Everybody likes ‘new beginnings’, fresh starts! Having said that, I also believe in continuity and faith-fulness to the task at hand or, in the way I sign off my letters – ‘Pressing On’. There is much value in ‘positive, forward thinking’. I understand the Greek god Janus, from whom we get the name for the month January, has two faces. One looks backward with a frown, and the other ahead with a confident smile. Paul, the early Church’s missionary and gospel preacher was once Saul of Tarsus, its menace and persecutor. But, an encounter with the resurrected Jesus, transformed his life. He made a startling statement in Phil. 3:13-14 that can help us have a fresh start and as Christians ‘press on’ in our faith, work and witness, no matter what
Paul declared: This ‘one thing’ I do, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the things before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Paul was Christianity’s greatest theologian, a well-traveled missionary, evangelist, church planter, pastor, minister in fact, over half the literature and library we call the ‘New Testament’ was penned by this apostle. What didn’t he do? Yet, amazingly he was a specialist in singleness of purpose: acutely focused with dogged determination to do ‘one thing’– press on! This he did quite simply by forgetting what is behind him and focusing on what was before (v.13). What does this mean and how can it motivate me?
1. Elimination: Forget what lies behind
At times I wish my mind had ‘total recall’ yet often I’ve coveted the gracious ‘gift of forgetfulness’ for some of life’s painful situations. Surely Paul is not referring to a state of mind that forgets history, one’s responsibility or ‘all God’s benefits / blessing’ (Psa.103:2). Rather, this a selective forgetfulness that chooses not to dwell on those aspects from the past that interfere and ruin living well in the present. Anxiety can clog what we ought to do ‘here and now’. Worries are yesterday’s mice eating today’s cheese!
First, past sins must be put away. Our failures and short-comings from the past can haunt us and soon hinder us from effective service then hold us back from receiving what God has for us, here-and-now! Why do we dig up and fish for that which God does not hold against us but buried in the depths of the sea? (Isa.38:17; Psa.51:7; 103:12; Mic.7:19) If the Devil does, we must remind him of God’s abundant mercy and grace. Apart from ‘besetting sins’ there are ‘weights’ to cast off that slow us down in this race-of-life (Heb.12:1).
Second, surprisingly, past successes must put aside. Paul uses the analogy of a Greek marathon runner. How true, our past victories can make us conceited or so content that we become complacent- mediocre and lethargic. But notice it is not just the bad things Paul was laying aside but also the good for the Best, what he once counted ‘gain’, i.e. his worldly accomplishments and self-righteousness. Now, that’s hard! It is precisely here that we must ask ‘why’ did Paul delibrately embraced such a view.
2. Exertion: Focus on what lies ahead
Winston Churchill once warned, ‘If the present quarrels with the past there can be no future’! I believe it was Bonhoeffer, who came out of the Nazi camp who said: He who has a ‘why’ for living can face the ‘how’ of life’s struggles! Paul’s life’s ambition (3:10) placed him among ‘the Unstoppables’ and in his image of an athlete we see two clear motivational factors: the mark i.e. his Goal and what he reckoned as prize or reward i.e. his Gain.
First, consider the challenge Paul’s goal posited. It made him to concentrate and ‘press on’, to reach out, stretch and strain every muscle to get his body into motion. There was a cause as well as a cost. Winning the prize meant paying the price – that discipline and audacity to keep on keeping on. There is only one place where success comes before work– in the English Dictionary, everywhere else its ‘no pain; no gain’. It is incredible to see what a deep sense of what my destiny is, can actually do to me and for me.
Next, consider the crown Paul’s reward promised. ‘Where’ Paul was heading determined ‘what’ he chose to leave behind as well as his perspective on those things he was leaving behind. ‘Things’ he once deemed as gain he now calculated as ‘loss’, even ‘dung’ in exchange for ‘knowing’, ‘being found in’ and ‘becoming like’ a person – his Lord, Jesus. His destiny is not a place but to ‘be with Christ’ – a Treasure and ‘Pearl of great price’ worth trading for everything else in life. In Paul’s sanctified aspiration, we find no ‘I can’ activism or ‘may be’ passivism, but a sure and steadfast hope. Not a fading earthly crown (stephenos) but Christ himself was his Vision, Mission and Ambition!
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, pronounced: “I am willing to go anywhere, as long as it is forward, onward and Christward’. Let us with undivided hearts not look back and worry, but count the cost and press on toward this high and upward call in Christ Jesus. The winner of the Greek Olympics was given much honor. An effigy of his face was craved in marble and he was given a front seat in every game. He was exempted from paying taxes to Rome but most of all, he would receive a crown that laurel wreath from Caesar himself. My goal is to be with Christ and one day hear Him say to me: ‘Well Done! My good and faithful servant’. Till then, may we also demonstrate that ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain’. Remember: the Christian’s past is under the blood – forget it, the present is under the cross – live it, the future is under the crown – go for it!
Pressing On! – Chris Gnanakan