Press On

4 Nov

1622780_10153039132652262_6582303956987842076_nMy husband and I always have a good laugh when we think about this one time a friend of ours asked us to edit his resume. I’m pretty sure we were all finished university so when we read his bullet point that said “Grade 8 Athlete of the Year” under Accomplishments, we couldn’t hold it together. Needless to say, we told him that it needed to be scrapped. It’s funny because at one point that accomplishment did mean something significant. To the thirteen-year-old boy and his parents, it would have likely been a highlight of the year. But by twenty-three, one sure hopes that there’s been more “accomplished” since then.

When the Apostle Paul says 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.”, he’s talking about the idea of pressing on. He’s just unloaded his list of accomplishments, and to the reader, they are actually something someone would want to write home about. If you’ve ever been to a conference or awards ceremony, you’re familiar with the way the introduction of the speaker or award winner goes. “So-and-so is a graduate of Harvard, a writer with the New York Times, founder of the charity Such-and-Such, and he just ran his third marathon- of the year!” There’s something in our worship-oriented hearts that loves to hear ascriptions of praise given to us, and at times lavished on others. We feel that someone is respectable or praiseworthy because of their accomplishments and therefore, we ascribe worth to them as a result. When others praise us, if we’re honest, it comes with a sense of pride in how awesome we are, how great it is that no one can do the things we do, and “I bet other people wish they were as amazing as I am at ________”. 

But here’s the thing. Actually two things. Thing one. There is only One worthy of praise. If we’ve ever been able to accomplish anything of any value or any eternal good, it’s because of God’s grace at work in us. That’s the first thing. My second and main thing is this. Aren’t we being a little like my friend with his 8th Grade Athlete of the Year award when we want others, or even want ourselves to feel like we’ve accomplished things of value? It is true- there was a point when he played well, worked hard, committed to various sports teams, and maybe modelled some leadership and as a result was deserving of recognition, but the point is that that event has passed. Now, wherever we are, whatever works we’ve done are finished. There’s more work to do, and therefore we need to forget what lies behind and keep straining forward to what lies ahead. Press on.

One mark of our knowing God is the continual desire to know him more. It’s not enough for the Christian to have known him last year, or during that time in college, or on the missions trip you served on, or in the camp ministry you participated in. We want more of him, through his word, and through experience. I love the athletic metaphors Paul uses so often because they’re easy for me to picture. The idea of straining your body is exactly what has to happen when you’re doing anything worthwhile in sports. If you’re running, you are pushing yourself forward, straining your muscles to drive you one step forward at a time, and it’s work. It’s not fun, it may bring you favourable results, but the process is not always pleasant. I’ve had the chance to run in two races and both times I’ve come to appreciate the mental game involved in getting yourself to the finishing line. Before you race, you’re supposed to train so that come race day, you’re not unprepared. The base you build with shorter, less intense runs serves to carry you through till the end on the day of the actual race. From what I understand, most race training programs won’t even have you run the full length of the race more than once before actual race day. The reason being that come the day of the event, your body has spent so much time building up overall stamina, you will be able to get to the end even if you haven’t practiced running that full distance. You’ll have exerted yourself through training enough so that when it comes time to race, you’ll be able to give it your best and push yourself further because you have extra energy stored up. Now here is the dumb thing that can potentially happen to your mind if you’ve run one race. You could approach your next one and say to yourself “Well, I ran last year in a race and that’s enough to get me through this one”. That would be foolish. That would be like remembering your past accomplishment and using it as a justification for not training and preparing for, or participating in future races. Why would you stop at what you’ve done last year? Why would that be a good reason to justify your lack of enthusiasm for the new challenges that lie in front of you today? You’re setting yourself up for failure by focusing on what you’ve already done and using that as justification for not having to do anything now.

Here’s my encouragement for us in relationship to the whole notion of pressing on. How are we to face the challenges we are encountering right now? Do you have a ton of work to get done and are you feeling unable, incompetent, or discouraged at the enormity of the task? I feel like that often. Do you have a relational issue that is causing you pain? What about your walk with the Lord? Is it not what you wish it were, or what it ought to be? Is there some area of sin that you keep struggling with and can’t seem to get past? Forget what lies behind- successes and failures, and press on. If we are stuck, remembering that awesome season where we were doing so well, loving people whole-heartedly, getting so much accomplished, being just all-around great, then we’re going to be tempted to pride and a false belief that the good we were doing was of our own strength, and if we just mustered up enough will-power, we’d be able to repeat the past. That’s a lie. If we wallow in our failures, we’re also believing another lie. We’re forgetting that our walk is one of grace and faith.

Just before Paul says that we’re to press on, he says this. “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 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— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” If we are to be able to move forward now in the good works God has laid out for us, we’re going to have to start by counting all the things that were gain to us (accomplishments, titles, experiences) as nothing. We need to do this so that now, today, we can continue to find our righteousness through our faith (not in our accomplishments!) in God in order that we might know him and the power of his resurrection, by sharing in his suffering, dying to ourselves, so that we can attain the resurrection from the dead. Wow. That’s a jam-packed thought right there. I’m going to encourage you to meditate on that. The way we are called to walk is a hard way, one that will inevitably cause us pain. It’s hard to be faithful, to keep pressing on in spite of the trials and temptations we face. It’s easy to want to throw in the towel and say “Isn’t it enough that I was the Athlete of the Year 15 years ago?”. Here is the motivation- when we are willing to suffer or die to ourselves, we are going to get to KNOW CHRIST. We are going to, experientially SHARE IN HIS SUFFERINGS. We are going to, in our mortal bodies, experience a RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. That is just amazing. That’s the point of all this. Press on, because in pressing on, we are going to be rewarded with the greatest gift which is the knowledge of God, intimately and personally, through the person of Jesus. I want more of that and I hope you do to.

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