Monday, September 19, 2011

Keep Your Eyes on the Goal

Ability is what you are capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.

--Lou Holtz

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:10-14 (NIV)

            Do you ever find yourself getting distracted? It can happen so easily. It happens to all of us from time to time. Many restaurants today are equipped with multiple TVs staring at you from every possible angle. You try your best to ignore them as you eat your lunch, but before you know it you are staring open-mouthed at a television watching something you cannot hear and you probably don’t understand.  We have all had the experience of talking with a friend when something else grabs your attention.  Suddenly you’re someplace else.  A few minutes later you awaken to the reality that you have no idea what your friend has been talking about. It can be very embarrassing to be caught not listening.

            Sometimes when we get distracted it causes real damage in our lives.  As an associate chaplain at the hospital I get called in to the ER when there has been an accident. On one occasion I was called in to attend to a young girl who had driven off the road and rolled her car. Her cell phone had rung and she reached over to the passenger seat to answer it. In that split second of being distracted she drove off the road.  If you have been driving for any length of time you have had your share of close calls and near misses because of a distracted moment.

            We can get distracted spiritually as well, often with very negative results. It happens when we focus on what others are doing or not doing. We can get very engrossed in the performance of others and in the process lose our focus on what God wants us to do.  It happens when we let lesser important things push the important things off to the side. Minor things become major things in our mind so that we spend our energies on things that really don’t matter.  Satan is delighted when we get upset over inconsequential matters. He rejoices when we become enthralled with superficial projects. If he can get us to “stare at the TV” he can keep us from advancing the Kingdom of God.
            As we run the race of faith, we need to keep our eyes firmly on the goal God has set before us.  When a runner competes in a race it is important to keep focused forward. Races have been lost because a runner has looked back. When running a cross-country race it is important to know what is in front of you. If you get distracted you can get tripped up or take a wrong turn. When we get distracted spiritually we veer off course and lose our way. In order to run the race well we need to keep our eyes on the road ahead. 

            In order to stay on course we need to be clear about the goal. Having a clear picture of the goal shapes everything that we do.  It determines how we will spend our limited resources. We can see examples of this in the world of business. The founder of Dominos Pizza was asked what made his company so successful. He replied that what made them successful was knowing their goal. He stated that Dominos doesn’t sell pizza, they sell delivery.  What makes them stand apart from the other pizza places is that their goal is to be the best at delivering pizza.  It’s not the pizza, it’s the delivery.

            Starbucks is another example. Did you know that Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee?  Starbucks intentionally sells an experience.  Go to their website and look it up.  Their stated goal is to create a community experience for you.  They just happen to center it around very expensive, very strong coffee! 

            As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be clear about our goal. Our goal is to know Christ and make Him known to others. In Philippians 3:10 the apostle Paul writes these words: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like him in his death and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead”. 

            Paul had a clear and compelling vision of his goal. He never forgot why he was running the race.  Paul was the star runner on the team.  He could have allowed his accomplishments to distract him from the race but he didn’t.  He had a clear understanding of the goal.  He knew exactly where he was headed.  Paul set his goal on knowing Christ.  Paul wanted a personal, experiential knowledge of Christ. He was not satisfied with a purely intellectual understanding of Christ. He desired an intimate relationship with Christ.

            Paul was clear about what this relationship would look like. He wanted to know Christ in the power of His resurrection. The power of Christ’s resurrection is new life.  Paul knew all about the new life available through Christ. He had experienced it first hand, as God transformed him from a vicious enemy to a powerful ally. Paul wrote often about putting off the old life and putting on the new life in Christ. Paul wanted an ever greater experience of new life.  For Paul, the resurrection wasn’t some kind of historical event; it was a dynamic everyday experience. It was a moment-by-moment power that infused his life. 

            Paul also desired to know Christ by sharing in Christ’s sufferings.  Does that make you uncomfortable at all?  It does me!  I don’t like to suffer.  Do you? We are an anti-suffering society.  We fight hard against suffering. We have drug stores filled with thousands of pills, ointments and creams to alleviate pain. Is Paul really saying that he wants to suffer? No, I think what he is saying is he is willing to pay the price to stay close to Jesus.

            If you want to be a better runner, who do you run with?  You run with the better runners.  At first it can be a painful experience, but if you persist it pays off.  Committing to train with someone else is sharing in their suffering. You do it not because you like the pain, but to attain the goal.  That is the image Paul is using.  He committed to identifying with Christ in his earthly struggles so that he could attain the goal. He was willing to pay the price and face the struggles in order to follow Jesus. We will never have a full experience of the power of Christ if we are unwilling to share in his sufferings as Paul did.  

            There was another aspect of Paul’s relationship with Christ. He wanted to know what it meant to become like Christ in his death.  Paul was not being morbid. He wanted to live out the depth of commitment that Jesus had. Going to the cross was an act of total obedience for Jesus.  He was letting go of everything and putting it in the Father’s hands. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus struggled with the path that was before him. He prayed fervently that God would open another path. But in the end his prayer was not my will but yours be done. As it says in Philippians 2:8, Jesus was “obedient to death – even death on a cross.”  That was the level of commitment Paul was striving for. He struggled along the way just like we struggle. He was tempted to hold back and not give his all. But his greatest desire was to know what it means to die with Christ.  Paul set his sights on the highest of standards. In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” 

            We need to guard against settling for a lesser goal.  Satan has placed many alternative goals before us.  If we allow them to they will consume us. We cannot afford to settle for something less than the real thing.  Our goal is clear: to know Christ and to help others know Him.  As we strive to know Christ better, others will see Christ through us. Jesus said that people see Him when they see us living out our love for Him. We want to help each other see Jesus Christ whether for the first time or the thousandth time.  We want to help each other to grow in our relationship with Christ. The highest goal we can have to is to know Christ. 

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