There are many intimations of this eagerness in the story of our Lord's life, as given in the gospels. He spoke of the baptism with which he must be baptized, and said that he was straitened until it would be accomplished. At another time he said: "We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; the night comes, when no man can work." At one time He and His disciples were on their way up to Jerusalem, Jesus pressed on before them so eagerly, that the disciples were amazed and awed, unable to understand His eagerness. He knew what awaited him at Jerusalem--but instead of holding back, He hastened on, impelled by a resistless desire to do His Father's will.
It would have been easier, knowing all the future--for Him to stay in His mother's home at Nazareth, working at His trade, and living a quiet life--than to go forth into the way of struggle, toil, and pain, which led to a cross! But He forgot the easy, pleasant things which were behind, and with joy entered on the harder way before Him as He pressed toward His goal. A word in the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that for the joy set before him--he endured the cross, despising the shame.
Just so, every true and worthy Christian rejoices to leave the ease and rest and comfort of the days of training and preparation, and proceed on to where the burdens are heavier, the paths steeper and rougher, and the thorns sharper!
It takes courage and resolution to continue ever moving away from our past. We would like to keep the things we have learned to love, and we do not want to break away from them. Some people are not willing to leave their sorrows behind. They never come out of the shadows of their griefs. They stay back with their dead. They do not wish to come away from the graves where they have buried their heart's treasures. They never forget their sorrows!
But this is not God's will for us. Of course we cannot forget love--that never can be our duty. We cannot but miss sweet companionships; we would be unloving, and disloyal to our heart's covenants, if we could. But there is a way of forgetting our griefs--in which we still keep all that is sacred of the friendships which have meant so much to us, and yet go on with joy and victory in our hearts, to a life all the richer and more beautiful because of our sorrow.
We should never leave behind us anywhere in life, in any experience, anything that is good and true. We are not living wisely, if we are losing anything out of our hands as we go on. In nature nothing is ever really lost. When wood is burned, its form is changed--but no particle of it is wasted. The blossom is not lost when it falls off, to make room for the coming of the fruit. The lovely things of childhood are not lost, when they are given up for the things that displace them. Whatever is beautiful stays in the life always--only the outward form perishes or changes.
We never can lose our friends. They may leave us as to their visible presence, passing from us so that we cannot see them any more; but what they were to us, is ours forever; what they did for us, the impressions they left upon us, the lessons they taught us, the touches they put upon our characters--these we never can lose.
Abandonment therefore is not losing. We only give up the husk while we keep the kernel. The flower fades--but its fragrance remains in our hearts, and its life is continued in the fruit which comes in the blossom's place. The song is forgotten--but its melody stays in our memory and its sweetness in our life. We leave the days behind us when we have lived them, and never can go over them again. But the gifts which the days brought us from God, the lessons which we learned from their experiences, it would be treason for us to forget, or to fail to carry with us.
We sometimes say, that if only we could live our past time over again--we would live it better. This is an unavailing yearning, for time never turns back. But we may live tomorrow as we would live today, if we could go over it a second time. That is a true use of our past--penitence over our mistakes and follies, and the learning of the lessons for the days that yet remain. "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions!" Ecclesiastes 7:10
So we may go on, giving up the things that are dear--but losing nothing that was good or worthy in them, forgetting the things that are behind--but passing ever to new things. Thus we shall ever go from good to better, from blossom to fruit, from hope to fruition, from prophecy to fulfillment!