Here we are on day three of a New Year, 2019. We used to live our life when we were young in years, now it seems marked by decades. Although as I get older, I revert to a “year at a time.” We had a good time with all of our family, the cousins connected, made it to the mountains and downtown Denver to enjoy all that Colorado has to offer. Our grandchildren also visited Fort Logan National Cemetery where Debbie’s parents are buried.
BIBLE VERSE FOR TODAY…. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14 NIV
Paul’s personal commitment to “finish well” is often a cause for reflection when a New Year arrives. Especially verse 13, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” Our lives, especially our spiritual life is not be lived in the past or rest on what we have “accomplished” or “conquered” as we grow as followers of Christ. We are to remember that we have not yet arrived, but there is a goal that we must keep in focus.
Undoubtedly in Paul’s day, the analogy was most likely to that of a runner getting to the finish line. That is why the God’s Word translation uses the words, “I lengthen my stride” for the NIV phrase, “straining toward what is ahead.”
If Paul lived today perhaps he would use a football analogy. As we watch NFL games and college bowl games, it is impressive to note running backs who refuse to be knocked down and even when hit or “tied up” keep pushing forward to get to the goal line. They provide a vivid present-day picture of “straining toward what is ahead.”
In football and in our spiritual life, we must remember there is a goal to be attained. But our spiritual life and destiny is far more significant than one touchdown in a game or even a championship victory that is soon forgotten when the next season arrives.
Paul once again makes a point of connection when he writes to the Corinthians about the dedication to “win the prize.” “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25 NIV)
We can observe that reaching our goal requires effort. I believe there is an adage about “nothing of value is easily attained.” While our spiritual life is not about what we can do in our own strength, we must remember that our growth doesn’t happen by “accident.” Like gravity, the natural pull on our hearts and minds is “downward.” We must be vigilant we must focused. That is why we speak of “spiritual disciplines” in relationship to spiritual development.
But unlike a runner whose main challenge is himself, in football you have an opponent whose all out effort is to keep you from reaching the goal line. That is something that we often neglect to remember. We do face opposition in our spiritual life. Some of it does come from our own propensities, or unique struggles. Some it comes from the mindset and focus of the world around us. And yes, it does come from spiritual dark forces who are at work in our world.
Just as we have an opponent, we also have a “team on our side.” I like this aspect of the football analogy. No running back faces the opposition on their own. They have teammates who block for them and they learn to “follow their blockers.” We do have the Holy Spirit who helps us. Strengthens us. Guides us. Just was we face unseen dark forces, we must remember there are unseen angelic forces that are for us to help and “cheer us” on.
The key to reaching the goal is to focus on “what is ahead.” Paul says, “forgetting what is behind….” No football player who breaks out on a long run, slows down or stops to look back to see how far they have come. You will often see the frustration and disappointment of a player who is stop just short of the goal line after running for 40 or 50 yards. In our spiritual life we can build on the past, but we don’t live in the the past.
Reaching the goal is a cause for celebration. Touchdown celebrations have become a football tradition and expression of individual creativity and team unity. I think of the “joy in heaven” (Luke 15:7) when an individual commits their life to Christ. I think of the celebration that scripture pictures in our eternal home. Heaven is a place of joy, worship and celebration. And there is no penalty for “excessive celebration!”
Pressing toward the goal, gives our life meaning and purpose. If you have “nothing to live for” your life loses its focus and is found “tackled” by (in the words of old hymn) “all the vain things that charm me most.” A life lived with Christ, for Christ allows us to move forward in life with meaning, purpose and focus regardless of the stage of life or the challenges of life that face us in a New Year.
When I ponder this verse in Philippians, I always think of the words of a song based on the life of the Apostle Paul that Debbie used to sing. The resolve of the Christian life was reflected in the lyric, “In Jesus name I press on!”