10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 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. 13 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 towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
This is one of the most famous passages ever written by Paul. At least, the idea of ‘Pressing on towards the goal’ is famous. A couple of things have happened recently that have made me think about these verses.
Firstly, a good friend of mine died. I knew him through work – he came to so many of our events and became a valuable team member, firstly as a driver and prayer warrior, but later on as a tenor in the choir and soloist in his own right. The eulogy at his funeral said that he was someone who ‘pressed on’ – he didn’t stay the same.
My friend wasn’t perfect – his very demeanour and turn of phrase was pessimistic although there was still something about him that was hopeful. He was also a bit of a perfectionist, so some of his ‘pressing on’ was to achieve a goal that was perhaps unattainable. It was also such an honour to witness him working on the prayer team on tour – initially perhaps he was a little out of his depth, but he grew into the role. And it was also lovely to watch him lifting his hands up in worship. He often said to me that it annoyed him when worship leaders asked him to stand at the start of a time of singing. ‘I’ll stand when I feel moved!’ And he regularly did, which showed the passion for Jesus in his heart.
He will be greatly missed. But God has called him heavenwards.
Secondly, some other friends have decided to move on from something close to my heart. Their companionship will be greatly missed, as will their gifts and skills. God has called them to leave this phase of their lives and ‘press on’ into the next. But that has left a void. The kind of emptiness that is left by people who were great at listening to God and who regularly shared wisdom, prophecy and discernment that cut right to the heart.
Paul talked about ‘pressing on’ to reach the goal, but what is it? Paul’s goal is to know Christ. And everything that comes with that – the sufferings and the glory.
That is the challenge for me. I need to step up to the plate. The void that my friends have left behind needs to be filled – not necessarily by a replacement person, but by me pressing on towards the goal. In the absence of their wisdom and discernment, I need to find it instead in Christ. Jesus calls people into lives of obedience and faith. The tools of the Spirit we have been given to work with are sharpened by risk, even if sometimes I get it wrong.
Help me never to be static. Keep me moving forward, straining, reaching, listening, moving, growing. I know that as I stumble towards you you rush towards me. And then one day I will see you face to face, alongside all of those who have gone before me.