Straining Forward for the Glory of God
Straining Forward for the Glory of God
In his beloved epistle to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul encourages his fellow Christians not to dwell on the past, but to continue on to what lies ahead. He writes, “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” (Phil. 3:13-14). In a Spirit-empowered effort to carry on with Christ, we are exhorted to forget about past failures, struggles, suffering, and even accomplishments. Rather, we are to focus upon our Lord Jesus Christ, and persevere towards the finish line in his grace and strength.
Perhaps Paul was thinking of long distance running when he wrote this section. Some of you know that I’ve done a fair amount of distance running. In my early to mid-thirties, after retiring from soccer, I ran seven marathons and numerous middle-distance races. My favorite race was probably the Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The race started and finished at William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) home, and took the runners through the lovely English countryside where thatched roof houses and myriad sheep dotted the verdant hills. There was a point in the race, however, when I didn’t notice or care about beautiful scenery. It was between miles 18-22. I had hit the proverbial “wall.” I was hurting and wondering why Marla and I didn’t just do some touring that day. It was time to persevere. It was time to strain forward and not look back. It was time to forget about the good and the bad miles that lay behind, and press on to the finish line where a prize awaited me (my wife and a participation medal!).
Christ Church, as we reflect upon 2020, there were many trials and triumphs to speak of in our individual lives, families, and congregation. There were both hard providences and glorious ones. But now we are called to press on to what lies ahead. We are called to be “found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9). We press on to growth and maturity in Christ, living in the world while not being of the world. We press on in holiness, throwing off old sinful patterns and ungodly behaviors. We press on to love and serve one another in the church, while compassionately reaching out to the lost. We press on for the glory of God, and the salvation of the elect. Christ Church, it’s time to press on and strain forward as a church in 2020, “toiling and struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Col. 1:29).
One simple way to press on in the new year is to be more devoted to prayer, especially in the margins of our lives. The world is seeking to capture our attention every minute of every hour of every day, and we are often too willing to surrender it. Tony Reinke, in his little new book entitled, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age, writes:
"Paul calls us to the discipline of prayer. We must not only pray without ceasing; we must pray without ceasing in a spirit of undaunted alertness— that is, with full attention (Eph. 6:18; I Thess. 5:17). Perhaps the best example of what it means to live a productive, ceaselessly prayerful life comes from nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon, who told a friend, “I always feel it well just to put a few words of prayer between everything I do.” To pray without ceasing is not a neglect of daily duties. It is no multitasking, with out attention split between God and work. Praying without ceasing claims momentary transitions in our day, the rare empty moments of silence, and turns our attention on God himself, moments now plundered and carried off by digital media." (Reinke, 67)
How often do we surrender the margins of our day to Facebook or Instagram, rather than to prayer and reflection upon God? What do we immediately do when we find ourselves with a few minutes of time alone at the restaurant before our friend arrives? What is our impulse? Is it always to pull out our device? Is it always to check our feed or email? Perhaps it’s time to consider a change in the new year — one that encourages more prayer and reflection in the margins. If we are going to press on to growth and maturity we need to be more prayerful and less captured by the world’s spectacles.
Christ Church, let’s be intentional in our walk with God in 2020, forgetting about what lies behind and pressing on towards what lies ahead. And may the Lord be our joy and treasure!
Your Pastor, Servant, and Friend,