Put the Past Behind You

Randy FrazeeBy Randy Frazee10 Minutes

Excerpt taken from The Joy Challenge: Discover the Ancient Secret to Experiencing Worry-Defeating, Circumstance-Defying Happiness by Randy Frazee


Paul introduced us to the next joy principle by writing, “Not that I have already obtained all this.” All what? In the last chapter, Paul increased his joy by reevaluating what really matters. He made the decision to cut his losses on his previous way of life, which was performance-based, and shift to a position-based model, which put all his eggs in the basket of knowing Jesus. A seismic shift from “what you do” to “who you know.”

Paul’s new modus operandi was daily plumbing the depths of this relationship. He was looking into the face of Jesus and seeing the sparkle in Jesus’ eyes for him. This was sending his joy levels through the roof despite his circumstances, other people, and even his past. When he wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this,” Paul was saying, “I haven’t gotten to the bottom of all this relationship offers.” It is likely impossible in this life to do so. Dr. Hawthorne added, “To know the incomprehensible greatness of Christ demands a lifetime of arduous inquiry.”[i] Paul hadn’t gotten there yet, but he wanted to because each step closer increased his experience with this indescribable inner contentment and sense of purpose.

So, Paul “pressed on.” This word in the Greek is the language of the hunter. It means “to pursue,” “to hunt down,” “to chase.” This is what Jesus did with Paul. He hunted him down on the road to Damascus in pursuit of a personal relationship with him (Acts 9:1–19). Paul then wanted to pursue Jesus like Jesus pursued Paul. He was singing the song of the psalmist: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” (Psalm 42:1). This was all about growing in his relationship with Christ. He was satisfied that he had a relationship with Jesus but not with his walk in Jesus. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “A sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential to progress in the Christian race.”[ii] Paul wanted more of what was available in Christ, so he was going after it with gusto.

With his goal clearly and passionately set, he wrote, “But one thing I do . . .” (v. 13). I don’t know about you, but I love that sense of extreme focus and determination. Instead of getting paralysis from analysis, he bypassed all the complexity and made his decision: “This will be my singular focus.”

So, what is the “one thing” Paul was going to zero in on in order to get to know Christ better so he could increase his joy? Well, it has two parts to it. We will cover the second action step in our next chapter. The first actionable item in his decision tree is “forgetting what is behind . . .” This is an essential principle for the successful runner. When a runner looks behind them as they race, they decrease their pace by 28 percent.[iii] And you know what happens when you reduce your pace by 28 percent—you lose the race. This same truth applies in everyday life, particularly our spiritual life. When we keep looking behind us, it slows our progress toward the main goal. We’ve got to stop doing that. So, our next principle to increase our joy is to put the past behind us.

When Paul said he was forgetting what was behind, he did not mean he was failing to remember. In reality, it is impossible to forget our past. Plus, it is helpful to remember our past, because it is a great teacher. What hurts us the most, often teaches us the most. We all have a past filled with pain, hurt, betrayal, broken promises, illnesses, death, trauma, and poor decisions. The key is not to waste the value of our past while also not getting stuck there. Someone once said, “He who doesn’t learn from his past is doomed to repeat it.”

I once had a favorite coffee mug. I drank every cup of coffee out of this mug. One day, a member of my staff accidently hit it and it fell to the ground, smashing into a million pieces (okay, maybe thirty pieces). I know you are not supposed to cry over spilled milk, but this was more than milk; this was my valued mug that contained the milk. That seemed different to me.

The next day, I went out of town. When I came back a week later, to my surprise, the mug was back on my desk. It was put back together with gold-colored glue and came with a note of apology and explanation. The Japanese art form called kintsugi puts broken pieces back together with gold, reminding us that we all have imperfections and flaws in our story but, if we have the right perspective, we can see how our brokenness can make us stronger, better, and even a more beautiful, empathetic person. We need to let the past be our teacher. Paul was definitely for this.

Paul had a lot in his past to leave behind. First, he had to get past his successes. Maybe you’ve heard the old adage “He climbed the ladder of success, only to find the ladder leaning against the wrong wall.” There is nothing wrong with success, but if it leads you to the wrong place, you have to climb down the ladder and not look back. The same is true for us. We can become shackled by our successes.

For some of us, it led us up the wrong ladder. Our success is unidimensional rather than multidimensional.[iv] We have a sense of purpose that comes from our work, but we acquired it at the cost of our health and our relationships—not good. Climb down, learn from it, and move on.

For others, we have let our past successes form a layer of pride and arrogance in us. For years now, we may not have picked up on it, but others have. And they really don’t like being around us unless they have to (like to get a paycheck or because they are related to us). Climb down, learn from it, and move on.

For others, our past successes have caused us to think our best days are behind us. This is true for many older people. We find ourselves waking up without any compelling goals for the day. We have given up. We have put our life in neutral. Our past successes have crippled us, hurt us, or hurt others. We need to learn from them and then move on.

Paul also had to get past the things he had done wrong. His persecution, imprisonment, and even execution of Christians had to stand out above them all. Given how his relationship with Jesus meant absolutely everything to him now, you can imagine how hard this was to overcome so he could experience the forgiveness of God. It is one thing for God to forgive us; it is another thing for us to forgive ourselves.

[i] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 43 (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 151.

[ii] Hawthorne, Philippians, 105.

[iii] Olga Khazan, “Running Faster by Focusing on the Finish Line,” Atlantic, January 20, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/running-faster-by-focusing-on-the-finish-line/384653/.

[iv] Dan Baker, What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better (New York: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2003), 224.

Adapted from The Joy Challenge. Copyright © 2024 by Randy Frazee. Published by Thomas Nelson. Out May 7, 2024, wherever books are sold.

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