WAYS TO MOVE FORWARD
26 MAY 2020
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 3:12-14
Sports athletes are truly amazing individuals. What amazes me most is the concentration, dedication and focus that is needed to even make it to the top of their game. Those athletes have been training and working every day for years in order to get to this one competition. Determination and focus is necessary if we want to reach the highest goals.Now what is true in so many areas of life is also true in the pursuit of a vital relationship with God. Paul tells us that in order to grow as Christians we must be focused and determined. We will not grow if we don’t work at growth. Salvation is by grace alone through faith, but growth requires that we work with God.
In our text today, Paul gives us a perspective on the past, the present, and the future. When Paul was an unconverted Jew, he actually thought he had arrived spiritually, but upon his conversion, he realized that he was not even close. This is what Paul is trying to convey to the Philippians about his spiritual journey and theirs. Paul not only recognizes that the Lord has a grand purpose for his life, He realizes that he has not arrived at that purpose yet. Paul knows he is not where he should be yet. He is aware of his faults and the areas where he still needs to grow and move forward in.
Move Forward with My Past in Mind
Paul tells us that if we want to move forward in our pursuit towards God, we must “forget” the past. The older we get, the more experiences we get. Those experiences come with a good amount of successes, celebrations, but also regrets, shame and even remorse about things we've done and things we've failed to do. When it comes to our past, Paul has nothing to be proud of as far as living for God is concerned. He was a devout Jew that was a zealous Pharisee. From an outward appearance, Paul was the best representation of Judaism one could ever hope to find. Any teacher would die to have him as a student or rather, any student would die to have him as a teacher. He was a hero in the eyes of religion. But when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Paul came to realize that he was no hero after all.
Now obviously Paul is not telling us to literally not to forget the past and to live in a state of complete denial. When Paul talks about forgetting he is telling us that we can’t and must not live in the past because what happened in the past is the past but we must keep going forward. We must never mistake motion from action. Although our body may feel or look like we are moving into the future everyday, our minds can still be stuck in the past.
We can either approach our past from a place of regret or embrace it with thankfulness. When we approach it from a place of regret, it begins to weigh us down and eats us up on the inside and that opens the door to shame and guilt. Someone who feels guilty regrets some behaviors that they exhibited, while someone who feels shame regrets aspects of who they are as a person. But if we approach it from a place of thankfulness, we can acknowledge that though I went through those dark times, God still preserved and protected my life and that can propel us further into the future. Your past does not define your present and it does not dictate your future.
Move Forward with My Present in Mind
I’ve heard a quote once and it says, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” Now as cliche as that sounds, we cannot deny the fact that the only thing we have today is today. We cannot change our past, neither can we predict the future but we can certainly embrace our today. Today is all I got. I can either choose to live in regret about my past, or choose to embrace my past and respond in my present. The word “I” in the text speaks of a present tense in which Paul says today in this very present moment, I will press on, I will act, I will seize my opportunity today.
According to this Harvard University study, almost half of our waking hours are spent not living in the moment. That’s a both shocking and sad statistic. This is because humans spend more time worrying about the things they cannot control rather than spending time with the things that they have in front of them like their friends and family. Parents spend more time planning for their kids' future rather than actually spending time with them. Growth today will not happen if we are constantly thinking about doing it tomorrow. We have to seize the opportunities that come our way today in order for us to reap God’s blessings for us tomorrow.
Paul obtains his goals by pressing on toward his goals. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The key word is press. In Greek the word ‘press’ is called: “dioko (deoka). It can mean-press, hasten, run, persecute, drive away, run after, pursue, strive for and seek after. Every meaning is an action word. That means, we got to intentionally making time for God in our schedule today, finding time to thoughtfully read the Bible today, planning for times of prayer today, pushing ourselves to reach out and be a blessing today. Procrastination is like a virus that once we allow it to enter our system, it’s hard to get it out. Today is the present that God has given to you. Let us make full use of it.
Move Forward with My Future in Mind
Paul tells us that he must always keep his eyes on the prize. The image is like that of running in a race in the Olympics. You see people in a race leaning forward to try to beat their opponent to the finish line. But it is more than just reaching the finishing line, it is about obtaining the coveted gold medal. And when they get discouraged or demotivated, the image of the gold medal is what spurs them on to give every ounce they have left again.
This is the image Paul uses when he speaks of pressing on towards the prize. In other words, the future that God has promised for Paul was always his focus as it motivates and drives him to keep doing what he is doing. The things we are to remember are those things that will cause us to set our eyes on Jesus and to press on to the goal of our upward call.
When I was climbing Mount Kinabalu many years ago, the thing that kept driving and pushing me to go and not give up was the peak. All the months of training and preparation was so that I’d reach the peak. That was all I thought about. Every time I get tired, I remind myself about the peak. Every time I get discouraged, I remind myself about the peak. The heavenly calling of God and the prize are essentially one and the same, which is God's promise of His eternal presence for us. Though our bodies may be on earth, our minds and focus should be heavenward. We should be longing for the day that we stand before God to hear Him say “Well done!” But for Him to say to us “Well done!”, we have got to make sure that we do what we are supposed to do on earth well.
It is with that same kind of intensity that Paul pursues God’s plan for his life. Paul also says, "this one thing I do". He is single-minded. Paul was not distracted. He was clear where he was headed. All of us must have the citizenship of heaven as our own lifelong hope. The citizenship of yours today in whatever country you are in now is temporary. It ends when we die. When our mind is on citizenship in heaven then death is not the final page of our life. Death becomes the doorway into resurrection for we will rise together with Him on the last days. Death becomes a new eternal chapter of living forever with Jesus and being like Jesus in heaven. But until then, we press on towards the goal which is to be more and more like Jesus.
Though we should be grateful for the growth and blessings we have seen we must always be looking for new opportunities to minister and grow. We must constantly evaluate our ministries and develop those that meet the new needs around us. We must remember that our goal as a church is not a particular attendance figure, our goal is to honor and glorify Christ in all we do and to be a blessing to those around us. When we pursue this goal we will surely see numerical growth, but the numbers are not our goal they are just a measurement tool. We could get numbers, but we don't want numbers, we just want to glorify Jesus in all that we do.