This week Norma Jean and I are in the Dayton, Ohio, area, where I’m holding a meeting for the Kettering Church. We lived here and worked with this fine congregation back in the mid-1970’s. It’s a pleasure to return and see the wonderful work in which they are engaged.
Our theme is “Pressing toward the Prize.” The point of the meeting and the thesis of the lessons can be summed up in our word of the week. Forward.
Writing from a Roman prison, the aged apostle Paul, toward the end of his life, wrote these challenging words.
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13,14).
“Reaching forward” is rendered “straining” in other English translations. It means to “stretch out.” It is a word used in ancient times of a runner. Barclay says, It ‘is very vivid (word) and is used of a racer going hard for the tape. It describes him with eyes for nothing but the goal. It describes the man who is going flat-out for the finish.”
While it is pleasant to reminisce, as we are doing this week, about our time spent in Kettering, we cannot live in or return to the past. We cannot change the past. There is the temptation within all of us to talk about “the good old days,” and to neglect our focus on where we’re going.
When the children of Israel left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, Pharaoh’s army was pursuing behind them. The barrier of the Red Sea lay ahead. They were afraid. And opined that it would have been better to remain in Egypt. They thought they were going to die.
But God said to Moses, “Tell the children of Israel to go forward.” As instructed, Moses lifted his rod and waters of the Sea parted and they marched to the other side on dry land.”
Paul too was marching forward. Leaving behind past problems, physical hindrances, and personal defeats as well as spiritual victories. His eye was on the future. His focus was spiritual. And his aim was heavenward.
Regardless of where we are in the Christian race, we cannot waste time, effort and energy looking back in regret. Or basking in the pleasant memories of bygone days. And while there is some benefit in remembering God’s grace, past blessings and looking back to the cross, these must not hinder us from moving forward.
Our passion must be driven by God’s purpose. Paul reminds us that it is in Christ that we “have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). Our objectives, ambitions, and aspirations ought to be wrapped up in His eternal plan for us. This moves us forward.
In the imagery of the runner, some are just beginning the race. Some are completing the first turn. Many are in the straightaway of life. While others are coming into the third turn. And some of us are rounding the fourth turn and heading toward home. Regarding where you are in the race your focus should be forward. Your goal is the finish line. And your desire is the heavenly reward.
Forward. Let’s stretch toward deeper devotion. Greater knowledge. Purer motives. And higher aspirations. Our forward focus ought to result in disciplined discipleship. Fervent worship. Closer fellowship. Unselfish service. And a genuine, enthusiastic sharing of our faith to those who need to join the race.
Forward-thinking allows us to build on the successes of yesterday, eagerly anticipate the reward of the future while concentrating on the tasks at hand today.
Moving forward allows no time for wallowing in self-pity. Regretting our mistakes. Complaining about our lot in life. Comparing ourselves to others. Or becoming smug, self-satisfied and complacent with our current status.
Focusing forward allows us to see God. Know Jesus. And receive the Spirit’s gift. Our attention forward keeps our eyes on Heaven. Our faith in His promises. And our hope in the resurrection.
Forward is the watchword of the faithful.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman