Around the New Year, people naturally take time to reflect on what happened over the past year, the good and the bad, and wait with excited anticipation for a new year, a clean slate and a fresh start. But for many, the recent storms they have endured or the mistakes they have made have left them feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Instead of moving forward into the new season with confident expectation, their set of circumstances has derailed them. They are no longer excited about life, but are stuck on the sidelines in a thick cloud of condemnation and defeat. Does that ring a bell? I want to encourage you; there is hope!
One man in scripture learned an important lesson that we all can glean from. His name was the Apostle Paul. Before he was an apostle, he persecuted followers of Christ and even stood by and held the coats of the religious leaders that stoned Stephen, one of the most dynamic Christian leaders of the early church, to death. Paul’s zeal did not stop there; he went from town to town looking for Christians to throw into prison simply because they followed Christ. One day as he was on his way to Damascus to persecute more of them, he encountered the risen Christ and finally understood that he was fighting against God, not for him. Paul could have let the shame and guilt of his past keep him from receiving the good things God wanted to do in and through him, but he did not. Instead, he received God’s forgiveness and learned to keep his past in the past. He pressed on toward the good things God wanted to do in his life. He said this sometime after his conversion, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14 NLT). In other words, the Apostle Paul was telling the Philippian church to shake off the past. Do not let it keep you discouraged and beaten down. Press on and fulfill the good plan that God has for you.
We should be like-minded. We need to quit listening to the condemning voices of the Enemy and other people. We need to know that in Christ we are made new and can have a fresh start, a new beginning. The Bible teaches us that his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). When we get knocked down, we dust ourselves off and get back up and receive his grace and mercy (Proverbs 24:16). God is not expecting us to be perfect. If he was, he would not have sent his Son to bridge the gap between sinful man and himself! God came to redeem the sick and broken; people that needed a Savior. We are candidates for his grace! The Apostle Paul also mentioned that he “pressed on” to reach the end. This means there was energy required on his part to move forward. It was not an easy road for him and it will not be one for us either. Do not be surprised if you face opposition or challenges; it is all part of it. The Bible says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4 NLT). Challenges and trials are actually used by God for our good. They help develop and prepare us so that we can be used by God to our fullest capacity. So be encouraged and know that God is with you through every trial. He is watching over you with tender care, but is ever cautious not to interrupt the test before it accomplishes its purpose within you! While enduring, do not give up. At the appointed time you will reap a harvest. Even when you fall down and make a mistake or two… or more, get up. Dust yourself off and receive his grace (Proverbs 24:16).
Let this be the year where you move forward with God’s plan for your life. Shake off the past regret and negative voices and press on toward the dreams God has given you. Make a determined effort to take steps toward them in 2013.
Cory serves as a missionary with Destiny Rescue (destinyrescue.org) in Thailand. Contact him at email@example.com.