I met with a health care professional about an ailment I was experiencing and was quickly disgusted by her attitude of trying to prove her worth to me by telling me all the things she “used to” do. In the same vein, nothing seems as boring as hearing ex-athletes talk about the old days and their “used to” accomplishments. Isn’t it interesting how the “used to” events are puffed up or exaggerated a bit. As much as none of us like to hear a bunch a “used to” accounts, we have all fallen into the trap. But it doesn’t stop there.
The “used to” camp is not just laced with accomplishments, there’s also looking back with regret over mistakes, failures, or past sins. This end of the “used to” camp is filled with shame and, as the focus on past accomplishments is filled with pride, it’s all prompted by or aided by the one who is called, “the accuser of the brothers.”
How can we break away from the “used to” camp?
Philippians 3:2–11 (ESV) — 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Notice what Paul was warning the Philippians about those who take pride in their religious accomplishments, so much so that they will accuse a believer that they are inferior unless they have a list of “used to” attainments. So, Paul pulls out his “used to” list and goes over his achievement which could outdo any one in the aforementioned camp. However, notice in verse 7 above what Paul says about it all; “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
The defeat of the pride factor from all the “used to” achievements is done by a realization that the only thing that matters is the achievement of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we find our identity and by whom we have all things.
1 Corinthians 1:30–31 (ESV) — 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Notice in verses 8-11 above where Paul quickly took the focus away from himself and on the pleasure of the presence of Christ in all the circumstances that life can bring. But it doesn’t stop there. Paul also deals with the “used to” shame side of the camp.
Philippians 3:12–14 (ESV) — 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul could have easily dwelt in depression and misery over the way he persecuted the church and was a devout “non follower” of Jesus Christ, even though Christ had made a difference in changing him. Many people get trapped in the shame of the past but notice how Paul deals with the past, both from the pride as well as the shame side: “I forget what lies behind and strain for what lies ahead.”
Therein lies the key: Strain means effort to forget by replacing both the “used to” things that produce pride, and the “used to” things that hold on to shame. Forgetting the past and reaching forward. That means instead of dwelling upon the past you are focused on today and the future, which means you don’t have time for the past.
Oh, that we might learn this valuable lesson of breaking away from the “used to” camp. Next time you catch yourself going down the “used to” lane, think of Philippians chapter three and use it as a prompt to get refocused and re-energized to what Christ has you doing now and the glorious future that awaits.