Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 10
THE CONTAGIOUS JOY OF A PASSIONATE PURSUIT
“Not that I have already obtained this (vv 10-11) or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own (“apprehended” “laid hold of”) . Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel, decided in 1952 that she wanted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast, about 26 miles. No woman had ever done that before. It was very foggy when she started her swim, and she couldn’t see. After 15 hours in the water (yes, you read that right), she looked up at her mother in the little boat beside her and said, “Mama, I can’t make it; I can’t go any further.”
Her mother tried to encourage her, but, after swimming for another 55 minutes, she gave up and got in the boat. A couple minutes later, she discovered she was half a mile from the coastline. When asked later why she quit, Chadwick said, “It was because I couldn’t see anything. If I could’ve just seen the coastline, I know I would have made it.”
Two months later, she got back in the water, and not only did she swim from Catalina Island to California, but she also beat the women’s world record for that distance.
And the men’s. By two and a half hours.
Interestingly, the second time she swam, it was even foggier than the first time. She could not see anything. When reporters asked her about it afterward, she said, “I was ready this time. And it’s really simple: I kept a picture in my mind of the shoreline. Even though I could not see it with my eyes, it was ever before me. I never lost sight of the California shoreline, and so I felt like I was always closing in on it. As long as I lived for the picture in my mind, I could keep slogging through the fog of my challenge.”
What is “the picture in your mind” that you are running toward? Is there an overarching goal, an all-consuming passion that encourages you when you are weary, and picks you up when you’re discouraged? What’s awaiting you when you get where you are going? Goal… life not just journey
In this part of Philippians, Paul is telling us what it was that drove him forward through trials and difficulties and pain and deprivation and persecution. It was what kept him focused on the race when a normal person would have dropped out. One author called this paragraph “an explosion of spiritual longing.”
Sometimes the fog of our circumstances, or even our being blinded by pain or seduced by the pleasures of the flesh or of this world, are enough to keep us from the joy God has for us; from the glory of finishing the race God has called us to run.
From this part of the letter, God’s Word points us to three things that need to keep us oriented to the goal set before us.
First, we see the importance of:
Pressing On: This One Thing
We have notoriously short attention spans. Microsoft research discovered that human attention span has dropped from 12 second to now about 8 seconds. Your little goldfish flitting around in its bowl, on it’ way ultimately to that great white Bowl in your bathroom, has an attention span of 9 seconds! You know why? Because goldfish don’t own cell phones!
We cannot focus. We have become spiritually ADD. I am rushing this morning because, well, I’ve already lost some of you. Our sermons, due to moving to digital services, have to kind of wrap up in about twenty-five minutes. Let’s be real. If you’re sitting down in front of your computer screen or gathered around your radio while you’re watching us this morning, you’re a minority.
But the price we pay for trying to give attention to so many things at once has a spiritual consequence. It is the inability to find the ONE THING God wants us to focus on. This one thing… Paul said, “I press on…”. I am running toward one goal, not many. His goal? “The high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Few men were more productive than Paul, but he was productive because he knew what his priority, his “one thing” was. We try to do so much in an anxiety-ridden hurry. CS Lewis said, “the future is something every person reaches at 60 minutes per hour, no matter who he is or what he does.”
Paul was reflecting back on the day in his life when the risen Christ “seized” him; “apprehended” him like one who was running away; but it is stronger. He “seized me” with the intent of “owning” me.
Paul could be joyful because he knew his “one thing.” He did not chase squirrels. He did not get distracted. When you know the “one thing,” that allows you to say yes to important things and no to things that are just distractions. When you know the length that God went to pursue you, to “apprehend you” and then to “own you,” it pushes every other priority out of your heart.
Maybe you had that at one time. You were awe-struck that God would “seize” you and “own” you, but you’ve let other priorities and other problems and struggles squeeze the wonder out of you.
Letting Go: What Lies Behind
Moving forward in the way Paul describes for us is dependent upon our ability to do one thing well. But doing one thing well-meant letting go of a lot of other pursuits, and labors, and even some of earth’s joys. Our brains really don’t forget anything. We are capable of creating 80 memories per second for 75 years.
If you are going to pursue Olympic gold, you have your goal set clearly before you. But pursuing that goal means you have to let go of a lot of other things that distract. Olympic athletes do not participate in much of normal life that a middle or high school young person would know. You “let go” of that. You don’t go binge on pizza, or attend prom, or kill a Friday night at a ball game. When you find that one special person in your life, you “let go” of all the other options and opportunities.
So, you set your goal. You run. You swim. You ski. You practice and give up sleep to do that. You eat an Olympic diet, not filled with junk food. You let go of the things that would hold you back. You say “no” to things other people say “yes” to.
But it’s not just that. Paul was talking here about letting go of accomplishments from the past, and of pleasures in the present, but also of past regrets and disappointments.
“Besetting” sins are sins that entangle you and keep you from running the race well. (Hebrews 12). Sometimes it’s the guilt of those sins that hampers us. When we drive, at least when we drive cars that don’t have backup cameras, we use the rear-view mirrors. But if we spend too much time looking back it will wreck you as you go forward! What does the runner do? He “forgets as he runs.”
REACHING FORWARD: A Worthy Goal
This is the picture of the runner about to reach the finish line…victory is just a few strides away…the goal line is less than ten yards and a touchdown is about to happen…. what does the athlete do? He “leans forward….” straining toward the finish line.
Paul’s heart was set on heaven. CS Lewis said, “If we aim at heaven, we get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and we get neither.”
What are you “aiming” for? Paul was pressing toward a heavenly home where his citizenship was, and toward receiving a glorious body, (“who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory…”). The Bible says, in 1 Corinthians 15:53 (NLT): For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. The way that it is now is not the way that it shall be.