Martin Luther once wrote, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” (Letter #1610, to Justus Jonas the Elder, 29 June 1530).

Humans have a tendency, even an instinct to cling tenaciously to our valuables. Whether our valuables are material possessions, relationships, jobs, status, or whatever else, we often have a death grip on them for one simple reason: We’re afraid that if we let go, we’ll lose them.

For Christians, the key to keeping something is to let go of it. Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16.25). Jesus was saying that letting go of your life is the only way to ultimately save it. Letting go means that you quit trying to control things, to control others, and to constantly get your way. 

The apostle Paul’s life is an excellent illustration. In the third chapter of Philippians, he warns against putting trust in the earthly things. To illustrate, he says that at one time he did exactly that, and then lists seven aspects of his life in which he once took pride. Those seven things were all part of his Jewish heritage and his life before becoming a Christian.

But then he says, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3.7). Paul says he had to let go of those things because they kept him from coming to know Christ (v. 8-11). How may we do the same?

First, we must let go of past successes. Success feels great, but it can keep us stuck in the past, afraid to try anything new. Success fine, but growth is even better. Past successes tend to stifle our growth by making us think we don’t really need to improve. 

Second, we must let go of past failures. Past failures can cripple us by making us slaves to our anger, our fears, and our disappointments. We sometimes make the mistake of letting past failures define us. Sometimes we equate our failures with our identity. 

Third, we must let go of our desire to control everything. This may be the hardest thing of all. Most of us understand that both success and failure are part of the ebb and flow of life. But ego convinces us that if we give just a little more input, if we have a little more control, if we grip just a bit tighter, then everything will work out. 

Paul says later in the chapter (v. 13-14), “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” In other words, why not trade something you can’t keep for something you can’t lose?