Sam goes to the doctor for his checkup. “Everything is fine,” said the young 30’s ish aged doctor, “You’re doing OK for your age.” “For my age?” questioned Sam, “I’m only 75, do you think I’ll make it to 80?
“Well,” said the doctor, “do you drink or smoke?” “No,” Sam replied. “Do you eat fatty meat or sweets?” “No,” said Sam. “I’m very careful about what I eat.” “How about your activities? Do you engage in thrilling behaviors like speeding or skiing? “No,” said Sam taken aback, “I would never engage in dangerous activities.”
“Well,” said the doctor, “then why in the world would you want to live to be 80?”
Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Your past is past. You’re not your past. Your past influences you, but your past doesn’t define you. What matters today is not your past. I don’t care what you’ve done, who you did it with, or how long you did it. What matters today is what direction your feet are headed.
If you want to move forward, you must stop focusing on the past and focus instead on the future. Focus on what you want to happen to you, not what you didn’t want to happen to you. Focus on your goal.
This is why diets don’t work. When you’re on a diet, what are you focused on all the time? Food. You think far more about food on a diet than you do when you’re off the diet.
Or take the smoker who wants to quit and says, “One of these days I’m going to give up smoking because I know it’s bad for me.” But the whole time, he’s focusing on what he doesn’t want to do. That keeps you stuck in a rut. You’ve got to focus on something else.
Don’t focus on what happened. Focus on what you want to happen. If you insist on driving while looking in the rear-view mirror, you’re going to crash. If you want to run the race well, you need to find time to fill your mind with God’s word and promises.
In the first eleven verses of Philippians 3, Paul wrote about trading every religious advantage he had in Judaism for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. He defined the goal of his life to be to know Christ. In the
second part of chapter 3, he discussed his active pursuit of this goal, and invites the Philippians to join him.
Two major aspects of his pursuit stand out. First, there is humility about the past. He emphasizes that no matter how far he’s come, he hasn’t yet reached his destination. In fact, he “forgets” what’s behind. He doesn’t rest on his laurels or bask in past triumphs.
The second major aspect of his quest follows. While he’s forgetting what’s behind, he presses on toward what lies ahead. In fact, he seems to be looking forward, not just to some earthly attainment of spiritual maturity or knowledge, but to the moment when God will call him heavenward. He will reach the destination only on the day when he receives his final prize.
Everyone, he says, who is mature should have the same attitude.
There’s no doubt we’re all works in progress. Some like to say, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” This is fine if it’s not used as a crutch or a cop-out because then we’re not “works” in progress any longer since we have stopped working on our progress.
Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already reached the goal…I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” He realizes he’s still a work in progress. God is still working on him, still pruning and shaping.
He acknowledges he isn’t there yet. We’re not either but we’re to be heading in the right direction, not repeatedly failing when faithfulness stands so nearby. What we may need is a stronger sense of destiny, of getting somewhere more meaningful. We should join Paul in his striving to reach the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.” How many of us have fallen victim at one point or another to not setting goals? For the most part, people are content with just getting by and as a result, the goals they set do just enough to “get by.”
But that’s clearly not what we see in our scripture reading. Now while we don’t all have to be type A personalities, we sure should see that God has invested in us. Jesus had no problem telling parables that said God has given us talents that shouldn’t go to waste or be squandered. It’s our responsibility and our purpose to grow.
As Paul writes this letter, he’s sitting in prison. He talks about rejoicing even at that time. You have to wonder if Paul thought his experience in prison was part of God’s perfecting process for him.
Sometimes God puts us in places where we’re hindered, hampered, limited; we’re in our own “involuntary servitude.” The circumstance you’re in right now may be a blessing in disguise, an opportunity God has not been afraid to have for you to further some important progress.
See that what may be bad for you—because you say so—isn’t. Take a deeper look at what may happen if instead of rejecting outright your trials, you incorporate them into your life plan. Make goals out of what’s bad. Get some good out of what seems to have gone wrong.
Just as bad things happen to good people, good things come out of bad situations.
Paul realizes that he hasn’t attained his potential in Christ, but he doesn’t excuse himself by the difficulty of the calling. Instead, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. ”
The first verb is “press on.” Here it means, “to move rapidly and decisively toward an objective, hasten, run, press on.” The root idea is to chase. The imagery is from a race, “to chase, run after, pursue.” Paul is single-minded. “But one thing I do!”—forgetting what lies behind.
A runner in a race doesn’t keep looking back at who is behind him, lest he trip and fall on his face. Instead, he is intent upon the goal up ahead.
I think of a story from David’s life. Abner, general for King Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth, loses many troops in a battle against David’s men. Then Asahel, brother of David’s general, “chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him.” The Bible records, “Asahel refused to give up the pursuit, turning to his left or his right.”
It’s this kind of dogged determination that’s the fire in Paul’s belly. Paul looks toward the goal line, Greek skopos, from a root meaning “to look into the distance.” It’s the distant mark looked at, the “goal or end one has in view.”
We need to set goals because they give us hope to keep us believing. Job says, “What strength do I have left that I can go on hoping? What goal do I have that I would want to prolong my life?” Many times, we need a goal to keep us in the race.
A goal doesn’t have to be big to motivate you. For instance, if you had to have surgery, your first goal in recovery could be to sit up in bed. Then you might work toward standing up and after that walking down the hallway. All of those are very small goals, but they’re all important, because to get
from where you are to success isn’t one big leap. It’s many small steps. A goal doesn’t have to be big to be important.
But what’s important about goals is that they claim our focus. One guy remembers how staying focused on his goal became so important. “When I was several years younger I rode a motorcycle for recreation with a bunch of friends on weekends. One weekend we were returning home from a ‘run’, coming down I45 towards Galveston Island.
There before me about 40 yards ahead appeared the carcass of a dead dog in my traffic lane. Not a big one, but big enough that I sure didn’t want to hit it. All I had to do was swerve to the right or to the left just a little bit to miss it completely. I had plenty of time.
With a laser focus on the carcass looming just ahead, my mind told my body to move over just a tad so I would miss it, and avoid possibly going air born. But no matter how hard I tried; no matter how much I wanted to lean a little to left or a little to the right I COULD NOT DO IT!
And so, I ran over the carcass just as smooth and clean as you please. I did not go air born thankfully. I didn’t wipe out as I feared. But the adrenaline was really pumping, I can tell you that. And when we all reached our destination I was in for some teasing. One of my friends asked me, ‘So I guess you figured that dog wasn’t dead enough?’
I thought about this incident for a while, wondering why couldn’t I have avoided hitting that carcass? I really wanted to! I finally concluded that the reason my body would not respond to my demands to move over was because I had a laser focus on that object. I’ll bet I didn’t even blink! I mean my eyes were riveted on that dead dog in the road ahead. And with such focus and intensity, my body ignored my verbal demands and followed my visual focus. Right over that dead dog in the road.
Now when I think of some goal I really, really want, I know exactly what I must do to get it or achieve it. I just have to put a laser focus on it.”
When we set goals and press forward to reach them, we empower ourselves. We determine what our life will be and we sacrifice to make it so. We forget the past and build a new future. We challenge ourselves and overcome resistance. We face down fears and look to the light. When we don’t settle for what was or even what is, the greatest benefit will not be your accomplishments but rather what happens inside you.
If you’re discouraged today, you need to set some new goals. Make them smaller perhaps. Search deeper to make them more important. Realize
your potential and make them larger. See how much more alive you really want to be and make your life more interesting. Learn that you want to understand yourself better and make them more personal.
Let the Lord work in your life through goals you set. Talk to God about what’s missing. Speak to the Lord about what you really want. Listen long and well enough so your purpose connects to God’s will.
But the real reward in setting good goals is going to come in eternity. 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 says, “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.”
Win the prize that God has prepared for you in heaven. Looking forward, we strive to hear the joyous call of eternal life, seeking Christ’s grace and living in faithfulness to his word throughout our lives. And having run this race, may God’s love take you to the gates of heaven and bring you to at last through them.
Can the church say Amen?