The Deliberate Amnesia of the Disciple

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul, the apostle, Philippians 3.13-14

Dear Travelers,

One morning, in the Fall of 2006 Joe Bieger, 59, walked out of his house in Dallas, Texas to take his two dogs for a walk. He was a beloved husband, father, grandfather and assistant high school athletic director. By the time Mr. Bieger reached the end of his street his memory was gone. He spent the next 25 days wandering the streets of Dallas unable to remember his name, what he did for a living, or even where he lived. His ordeal ended when a local contractor, who was building a house for Mr. Bieger, recognized him. By the time he was found, Joe Bieger had wandered twenty miles from his home, lost twenty-five pounds and a full, white beard covered his once clean-shaven face. Doctors diagnosed Mr. Bieger as suffering from psychogenic fugue, an extremely rare form of amnesia. He is now back at home, has returned to work and is under the care of a physician specializing in his form of amnesia. And should he wander off again, his cell phone is equipped with a GPS tracking device (from an Associated Press story that appeared in The Toledo Blade January 27, 2007.)

When most people think about forgetting what lies behind, Joe Bieger’s rare form of amnesia is usually not on their short list. It was definitely not the kind of amnesia Paul referred to near the end of his letter to Philippians.

For those who have been born-again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus requires a deliberate amnesia. We must choose to forget what lies behind. We must choose to refuse to carry the baggage of past failures. We must choose to resist the temptation to wrap ourselves in the glory of past victories. If pressing on is hard work, forgetting what lies behind is even harder work. Then again, compared to the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, sometimes the past is just a more comfortable place to live.

But we were not made to live in the past.

We were made to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We were made to finish the race. We were made for eternity. And that means we must choose to let go of the past and press on. According to Paul life is about moving forward with a God-given discontent for the things that lie in the past. It is instructive to see that Paul says he forgets what lies behind by straining forward to what lies ahead. And what lies ahead is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Scholars tell us Paul is here using an image borrowed from the Olympic games. The champion, having won the race, awaits for the upward call of the official who will summon him to the top step of the podium and there receive his winner’s crown. During the race the runner had to have a deliberate amnesia. He had to forget what lay behind him by straining forward to what lay ahead. Perhaps he had to ignore a bad start. Or perhaps he had to ignore a nagging injury which his body tried to persuade him to use as an excuse to quit. Perhaps he had to ignore his place in the field and fight to focus on finishing the race. This much is certain: he strained forward to what lay ahead by pressing on to finish the race and reach the goal for the prize of the upward call.

And so must we.

We must choose forget what lies behind by straining forward to what lies ahead. With God’s help we can overcome a bad start. With His help we can overcome an addiction, a bad relationship, an emotional setback, even an illness tempting us to just give in, give up and quit. We must practice a deliberate amnesia. We must not allow past failure to discourage us from finishing the race. We must not allow past success to relax our current devotion. We must choose to forget what lies behind by choosing to strain forward to what lies ahead. We must press on. We must finish the race.

Where we finish is not important. It is only important that we finish. It is only important that we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. So let us forget what lies behind by straining forward to what lies ahead.

Oswald Chambers distills Paul’s exhortation into this memorable statement, “Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.”

You think about that.

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