It’s no secret that I love to run. I’m not terribly fast. But nothing makes me feel the way I do when I finish a run. I even enjoy the occasional 5K race.
I remember running a race a few years ago. I was there by myself, not running with anybody. I had been running pretty hard and had gotten my pace down to what I would consider respectable so I felt pretty good. I walked up to the middle of the pack and got ready for the starting gun to go off.
My feet began pounding the pavement and the sea of people that surrounded me at the start were now dissipating. I soon found myself running with room around me. And that’s a good thing!
Because I fell flat on my face!
Have you ever tried to run while looking backward? Don’t ask me why I did. For whatever reason, I wanted to take a look backward to see where I had been. Funny thing. Moving my focus to where I was took my eyes off of where I was going. And as a result I missed what was in front of me and fell flat on my face.
So often in Paul’s writing he uses the analogy of running a race. I just love that Paul guy! I think we would have been good buddies. In his letter to the church in Philippi he devotes space to remind the church to keep pressing on toward the goal. He writes,
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but 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.” Philippians 3:12–14 NASB
Paul makes a critical point in encouraging the Philippians. He reminds them that he forgets what lies behind him and continues to reach forward to what lies ahead of him. Paul did not focus on what was behind him, but kept his eyes forward facing on the prize in front of him. I think there are three lessons we can learn from this.
Don’t rest on your laurels
In other words, don’t be satisfied with your previous achievements. It’s ok to remember the victories that God has brought you through. Those are mile markers in our story of God’s grace working in our lives. But just because God did something there and you responded obediently, doesn’t mean you remain there. It was a period of growth for that point in time. Eventually that bread that fed you at that point in your journey will become stale. You need fresh bread!
Passion play this year, Nicky handed me a piece of bread they found in a basket from the previous year. The bread was rock solid. It was not good for eating. I’m not even sure you could suck on it enough for it to be consumed. It was stale. As Christians, we can only survive so long on stale bread before we start to languish. We need fresh feedings of truth (bread) that nourish our souls and move us forward toward growth. We need fresh encounters with Christ!
Past mistakes cloud our minds
I really have a hard time with this. I will relive over and over in my mind mistakes that I have made like a song on repeat that you can’t seem to get out of your head. There are two kinds of mistakes I see here in my life.
First are the ones that I made that were honest mistakes. I had all the best intentions, yet I failed in some way. Some plan I had made did not produce the fruit I had anticipated. I hurt someone unintentionally. I’ll let those mistakes beat me up for while until I get tired of being a punching bag.
Then there are those mistakes that were not so honest. These are failures, times that I know I let God down. I knew better and yet I still chose my will over God’s will. Pride is such an ugly weed in the life of a believer. It destroys in just a few moments what took so much time and work to build. These are the mistakes that I will find myself looking back at. What is just gross about doing that is I open the door for Satan to start heaping guilt and shame back upon me for something that has already been covered by the blood of Christ.
What is common in both types of mistakes is that when I am dwelling on them, they are clouding my mind. When my thoughts ought to be dwelling on what God is wanting to do in me, I’m busy wallowing in the grossness of past mistakes.
And I lose sight of the prize – the finish line.
One caveat to mistakes. They always have a lesson. Remember that God does not waste anything, even our mistakes. So identify the lesson, make note of it, and move on. Don’t get stuck looking back at mistakes.
Keep pressing toward the goal
Paul makes a really interesting statement in verse 12. He states,
“…but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12 NASB
I literally had to read that a couple times to really get it. Paul is stretching out, straining for, grasping for the thing that Christ Jesus grasped him for – that is – the purpose that Paul had. God had a purpose for Paul. God has a purpose for me.
God has purpose for you.
We are to keep pressing on toward that purpose.
Verse 13 in the NASB has the phrase “reaching forward”. It’s an interesting phrase. In Greek it comes from two other words. One means to set or place over or on top. Think setting priority. The second word means to stretch forth.
A racer doesn’t just run. A racer runs hard to reach the prize. Every movement is an effort to reach the finish line. And that’s what we are to do as believers. A racer sets the prize of the finish line as priority and then uses every muscle, every ounce of energy, to reach that finish line. It is going hard for the finish line.
But the goal, the prize, the finish line for the racer is always in front. It is never behind. And so it is with the believer.
We are to move on to what is next. What is God desiring to do in us? Where is it that God wants to lead us. What is it that God is wanting us do in service for Him. All of these contribute to creating within us a Christlike character. Our stretching forth toward Christlikeness has to become the prize, the finish line, the goal that each movement we make is coordinated toward completing the race and reaching the prize.
Paul was not going to be distracted by anything. He was not going to be distracted by his past mistakes. He was not going to rest and feed on stale bread. He was going to focus completely on Christ and the prize at the end – meeting Jesus face to face, the Savior that died in his place. It is a prize worth running for.
But it takes making it a priority.
Well…after I fell and realized how dumb I probably looked. So I tried to nonchalantly pick myself up, wipe the blood off my knees, and began running again. It hurt. But I wanted to finish, even though it was painful. It was priority that I finish the race – to finish what I started. And so I kept my eyes looking ahead and reaching forward.
Remember that first Greek word in the phrase reaching forward? It means to prioritize. Out of all the things we can run after in life, why not make running after Christ our first priority? We cannot grow on stale bread. We cannot grow when floundering in past mistakes.
But we can grow when we fix our eyes forward on Christ. The finishing line is always in front of us, it is never behind us.
Keep looking ahead to where Christ is. He is the prize worth chasing after.