There is one thing I know I am doing right.
That’s what the Apostle Paul tells the believers in Philippians 3.13.
I like Paul. He wasn’t afraid to use dramatic language when it was appropriate. Having spent the previous verses sharing how he was wrong for much of his life, how he had completely misunderstood who God was and what He was doing in the earth, he then boldly makes this statement:
‘I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing’ Phil. 3.12-13a (NLT)
And what is this one thing?
‘Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.’ Phil. 3.13b-14
Paul always shows us how to keep the main thing the main thing. And he says here that if we are Christians, this is a top priority.
It is interesting that he calls it ‘one thing‘ although it has two parts. There is forgetting what is behind us and then straining towards what is ahead. I wonder if Paul calls them ‘one thing’ because you can’t have one without the other.
Think about it. You can’t really strain forward if you are looking back, can you? It is pretty hard to focus on something you aren’t looking at. You can’t win a race facing the wrong way.
I should know, I have tried.
So often in my life I have attempted to follow Jesus with all my attention on the baggage I was dragging behind me. And so often my run has become a crawl. It was tiring and needlessly hard, frustrating and disheartening. Because it is hard to follow Jesus well with old thinking, old habits and old perspectives.
There are things I have to take off if I am serious about this race.
If you are a fan of elite sport, you will know how minute the margins are between winning and losing, often only fractions of a second. Olympic teams will have many experts working for them, looking for any tiny adjustment that can be made in technique or diet or equipment.
Paul describes it as, ‘bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing.’
That’s the only way to run this race well.
In Hebrews 12.1 we see the picture of a runner who is free and unencumbered. He is focused, lean and mean. Anything surplus to requirement has been discarded. He is single minded and he is ready for the start line.
But often in my life regrets, disappointment, hurt, brokenness and destructive ways of thinking and behaving have been like bungee cords that hampered my forward progress and eventually pinged me back into defeat. When I am not walking in repentance, forgiveness, mercy and grace I am not free to run well.
To move forward, I have to leave things behind.
And the reverse is also true. I cannot leave the past behind unless I am intentionally moving forward.
In my favourite passage in the Bible, Psalm 84, David says that ‘blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. They go from strength to strength. For the Lord God is a sun and a shield. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’
When we decide that our identity is that of pilgrims or travellers who are heading towards our home, then we will leave behind what we don’t need. There is a strength that comes when we focus on our destination and believe it to be all that really matters. There is a forward momentum that kicks in and propels us into all God has planned for us. He promises to withhold no freedom, no deliverance, no victory from those kind of followers.
In other words, if we keep going we will get there.
2 Corinthians 5.17 describes the very essence of the Christian life. ‘Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.’
Every day His mercies are new. New things are always coming, old things are passing away. This is the normal Christian life. We are constantly letting go and reaching forward at the same time. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us something that we have to leave behind. It can be painful but it always makes room for new blessings and revelation. Other times God encourages us to walk in a new way of thinking or living and in the process some old stuff just gets crowded out.
I want that heart, that outlook, every day of my life. I want the grace to keep straining, pulling, moving forward. I want to let go of anything that is holding me back or slowing me down. I want to shed my baggage, maybe close a door or two and I want to make space for God to do something new.
I want to make space for His will and His presence in my life.
I want to listen and obey. I want to know what really matters. I want to be facing the right way and I want to finish my race with joy. I want to make progress.
I want to be a pilgrim.