Gnats are such a nuisance! They fly about and create such irritation despite their small size. Have you noticed you rarely have one by itself? They seem to come in bunches or even swarms. Once they show up, they like to make themselves at home and it can be very difficult to get free of them. They feast most often on food scraps we leave out in the open, forgetting we have extended an invitation to gnats they will never refuse.
I think it is a wonderful description of what happens when we leave our failures laying around in our thoughts. No sooner than we have done so than gnats of another type come swirling about that keep us focused on those very failures. Before long we have lost our focus and the failure and the gnats are all we see. When we do, we are likely to feel as if we have tumbled into quick sand because we get stuck there.
“We should forget past failures, for they do not define us.”
I love this quote by Barry C. Black. It’s true that our failures can teach us much perhaps, but they are never what define us. Sadly, we can easily fall prey to allowing them to do that when they become our primary focus.
Let me suggest an example. My house can be actually very clean, but if I happen to forget a plate with an apple core on it gnats will not be far behind. Now it would be foolish to berate myself for having a very dirty house from top to bottom because of one apple core left on a plate. Most of us would be upset that we forgot the apple core, but we would not label ourselves as bad housekeepers if the rest of the house were clean and tidy.
Why is it then that we can so easily do that very thing about some failure we remain acutely aware of? We can review it and focus on it like gnats attracted to a scrap of food. If we do it long enough, we will be tempted to believe that failure is what defines us and often we will label ourselves by that very thing. We do not move forward. We do not attempt something else.
I cannot help but think of the apostle Paul. He persecuted Christians and stood by holding the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. Then on the Damascus road he saw the light when Jesus appeared to him. He, like Peter and many of us, have so many things we are not proud of that point to our weakness and failure. Despite Damascus road, Paul could have allowed those very things lay out in his thoughts and made them his focus.
It is a great comfort to realize that same Paul (formerly Saul, the Pharisee of Pharisees) writing from his jail cell in Rome in 62 A.D. gives us the prescription for just such a problem in Philippians 3:13-14:
“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.” ESV
Paul chose not to focus on the failure, nor did he allow the challenges he faced on his missionary journeys to deter him and give fodder for the gnats. He pressed on. Paul’s perseverance became a testimony of the power of the gospel at work within him after he saw the light on the Damascus road.
Paul didn’t rehearse his failures; he proclaimed Christ’s victory.
Clearly, Paul models a lot for us to consider when nibbling gnats enter our space. Some of the other quotes you see in and around these paragraphs do as well.
I think the other truth we must face is that if we have accepted Christ and repented of all our sins and failures, we dishonor Him when our focus is on failure instead of His victory won on our behalf.
One of my favorite passages is Hebrew 12:1-2 and I think it fits in the context of what Paul tells us in Philippians.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” ESV