Living Wisely by Pressing On

“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.”

–Philippians 3.13b-14

Dear Travelers,

For the past several years, at the start of the New Year, I have made a practice of reading the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. If you don’t know who Edwards is, Google him. When you do, you will discover he is one of the greatest theologian/philosophers in American church history.

From 1722 to 1723, Edwards wrote down 70 resolutions which he made it a practice to read every week for the rest of his life. Thus as 2013 is put to rest and as 2014 is still fresh, and given that most of us will make and an attempt to keep New Year’s Resolutions, I thought I might prime the pump by reading to you the preface to as well as the first of Edwards’ 70 resolutions –

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

  1. “Resolved, that I will do whatever I think to be best for God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my lifetime, without any consideration of the time, . . . .
    1. Resolved that I will do whatever I think to be my duty and best for the good and advantage of mankind in general.
    2. Resolved that I will do this, whatever difficulties I meet with no matter how many and how great.”

This past June – in the midst of a series of transformational events – I wrote down my own list of resolutions. They are not as numerous nor as explicit as those of Edwards. They are, however, the fruit of time spent in prayer and contemplation of God as Savior, Redeemer and King. With the preface borrowed from Jonathan Edwards, here are my five resolutions:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

  1. I resolve to live wisely.
  2. I resolve to live humbly.
  3. I resolve to live repentantly.
  4. I resolve to live faithfully.
  5. I resolve to live fearlessly.

The inspiration for these resolutions comes from the text quoted above. It is a personal favorite, and one that is often quoted at the start of the New Year. Pay particular attention to verse 14, where the apostle Paul writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

According to Paul , you don’t need to have 70 Resolutions to follow Jesus. You don’t even need five. All you really need is just need one resolution. This being so, I intend to use the next five posts to walk us through how resolving to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus will help us live wisely, live humbly, live repentantly, live faithfully and live fearlessly.

Living wisely starts with knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection (see Philippians 3.8-11).

Sometimes it’s good to look back and see who we were when Jesus found us and made us His own. We all have a past – even the apostle Paul. The difference between people who live wisely and people who do not, is this: people who live wisely do not put any confidence in where they came from or what they did. People who live wisely put their confidence in the Son of God who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross (2.8).

Paul chose not to boast of his past accomplishments. For him all that mattered was the future that lay ahead of him – the future mapped out for him by God as he followed Christ. Paul also chose not to be bound by his past failures either. Before his conversion, he was a blasphemer against Christ and a persecutor of His church. But from the instant Christ met him on the road to Damascus, Paul was a changed man. Where once his goal was to know the Law and practice it, now his goal was to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Rather than boast about his solid gold religious resume or put any confidence in his outstanding Curriculum Vitae a religious Jew, Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Rubbish is a polite translation. The Greek word Paul uses is sku/bala (skubala) meaning useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal. Let’s be honest then, skubala is the stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoe after you’ve stepped in it.

And compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection pretty much everything we have is skubala. The power of Christ’s resurrection is the power that comes to us on the basis of Christ’s own resurrection. The power of Christ’s resurrection is the power to follow Jesus wherever He leads us.

  • It’s the power to suffer the loss of all things and consider them skubala compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.
  • It’s the power to do whatever Jesus tells us we must do.
  • It’s the power to consider walk away.
  • It’s the power to stay.
  • It’s the power to persevere.
  • It’s the power to confront and overcome your worst fears and greatest challenges.
  • It’s the power to say, “Not my will but Your will be done.”
  • It’s the power to live wisely in the midst of a culture that prizes living foolishly (e.g., think of the stuff vomited onto celebrity Twitter accounts, Facebook selfies and what passes for insightful commentary out in the blogosphere).

Sometimes Jesus leads us through some very dark places. Fifty-five years of life and nearly 30-years of ministry have taught me not to avoid the dark places. In fact, the wise person trusts the Lord to walk with them through the valley of the Shadow because that is where our knowledge of  Christ and the power of His resurrection becomes more certain. Paul’s exhortation is to press on through the dark places – press on because the Lord who is the Light of the world is with you. The darkness will place. The sun will rise. Sorrow will pass away. Joy will come with the dawn.

Living wisely means living with one goal in mind, (see Philippians 3.12)

Having declared his goal is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, Paul is honest and humble enough to confess not even he has obtained it or has already become perfect. Even so, his goal is to press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Having been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul presses on to know as much as he can about Jesus and the power of His resurrection in this life.

For Paul this meant participating in Christ’s sufferings. The way Paul saw it, Jesus’ death and resurrection elevated and transformed suffering into something redemptive. Culture wants us to view suffering as an opportunity for personal growth; that is when it isn’t tempting to self-medicate ourselves into a state of emotional anesthesia. And on those rare occasions when culture celebrates a victory over illness or personal tragedy, the first question often asked is, “What did this experience teach you about yourself?”

But what if suffering is not about us? What if suffering is not about learning about ourselves? What if suffering is about knowing Jesus and the power of His resurrection? A wise man once described the Christian life this way: It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus.

Exactly. Suffering is not about you. It’s not about what I can learn about myself – not primarily. Suffering is about knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection. Paul wants us accept suffering as the means by which the Holy Spirit helps us to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. That’s radical.

And if you’re not there yet, you are in good company. Neither was Paul. That is why he committed to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We are made to know God. We are created to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. And we are made to achieve these things in the context of Christian community. The church is the God-designed place to press on with like-minded believers who are themselves, working out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2.12-13). We were not created to live alone. We were not created know Christ and the power of His resurrection alone either. People who live wisely choose to follow Christ as part of a Christian community.

Living wisely means keeping your eyes fixed firmly on Christ, (see Philippians 3.13-14).

There is such a thing as wise forgetting. To forget means more than the ability not to remember something. It is the ability to be unconcerned about what lies behind. Wise forgetting means we choose not to pay attention to what lies behind because we are focused on what lies ahead of us.

If you have ever learned to drive a car you know all about forgetting what lies behind by focusing on what lies ahead. The key to driving a car, is to keep your head up. You cannot drive a car by looking constantly into the rear view mirror. Nor can you drive a car by looking only at what is immediately in front of you. You drive a car by keeping your head up and your eyes focused on the road ahead. In a similar manner, we follow Christ by keeping our eyes fixed firmly on Him.

Wise forgetting means always remembering who and what it is in front of us. It means remembering who and what we are living for and why. Wise forgetting means we let of the past and we strain forward to what lies ahead. The word straining describes a runner leaning forward and stretching out to break the tape at the finish line. The goal is to run as much as it is to run in order to receive the prize (see 1 Corinthians 9.24-27).

When Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” he means “I press on toward the thing I prize most in life. I press on toward the thing that has the most value to me – to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection.”

Paul does not press on out of a sense of guilt. He does not press on out of the sense of regret. He does not press on out of a sense of remorse. Paul presses on because of the joy he has in knowing that Christ has taken hold of his life.  His life’s passion to make this knowledge His own because that is why Jesus Christ made Him His own.

He is driven forward by the desire to know Jesus. Paul is so taken up with wanting to know Christ and the power of His resurrection that he is driven by the Holy Spirit to press on and to do so by forgetting/ignoring any distraction so that he strain forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus

Paul believes there is as much virtue in running the race as there is in winning the prize. There is as much value in working the problem as there is in solving it. There is as much merit in the process as there is in achieving a positive outcome.

The prize of the upward call of God is an eternity spent knowing Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. People who live wisely trust God when He says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” And wise people know that both are found in Christ. Even wiser people know that both are best sought and experienced in community.

We need the fellowship of mature believers who can encourage us to keep pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The future belongs to those who press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Although I do not play nearly as often nor as well as I would like, I do enjoy a round a golf. I believe it was the legendary golfer Ben Hogan who once described golf as a game of recovery. If you htit a bad shot, you have to play your next shot from the where the ball is not where you would like to be. You must learn to recover. Honest golfers know you cannot take a mulligan (another chance to put the ball in a playable position). And even if you take a mulligan, you must still play the shot from the lie you have not the lie you want.

In the same way, life is a game of recovery. Each time a New Year rolls around, we have a chance to recover. Even so, we must still play the ball where it lies. We cannot undo the events of 2013.

We can however, make it our goal to live wisely and press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

One of my favorite resolutions by Edwards is this: “Resolved: Never to do anything, which I should not be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”

People who live wisely never do anything which they should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of their life.

How?

“. . . . forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, they (sic) press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

You think about that.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s