(December 17, 2022) Brian Bell encourages leaving the past behind and moving ahead in 2023…

As we come towards the end of 2022, I encourage you with Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13, ‘I am still not all I should be… forgetting the past… and looking forward to what lies ahead.’

The apostle speaks about his past which he wants to forget, his present as he recognises he is a work in progress, and his future based on Christ’s accomplishment and provision.

I believe Paul’s encouragement in this verse is not related to employing techniques to help us forget, but about that good old topic of perspective.

Paul wasn’t saying he had discovered a way to eradicate past memories (in his case the many believers he had persecuted prior to his conversion). It was not that Paul could or had actually forgotten, but that he would not allow those memories to hold him back. So, I suggest that is the context for Paul then saying he was ‘… looking forward…’

Perhaps we too may have past memories which we wish we could forget! I offer three simple thoughts –

1. We all have a past
I was brought up in a ‘church going’ environment, attending church and its many activities were very much a big part of my life. I was under the influence of scripture from my earliest days. For this I am very grateful, yet it did not make me righteous before a Holy God because I was also under the influence of a sin nature, even if that sin nature (I might call it mostly self-righteous sin) was not manifested in my outward life in a way for others to see.

Your past may be very different to mine. However, whatever memories we may have as believers about –

  • Past sinful weaknesses
  • Failings as we may see them
  • Folk we may have disappointed or even hurt –

we praise God that by His grace we may be forgiven (and be able to forgive in turn).

God not only forgives and cleanses us, but He has said He has cast our sin into the sea of His forgetfulness – I believe this to mean God chooses not to remember our sin – it is a divine attribute.

Just like Paul, we all have a past whatever it may hold, but if we are trusting in the Lord Jesus as Saviour, then also like Paul, our past must not be allowed to hold us back from our kingdom service.

2. We all have a present
I love and take encouragement from those words of Paul, ‘I am still not all I should be.’ It is I believe a ‘confession’ which many of us would not wish to admit as readily as Paul.

May I say respectfully, it doesn’t matter how long we have been on the journey of faith, we are a work in progress, while we should allow the Holy Spirit to help us grow daily more spiritually mature and Christ-like.

Sometimes the impression may be given that when we come into faith in the Lord Jesus all our difficulties and problems will simply disappear. But those of us who have been on the journey for many years know it is not the case!

Jesus told His disciples ‘In the world you will have trouble… but be encouragedI have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). What I take from this is that Jesus was encouraging His followers not to let the circumstances of life spoil their joy – circumstances such as you or I experience at times in our lives. Jesus was establishing the realities of life for His followers then and also for folk like you and me today.

The author of Ecclesiastes struggled to understand what he called the meaningless or vanity of life. Recently the Lord has been challenging and reminding me that I can enjoy and have confidence in Him for life. This was also true of Paul’s experience and testimony when he tells us he would even ‘glory’ (I take this to mean be encouraged) in his weakness.

Jesus said, ‘I am come that you may have life’ – I understand this is present tense – and that you may have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10). I understand this to mean the measure or quality in which this life is available. This is a perspective which with the help of the Holy Spirit helps us to see beyond the apparent meaningless or vanity of life because Jesus gives us purpose, meaning and direction.

3. We all have a future
When we are in our twenties, our future may include career aspirations or raising a family – that was true for me. However even in those days I didn’t see my future as a pre-planned timeline for example where or what I would be doing in 10 years.

In that often-quoted scripture Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘I know the plans I have for you … plans for good… to give you hope and a future’ I see a glimpse of God’s plan for the future of His children.

While in its context this word Jeremiah brought from the Lord had a specific and direct application to those Israelites who had been taken into exile in Babylon, it is still also today a general indication of God’s desire for the well-being of His spiritual children.

The work of salvation is a ‘grace work’ of God in our lives but I believe the ‘working out’ of salvation has a role for us to be involved in. What this meant to me is that when I was making my way through working life and looking after my wife and children, I sought to do it as a believer, my work and my family were a ministry. Although I am now retired from what we tend to call ‘secular work,’ I still see my life as an opportunity to let the Lord use me for ministry.

A heavenly perspective
Past, present or future, none of us can know what the duration of these seasons of life will be for each of us.

Irrespective of the changing and uncertain aspects of our lives, the eternal future for every believer is assured because it is guaranteed by the Lord Himself.

I must be honest with you, although I have read the scripture record many times, heard many messages about heaven and read many books I still don’t pretend to understand all that which relates to the future life of believers.

Like the author of Ecclesiastes, I can’t apply human wisdom to understand spiritual truths which are beyond my powers of human reasoning.

My general understanding of scripture is that heaven will not be tarnished by the difficult memories or experiences of our life on earth, and this is the context of Revelation 21:4, ‘He will remove all of their sorrows and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain….’

However, those eternal elements I may not understand are embodied in the words of the Lord Jesus we read in John 14 when He told the disciples ‘I am going to prepare a place for you’… I will come and get you … so that you will always be with me where I am.’

Heaven is the place where Jesus –

  • Ascended in the past,
  • Is our mediator in the present and
  • From where one day in the future, He will return.

I really like these words of Albert B. Smith’s song I do not Know What lies Ahead
‘I know who holds the future|
And He guides me with His hand,
With God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned,
So as I face tomorrow with its problems large and small,
I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to Him my all.’

As we leave 2022 in the past, may we experience all the Lord has for us in the present and confidently trust Him with our future for 2023.

May we follow Paul’s example of Philippians 3:14 – ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ Press on, dear reader!

Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. Brian describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’


  1. Such an encouraging ministry, Brian. Do continue with your ‘wee meditations’ in 2023. This is a gift God has given you.

    1. Thank you, Sydney. We agree that Brian is gifted, indeed greatly gifted, in this area. His articles are timely and straightout encouragements. May God bless you richly in 2023!

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