After 9 years of studying and, more recently, six straight semesters of juggling school and work, I could hardly wait to stop! Stop reading, stop studying, stop writing papers, and stop saying, ‘No, sorry I can’t make it!’ to this or to that. In light of what I was feeling last week, I find it incredibly ironic that the very last assignment for my Master’s Degree directed me to press on rather than to stop. It’s funny how God works that way.
In January, I was asked to choose 3 verses from the book of Philippians to translate and to analyze for my final project. I landed on Philippians 3:12-14, but didn’t give the passage much thought until I began to focus on it a few days ago. My translation read,
“Not that I have already obtained this or have already been made perfect, but I press on so that I might truly take hold of that for which I have been taken hold of by Christ.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it: but instead, forgetting what is behind, and straining forward to what is ahead, I press on towards the goal, to receive the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The phrase, ‘I press on’ rang in my ears all last week. The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the people in the church at Philippi. He was likely writing them from inside a Roman prison, near the end of his life. If anyone had valid reasons to stop striving, Paul did, and yet he declared twice in three verses: “I press on”.
As I started to work on this passage, I felt like whining, “Come on, Paul, give me a break!” As I continued to study, however, I realized that I originally misunderstood his message. Paul wasn’t pressing forward in work for Jesus, he wasn’t mustering up the strength to keep serving the church. The “this” he was pressing on to, is a person not a to-do list: and that changes everything.
He was pressing on to take hold of Jesus, because Jesus had taken hold of him! He was pressing on towards the goal of knowing Jesus fully, and forever. And he was calling the Philippian church to join him in pressing on towards Jesus. I can do that!
In fact, since I’ve started thinking about it more, I have found that having this as my goal makes everything much simpler and clearer. Leading by example, Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to press on by forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what is ahead. This is a really good word for any time, but particularly for these times. The world, as we know it, has changed substantially since early March and we can’t rely on our past relationship with Jesus or our past strategies of being the church to propel us forward. The only way to figure this out is to keep moving forward towards Jesus and see what he teaches us along the way.
I’ve had my ups and downs in the last few weeks, but Philippians 3:12-14 is helping me navigate this new terrain. Whenever I feel out of sorts, I’m learning to simply ask myself, “What does it look like to press on towards knowing Jesus right now – in my affections, my attitudes, and my actions? What do I need to forget and leave behind? What do I need to strain forward to?”
We can press on to know Jesus while we are in our homes: we can pray, we can read scripture, we can sing songs of worship, we can sit quietly and thank him for his protection and strength. We can press on to know Jesus if we are sorrowing or joyful, if we are young or old, if we are working on university assignments or living in a retirement home. We will never know Jesus fully while we are here on earth, there is always more to discover about how wide and long and high and deep his love is (Eph 3:14-21). But if we continue to press on, forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what is ahead, we’ll find Jesus there, at the end, embracing us as we run across the finish line. If we are believers, Jesus has taken hold of us and has given us the Holy Spirit; lets press on, in his power, “towards the goal, to receive the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Kristal Toews Pastor of Discipleship
PS – Working through this passage also made me think that it would be fun to interview a variety of people in different stages of life & ministry, to see what it means for them, at this moment, to press on to take hold of Jesus by forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what is ahead. Keep an eye out for video interviews like this one featuring our very own Dr Johnny Markin!