Pursuing the Upward Call of God

Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14 NET).

Consistency

I enjoy setting new goals and making plans at the start of each new year. The thing is, I also start each new year bringing along everything from the past year. Same husband, same kids, same hairdo, same places I’d like to travel, same friends (hopefully), same zucchini muffins from the market, same work, same church (often, even the same pew). I think you get the idea. My world, and I imagine yours too, consists mostly of the same.

Consistency, is not a necessarily a bad thing. What’s wrong with enjoying a life of sameness? Who wants life to look like someone pushed the button on the blender? Not me! The thought of change generates two reactions in people. Either you want everything to remain as is or you wake up hoping that today will be different. As Bill Murray states in the movie Groundhog Day, “Different is good.”

Hopefully, you desire a balance of both. Certainly, God realizes most of life is repetitive. The question he poses to us becomes, repetitive in what direction? Is your life moving you toward “the upward call of God” or away from it?

A Careful Look at Philippians 3:12-14

So, let’s look at the passage above and what Paul had to say to the Philippians and to us. 

To begin with, we need to recognize that the “prize” is not our salvation. Paul, is writing to the Philippians about thirty years after his salvation experience. During those years he experienced many various trials and had matured in his faith. Yet, he openly confesses he has not arrived or reached his goal of complete maturity in Christ. Knowing that Christ has more for him and for the Philippians he encourages them to press on in their faith. 

Christ took hold of Paul’s life for a reason. He did the same for you and me. Now that we have received our salvation, our desire becomes like Paul’s, we want to take hold of all that Christ has for us. Our spiritual maturity continues, as the process of our sanctification. Salvation marks the beginning, but greater things remain! One day the “prize” may produce heavenly rewards. But Paul’s life focuses on all that is before him now, in this life. 

What else does Paul exhort us in? “Forgetting what lies behind.” What lies behind Paul? The same things that lie behind us all, success, and failures.

Paul wasn’t one to brag about his successes. Though he had quite the resume of Christian service and ministry. Rather, he quotes scripture to us, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31b NET). Nor does he waste time brooding over his failures. Why? Because when we camp in either of those areas, we lose sight of our calling.

In Acts 8:1 NET, Paul, then Saul, agreed with the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Then began to arrest and imprison every Christ follower he could find. Paul later realized his need to accept the forgiveness Christ offered.

We can’t move forward if we stay stuck in our past sins and failures. What sins are you still keeping guard over? From where have you failed and can’t move on? What’s holding you back from pressing on? Are you “reaching out for the things that are ahead”? Dwelling, on the past keeps us from living a new life of faith and obedience.

This Philippians passage speaks volumes about the diligent Christian life. It’s full of action phrases of what Paul must do to win the prize for which he has been called.

We may find the Christian life repetitive, but never is it idle!

“This testimony of the apostle reminded the saints at Philippi—and it serves to remind believers today—that there must never be a stalemate in their spiritual growth or a plateau beyond which they cannot climb.”

To summarize, Paul’s imploring us to stay the course, to not dwell on our successes and failures, to realize the Christian life is not an idle one, but always diligent, though often repetitive yet moving our lives towards the higher calling of Christ.

Our problem, however, becomes life is full of interferences that distract us from our personal and spiritual goals. Paul was well aware of the enemy’s efforts to destroy God’s plans. Striving toward what was ahead, he pressed on. And so must we! Therefore, let’s explore practical and scriptural help to keep us pressing on!

Live a Life of Change

I read 75 out of 200 book titles incorporate the word “change” in it. Since the beginning of the 20th Century over 18 million titles use the word “change.” Something compels us towards change. We want change! In our lives, our circumstances, our society. I believe God connects change to our gifts and abilities. Our gifts, when properly used, change us, and change others.

Though, it’s not always easy to embrace change. When I was about to become an empty nester, I complained to my son, “I don’t like change!”

He told me, “Mom, that’s because as you get older change becomes more of what you are losing, than what you are gaining.” He often shares insightful words with me. It’s hard to welcome change when we experience loss more than gain. I’ve especially faced that with my health over the past ten years.

So, how have I tried to take the words my son shared and turn them around?

  1. My first thought became, I need to purpose each year to discover, create, and incorporate something fun and new into my life. Though I can no longer do several things I once enjoyed, more time to pursue other areas of interest and giftedness opened up in my life. 
  2. I try not to lose heart. Honestly, I find this an immense challenge. Maybe you do too? My health needle is always moving in my life, often not in the direction I prefer. Your life may face different unwelcomed changes. Some things God allows are simply out of our control. But we can find great consolation in 2 Corinthians 4:16 NET, “Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.”
  3. I determine to focus my biggest changes in life, toward Christ. Either we believe nothing compares to life in Christ, or we don’t. For me there’s simply nothing better than change that brings glory and honor to God.

In short, in order to press on, we don’t make change our enemy; we make it our aim!

Live a Life of Abiding

I can’t stress enough that a follower of Christ lives a life where their faith dwells deeply in Christ. (John 8:31 NET). Faith isn’t just what we believe, but how we respond or act upon what we believe.

In John 15:9-10 NET, Jesus tells us, “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love; just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

We must also abide in the Spirit and rely on the strength he provides from within. “I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person” (Ephesians 3:16 NET). 

We never press on in our own strength. We draw our strength from God’s Word, by abiding in his love through keeping his commandments, and by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer.

Live a Life of Practice

Lately I’ve been cleaning out paper files. One of those files is “Computer Help.” It comprises brief notes, I wrote when learning to navigate new things on my computer years ago. If I forgot how to manage something, I would simply refer to my note. Something my husband appreciated versus asking him repeatedly for help. These days, I store my help notes in a folder on my computer. So, I took my written notes to transfer them to my computer. However, I soon realized, I no longer needed my written notes. My notes contained navigation skills now mastered. I thought about all the techie stuff I can now accomplish simply from practice.

The Christian life consists of a lot of practice in the right direction. We find our help notes in the Bible. Christian maturity develops slowly over many years, it results from pressing on in faithful practice of what we find in God’s Word. 

Live a Life of Fixing Your Mind

Marcus Aurelius, philosopher, and Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD wrote in his book, Meditations, “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes the color of your thoughts. Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

One of our greatest struggles in life becomes the battle over our thoughts. Everything starts in the mind and determines the shape of our lives from day-to-day. Therefore, God asks us to fix our minds on “…whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 NET).

How can we press on when our personal world feels like it’s falling apart, not to mention the rest of the world? We fix our minds on the one who tells us he is sovereign over everything! 

Live a Life of Diligence

Paul stressed a life of diligence, but so did Peter. In 2 Peter 1:5 ASV we’re told to add diligence to our faith. Why? Because Christ offers us the opportunity to become partakers in his divine nature. What an offer! We weren’t called to spend our days just putting our time in. We remain diligent because of everything we’ve received through Christ.

You’ve heard the phrase, “Let go, and let God.” A phrase that applies to every area where we have shown diligence. It is not the prescription for us to live a life of laziness. Nor should we live expecting God will handle the responsibilities he has assigned to us.

Consider adding this fun word to your vocabulary, hurkle-durkle. A 200-year-old Scottish word that means: To lie in bed, or to lounge after it is time to get up or go to work. Let’s refuse to hurkle-durkle the time the Lord has given us on this earth. Let’s press on!

Live a Life of Persistence

Years ago, in the late fall, we moved into a fifty-year-old home in Duncansville, PA. Three sisters had lived in the home since it was built. It was being sold by the last sister still alive. The house sat on an acre of land. The owner only made one request of us. Please don’t take out, remove, mow over anything in the yard until you see what happens in the spring.

We respected her wish, waited for spring, and then…wow! In the spring a long row of peony bushes popped up, hundreds of bulbs sprung up from the ground, wildflowers appeared everywhere, especially an abundance of vibrant orange poppies. We even had a grapevine of lush red grapes our children could sell to those who drove by to view this beautiful yard!

The sisters had created something of ineffable beauty and inspiration. They practiced a great principle. That we reach our goals one step (or bulb) at a time, no matter how small the step. The women loved to plant and realized with the accumulation of time they would achieve what they envisioned.

Pressing on, requires vision and patience! Paul realized, and so must we that we are God’s work in progress. One day spring will arrive and everything we envisioned and more will overwhelm us, if we press on to win the prize for which God has called each believer.

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