But one thing I do: 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.
The flyer said, you may have already won $10,000,000! It was from a company called American Family Publishers. Surely you remember them. Their main spokesperson was Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s sidekick, for those old enough to remember Johnny Carson.
Notice the clever wording. “You may have already won . . .” implying that it was a done deal, and you were the winner. American Family Publishers folded a few years ago. A similar company, Publishers Clearing House, is still in business, also selling magazines by promising major prizes to their winners. I’m not going to ask how many of you have ever returned one of their entry forms. Some of you are still probably receiving magazines that you first purchased from American Family Publishers or Publishers Clearing House years ago.
Somehow in 1997, Bushnell Assembly of God in Bushnell, Florida got on the mailing list of the American Family Publishers. A computer somehow twisted the name of the church, and a sweepstakes notice was addressed to “God of Bushnell” and was sent to the church address.
The accompanying letter read like this, Dear God, we’re searching for you. You’ve been positively identified as our $11,000,000 mystery millionaire! I’ll bet God was excited about that!
The letter went on to say, what an incredible fortune there would be for God! Imagine the looks you’d get from neighbors. But don’t just sit there, God, come forward now and claim your prize!”
I don’t know if God returned the order blank or not. Certainly, for most of us lowly humans, $11,000,000 would be a substantial prize. However, for God, I doubt that it would buy one tiny piece of pavement on the streets of gold.
Our lesson for the day from Philippians tells us that Paul wanted to win a prize, but it wasn’t mere money that he was seeking. Actually, he wanted more than $11,000,000. He wanted a prize of infinite value. He writes, I want to know Christ, yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, 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.
Paul had one goal in mind, and that was to know Jesus Christ, to know Him in His death on the cross and to know Him in the power of His resurrection. No wonder Paul had such a lasting impact on the world. It makes a real difference in your life when you know what your goal in life is, and when you give yourself unreservedly to that goal.
At a meeting where people shared with each other about how God could answer prayer. One elderly woman told how she had gone to the mission field wanting very much to be married. The other missionaries who worked with her were all married and had good companionship. She longed for the same companionship these couples enjoyed. She had prayed long and hard for a husband, but it had not happened. Out of curiosity, one of the women in the group inquired, but why is it that in spite of your many prayers that you never got married? The woman smiled as she answered, somewhere out there is a 70-year-old man who’s been fighting the will of God for 50 years!
We don’t always fulfill our dreams, but having a compelling goal is a vital ingredient in an effective and successful life.
Unfortunately, many Christians don’t have a clear understanding of what God expects from them. Rusty, a terrier, would accompany a man on walks down through the meadow and beside a stream. When they reached the stream, Rusty had a passion for plunging into the water, locating a rock on the bottom of the stream, getting it in his mouth, and bringing it to the bank. He would carefully deposit the stone some distance from the water’s edge, and then go for another one.
Time and again he would fetch his treasured rock, repeating the process for hours, if so allowed. He finally asked this question: What is the point of retrieving rocks from the bottom of a stream for this dog? So far as he could determine, there wasn’t a point. The exercise served no discernable purpose at all. This is the way many Christians are. They seem to be going through the same monotonous routine every day, but without a purpose; with no projected goal. They seem not to know what their reason for existing actually is. Maybe these people operate on a “dog” level.
I’m not saying that you’re not going to hell if you don’t have a distinct purpose for your life. Some people blunder through life quite nicely with no discernable purpose, but you won’t find life as fulfilling as you would if you knew you were fulfilling God’s plan for your life.
It was the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, who wrote, most of the people I see suffer not from physical illness, but from spiritual aimlessness. They have lost their aim. They have lost sight of who they really are and what is really valuable. The happiest people in this world are people who know God’s will for their life and seek with all their hearts to live according to God’s will.
It’s said that God moves in mysterious ways. God certainly moved in a mysterious way in my life. Today I has a firm direction for my life, and I am making my life count for something significant.
My experience was like Paul’s Damascus Road experience. Remember, Paul was on a journey to persecute Christians. As he neared Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
From that day forward, Paul was determined to do and to be what he believed Christ had called him to do and to be. There was no turning back once he had this vision of Christ. Quitting for him was not an option. But one thing I do, he wrote, 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. For Paul, his journey wouldn’t be finished until he stepped through heaven’s gate.
It’s like a scene in an Irving Stone historical novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy. In this inspiring novel, Pope Julius had given Michelangelo a most difficult assignment. The sculptor was to go to the blue hills of Carrara and quarry out a tomb for the pope. Michelangelo, in turn, selected Gilberto, the finest foreman available in all of Italy to lead the expedition. They hired a fine crew and together set out to fulfill the task. For a long time, they labored but finally the crew gave up. Gilberto spoke for them all when he said to Michelangelo, we’ve had it. We’ve tried. It’s enough. We can’t do it. We’re quitting.
Michelangelo looked Gilberto steadily in the eye and said, I can understand if you must quit, but I hope you will understand when I say that I cannot quit. I will find another crew. I will find another foreman. And then I will come back and complete the task, because I am under the assignment of the Holy Father. And with renewed determination, Michelangelo devoted himself to the task at hand.
Michelangelo didn’t quit, because he was under the assignment of the Holy Father, the Pope. In the same way, Paul didn’t quit because he was under the assignment of his Heavenly Father. And he believed a prize awaited him, the grandest prize of all, the prize of knowing Christ.
I don’t believe that Paul fell short of his goal. I believe he came to know Christ in both his death and resurrection. In fact, I believe that everyone who seeks to know Christ will one day attain that prize and it will be the prize above all prizes.
I want to know Christ, wrote Paul, yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, 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. Amen.