“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you,” often quipped Leroy “Satchel” Paige the charismatic pitcher of the old Negro League in the 1920’s and ‘30’s.
“Don’t look back,” apparently was Paige’s philosophy both in baseball and in life. Paige could have been bitter about the times in which he lived which prevented him from playing baseball in the Major League because of segregation. It wasn’t until 1948 at the age of 42 he made his debut with the Cleveland Indians.
Bill Veeck, owner of the Indians said, “If Satch were white he would have been in the majors 25 years earlier.” Joe DiMaggio called him “the best I’ve ever faced and the fastest.” Hall of Fame St Louis Cardinal pitcher, Dizzy Dean, said, “If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we’d clinch the pennant by the fourth of July and go fishing until World Series time.”
“Don’t look back,” served Satchel Paige well as he became the oldest to pitch in the Majors. In 1971, Paige was the first of the Negro League stars to be elected into the Hall of Fame.
Our theme for the year is Reaching Forward. It’s based on Paul’s statement toward the end of his life and written from a Roman prison.
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).
Think of the things Paul put behind him.
#1 Past sins.
Paul once called himself “the chief of sinners.” He persecuted Christians. Consented to the death of Stephen. And opposed Jesus Christ. Yet, he didn’t allow that stained past to keep him from answering the Divine call. Changing his life. Or hindering his mission and ministry.
#2 Past Injuries by brethren.
There were those who questioned his apostleship, doubted his motives, and forsook him when he was imprisoned. Paul could have fumed and fussed about how the brethren treated him. But his attitude was “may it not be charged against them” (2 Tim. 4:16).
#3 Past persecution.
Paul suffering mentally, physically, and emotionally during his ministry. In 2 Corinthians 12:22-29, he records some of the ways he was persecuted. Beating. Stoning. Imprisonment. Misrepresentation. Yet, Paul was not dwelling on the past. In fact, he counted it an honor to suffer for Christ.
#4 Past victories.
Paul could have spent his time in prison recounting his successes. Missionary trips. Sermons preached. Churches established. Epistles penned. Preachers trained. Pastors appointed. And a life that earned the respect of brethren and fellow preachers. Yet, he wasn’t living in the glory days of the past. He said, “I’m reaching forward.”
Reaching forward in 2021 challenges us not to look back. While we can learn from the past, we can’t relive it or change it. The 19th-century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard opined, ” Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
In his best selling book, What On Earth Am I Here For, author Rick Warren reminds us that, “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
In fact, it’s possible for our past problems and challenges to increase our faith, deepen our resolve, and fortify our hope. Consultant, speaker, and author, Steve Maraboli, affirmed, “My past has not defined me, destroyed me, deterred me, or defeated me; it has only strengthened me.”
“Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ advised Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe, “You do not move ahead by constantly looking in a rearview mirror. The past is a rudder to guide you, not an anchor to drag you. We must learn from the past but not live in the past.”
Too often we are held back by regret and guilt. James Christopher Frey, who writes under the pseudonym, Pittacus Lore, forcefully drives home this point. “We don’t have to be defined by the things we did or didn’t do in our past. Some people allow themselves to be controlled by regret. Maybe it’s a regret, maybe it’s not. It’s merely something that happened. Get over it.”
Sadly, many people, including Christians, are looking back at strained relationships, hurts inflicted by brethren, and indignities suffered at the hands of family or friends. The apostle Paul reminds us that “love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.” Don’t look back. Alan Moore was right when he wrote, “The past can’t hurt you anymore, not unless you let it.”
The words of the author Agnes Martin would serve us all well as reach forward in 2021.
I’ve shut the door on yesterday,
Its sorrows and mistakes;
I’ve locked within its gloomy walls
Past failures and heartaches.
And now I throw the key away
To seek another room,
And furnish it with hope and smiles,
And every springtime bloom.
No thought shall enter this abode
That has a hint of pain,
And every malice and distrust
Shall never therein reign.
I’ve shut the door on yesterday
And thrown the key away-
Tomorrow holds no doubt for me,
Since I have found today.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman