Finishing Strong – Forget The Past

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It’s hard to believe its November already! We’re about to put 2013 to rest. In one sentence, how would you describe the year 2013?

When we began this year, we said this is our year to Occupy! Which means – to confidently take ownership in every area that God has assigned to us – whether in our faith, in our family relationships, in our health, in our finances and in our calling to impact society.  As we come towards the end of the year, it’s a good time to evaluate ourselves. How have we run our race so far? How can we finish strong, not just in the year but in every area of our life? How can we finish strong in our journey of life and of faith? That’s what we want to look at this month.

As you know, it’s far easier to start than to finish! Many of us can think of different projects that we started with great zeal but ran out of steam in the middle. There are three ways that leaders in the bible finished their life journey;

There were those who Never Finished They had great potential when they began but at some point, something happened, they lost sight of why they were running and quit before they finished. Such leaders include Samson and Saul. Despite their great potential, they came to a tragic end.

Then there were those who Finished Limping. They ran the first part of their race well but then somewhere along the road; they took detours and shortcuts that kept them from being fully effective. Such leaders include Eli, Gideon and Solomon. Even though they finished, it was a weak finish.

But there is a last group that Finished Strong. They completed what God gave them to do. Even though they weren’t perfect, they enjoyed deepening intimacy with God throughout life. People like Abraham, Moses, David and Paul. They never stopped learning and growing, even as mature leaders.

Here’s a sobering statistic… Dr. J. Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, estimates that only 30% of leaders in the Bible finished strong! Only one in three biblical leaders fully cooperated with God over the long haul and completed their life journey well. Only a handful earned the right to echo Paul’s words in 2 Tim. 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

One of the biggest hindrances to finishing strong in life is our past. For some of us, through no fault of our own, you had a terrible start. You grew up in a broken home, divorced parent, poverty, alcoholism and single parenting are deeply etched in your family tree. You’re the one supporting your parents and siblings. And you’ve faced so many obstacles even to get to where you are. Others of us started okay but then life happened. You got pregnant while still in school, you’ve not been able to get or keep a job, your business went under, you’ve got recurrent health issues, you went through a divorce, or you are struggling with hidden addictions or insecurities. And it’s like your past constantly comes back to haunt you. How do you finish strong when you have so much going against you?

But surprisingly, it’s not just past pain that’s a problem. For some people, the problem of their past is a problem of success. Past success, affirmation and progress can actually become your greatest hindrance to finishing strong. You were always first in your class, you were a great sportsman, and you were always popular… You like to talk about the good old days. Such success is so sweet that you want to stay there even if God has greater things for you in the future. You see until we release the past, we can never embrace the future.

So how can we keep our past from destroying our future? This month I want us to look at the words of a man who knew what it was to have a past. Saul of Tarsus, who later became the apostle Paul, wrote these great words about finishing strong and I sense that as we come to the end of this year, these are important words for all of us to reflect on.

Philippians 3:12-14

Paul has just been in the middle of describing the greatness of following Christ when he catches himself and says, ‘you know, I’m not there yet!’ When we think of the apostle Paul, the man who preached about Jesus across much of the Middle East and Europe, the man who wrote the New Testament, this poster-child Christian, it’s easy to forget that he had quite a past! Paul had been a holier than thou, legalistic Pharisee, the type that Jesus often preached against. To make matters worse, he was so opposed to the followers of Christ that he felt it was his God-given mission to rid the world of them. In many ways, Paul had been a modern-day Al Shabaab terrorist. He felt that God wanted people like him to kill all infidels. And kill them he did! Things were so bad that when he finally became a Christian and tried going to church, people ran away from him because they couldn’t believe a guy like him could change!

So here was a man whose past could easily sabotage his future. But it didn’t. And he shares with us what his secret was. According to Paul, one of the most important keys to finishing strong, one of the most important keys to not allowing your past to sabotage your future is ‘forgetting what is behind’. What does he mean by that? Let’s first begin with two things that forgetting is NOT. Forgetting is not…

a) Forgetting Is Not AmnesiaForgetting in the way that it is used here doesn’t mean a general amnesia… that somehow I no longer remember. Many times your past is so significant that it won’t go away from your memory just like that. You can try to forget – by drinking alcohol or by going out to ‘have fun’ and so on. But all such things can do is dull your memory for a little while. Paul isn’t talking about amnesia.

b) Forgetting Is Not AvoidanceForgetting doesn’t mean avoiding the past or pretending it never happened. Simply omitting the past and pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t change the fact that it happened! Putting your head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich only makes you a person in denial.

So what does Paul mean when he says, ‘forgetting what is behind’? Here’s what I think he’s saying. I believe Paul means inviting Jesus to make your past count for your future. Everything in my life, good or bad, can be turned around for God’s purposes. Life may not make sense; you may not have all the answers. But here’s the thing you need to know; God can turn your past into a present for your future!

That’s what God did for Paul, the man with a past. Think about it…

He was a legalistic Pharisee (Phil 3) – it gave him the qualifications to interpret the Old Testament and show that Jesus had come to fulfill it…

He violently opposed Jesus (Acts 26) – it helped him understand those who rejected the message of Jesus

He locked up Christians in jail (Acts 26) – it helped him to be strong the many times he was thrown in jail

He swas thm refuse to renounce their faith (Acts 26) – this later prepared him to never renounce his faith despite the challenges and persecution He faced

He saw them dying bravely as they defended their faith  (Acts 26, 8) – this prepared him face the certainty of his own death with peace and even joy.

God turned the experiences in his past, as terrible as they were, into something that blessed his future! God can turn your past into a present for your future! 

That situation we’re talking about might be right now – your business hasn’t turned around, that relationship has only gotten worse, that prayer was not answered, you still haven’t found a job. Be encouraged! God can turn your past into a present for your future!

Any serious runner needs good gear if they want to finish their race.

·      Running shoes – every runner needs good shoes. Shoes represent where you’ve been… all your experiences – good or bad. The ones you enjoyed and even the ones you wish did not happen. God is able to turn your experiences around so they work out for your good.

·      Watch – marks time for you. The watch represents all the opportunities you’ve come across so far – listen, God can turn around even your wasted opportunities so that they help you finish strong

·      Water bottle –you need water to run! Water represents your resources – some of you have had an abundance of resources this year while some have really struggled. But God is able to use even that scarcity and lack of resource to grow your trust in Him so that you finish strong.

·      Bandage – a bandage is part of your first aid kit. The bandage represents health and wellbeing. For those who have struggled with lack of good health, God may actually use those physical challenges and limitations to make strengthen you and help you finish strong!

·      Medal – of course a medal is what I hope to get at the end of all this. The medal represents your hopes and aspirations. Some of you have seen your hopes fulfilled while others have not. But God is able to take even your frustrated hopes and strengthen you to finish strong.

God can turn your past into a present for your future!

So how can you position yourself meanwhile so that your past doesn’t sabotage your future? How can you do what Paul challenges us to do; ‘forgetting what is behind?’

Acknowledge your Past: Whenever situations confront you about your past, don’t pretend or lie or avoid. Be straightforward about it and accept it. But even as you accept it, acknowledge that God is in the process of transforming you. This is who I was! I’m not what I’d like to be but I’m sure not what I used to be!

Bring it to Jesus: Your past may have been traumatic, painful or disappointing. Present it to God in prayer. Talk to Him and be real with your feelings about it. Then allow God to speak into that past through His Word.

Communicate Responsibility: Start using language of responsibility and embracing the future. Remove the language of regret or blame from your vocabulary. This gives someone else power over your future.

Declare God’s Goodness: There’s something about the power of a positive confession. Psalm 42 was written while David was running away from Saul. None of his plans were panning out. It seemed his life would be wasted in the desert. At that point he hit rock bottom. He writes about crying tears day and night. People around him ridiculing him and asking ‘so where’s this God of yours that you talk about?’ He felt so alone, thinking how far he had fallen. But right there, in the middle of his difficulties, he says something remarkable. [Psalm 42:5 why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God’.] He may not have felt the presence of God, but He declared what he knew to be true. And in that moment, something changed on the inside. He was no longer a victim of his past and his circumstances. Nothing may have changed on the outside but inside, He knew He was not alone, and that gave him the strength to carry on.

You need to make a positive confession of God’s goodness. Yes you are speaking by faith. Yes your past seems to overwhelm your future. But you KNOW deep inside that God can turn your past into a present for your future! And so forgetting what is behind… stop declaring negative things over your life. Quit speaking the language of regret. Instead, declare that God will deliver you in His time – and it will be something beautiful. Declare that with His help you WILL finish strong.

Let’s practice declaring God’s promises over our lives…

When things seem to go from bad to worse, this is what you declare aloud ‘and in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28)

When you feel like you won’t make it, declare aloud – ‘He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion in Christ Jesus’ (Phil.1:6)

When you feel like God has abandoned you, declare it – ‘He will never leave me nor forsake me!’ (Hebrews 13:5)

When you feel like you are doomed by bad luck, speak it out – ‘Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in His house forever!’ (Psalm 23:6)

God will turn my past into a present for my future!

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15 Responses to “Finishing Strong – Forget The Past”

  1. Reblogged this on judithodongo and commented:
    What a sermon!

    Like

  2. calebbetta Says:

    “It has been a topsy turvy year for myself and I believe as a country”

    We had our highs and our lows. Jubilee year they said…am standing by faith that the year will end on a HIGH for myself and others who have had a not so great year of Jubilee.

    God bless y’all

    Like

  3. calebbetta Says:

    Reblogged this on The God I serve and commented:
    Finish 2013 strong!! I will…

    Like

  4. victorious already Says:

    encouraging, esp for anyone who has tried and keeps trying and still encounters hardships and has been very tempted to just give up on any aspect of life! thx Pr. M. this sermon is like fuel to keep the fire burning. extremely relevant.

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  5. this sermon came in so timely.. i was so blessed pastor M.. I have learnt not to rely on my past anymore coz its a hinderance to my prosperity.. but above all, i have learnt to believe that God is my father and he still cares for me, nomatter how bad my past has been.. may God bless my Church,
    Am blessed!!!!!!!!

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  6. Gods child Says:

    woow this is such an amazing blessing…you spoke through my life..Its amazing this has been such a tough year but being fired twice out of a job ended me up in a simama class which has grown me so much as a christian and made such a huge impact in my rather disfunctional family and my personal life. As I look for a job this week Ive been doing it with a different perspective.”My ugly past is counting for my greatness”when you said those prayers it was so real coz Its tough coz I didn’t have bus-fare for this week Im not sure how ill pay rent this month.

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  7. Am not sure where to begin.. Guess they are right back in the world about how rotten I still am despite how well i try hiding under the salvation cover.. my past just wont stop blocking me does every one i my life has to keep reminding me what am running for??? I don’t deny it.. i did pretty messed up stuff.. and am the last material anyone wants to marry but am sorry a break is what I need here c`Mon people!!!!! Its been what an year I like what I have found in Christ please let me enjoy it I don wanna live trapped in that old me I Know pastor M u joked when u said about the format delete thing but honestly…. Here is whats up.. My boyfriend has just told me in so many words that He cant forgive my past. The past I lived before he happened

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    • @ Crashed, i want to stand with you in this difficult time that you are going through. I can imagine the hurt and pain of things past that keeps haunting you. Having said that allow me to put things in perspective and encourage you of the measure of love that God has for you, his beloved and special girl. God says in his word that he didn’t come for those who are well, but for those who are sick. (Mark 2: 17) So Jesus came looking just for you. He says that a broken reed he will not crush, a smouldering wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3). So when you are crushed so badly, when you come to Jesus he will not smash you, but handle you tenderly and restore you to his perfection, love and acceptance. Understand that people have a warped view of love, and grace, because God’s love and grace for us is so amazing its scandalous. People may find it hard to believe that when we repent God wipes ALL your sins away and gives you a clean slate! We struggle with understanding just how that can be! As in you mean God lets us off the hook, just like that?? Yeah that is the grace of God, that when we come to him in repentance and accept the forgiveness of Christ we are forgiven, and free. And so my encouragement to you is this: start by declaring who you are- you are forgiven, loved, accepted, a child of God! Then keep focusing on growing in the knowledge of God. As you know his word and understand how wide, how deep, how high his love for you is then you will begin living out your life in victory knowing that you are all that God says you are. Read his word and be committed to growing. Its not a one-time thing, but a continuous journey of always letting his truth replace the lies that we have lived with for the last so long. And so be encouraged, you are accepted, you are loved, you are forgiven. Your boyfriend may not have the idea of grace as God does. The most important opinion is not that of your boyfriend, but that of God. Believe his report , and hold on because what God started in you he will sure bring to completion. 🙂

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  8. Dear Pastor M.

    This was quite a candid message.

    Most people think everyone starts their new year strong but truth is sometimes people start it weak. However the best thing is that we serve the God of Isaiah 58- a God who restores the years the locust ate. I’d like to encourage people who started this year weak. Jeremiah said God knew us before we were formed in our mothers womb and Paul in Romans 8:28-30 adds that “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified”.

    Despite Job running away from his calling, God made him to be found in the whale’s belly, when Paul was going to persecute Christians God made him blind for him to see through spiritual eyes, Peter whose name meant pebble in Mathew 16:13-20 told Jesus that he is the Christ and Jesus replied that man did not reveal that to him but our living God did. Jesus did not see him as a pebble but a rock upon which he will build his church.

    So, a weak start does not define who you are but whose you are. “The temple” has to be destroyed to be re-built and depending on our attitude, it may take 40 days like Jesus or 40 years like the Israelites to walk through “your desert.” Therefore the first step is to discover your purpose- why did God create us? Because no matter how much we run away from His calling, He will find us, in His time and He we will help us finish our race strong.

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  9. The best part for me was when pastor M said that its better to be uncertain after you have tried than be comfortable and you a have not tried.

    Last week was tough after going for an interview and there after feeling that i just messed. i had to tell myself that i will believe the report of the Lord but it was sooooo difficult to wait for Gods report. Sema kuhangaika………… covenrsing here and there to find out whether i had been taken. This was even after saying i will believe God’s report.

    Today’s message nailed it waaaah! Before then i was like is there someone who can talk to me at the point I am at ? It was all in the sermon, that i have to engage God by trusting him, it does not matter the facet, that even when i give up hes there . Thank you for asking God to grant us a peace of mind while i let go to God its not easy giving it all to God and trusting that there will be a future and that it will be well

    God bless us FK

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  10. I agree with the rest this Sermon was a Bomb. Thumbs up!! Two thumbs up. Blessings

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  11. @24/7 ohmygudness these are the most powerfull words anyone has affirmed me with in my lifetime…. “be encouraged, you are accepted, you are loved, you are forgiven.”
    You have no idea what you just rescued. A dead soul. God bless you mightly

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  12. calvine mtula Says:

    Great reflection

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