Summary: If you want to be fully and completely like Christ, then look ahead to Christ, the goal; look around for positive examples, and look up to heaven.
A customs officer observes a truck pulling up at the border. Suspicious, he orders the driver out and searches the vehicle. He pulls off the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases but doesn’t find a single scrap of contraband. He is still suspicious, but doesn’t know where else to search, so he waves the driver through. The next week, the same driver arrives. Again the official searches, and again finds nothing illicit. Over the years, the official tries full-body searches, X rays, and sonar, anything he can think of, and each week the same man drives up, but no mysterious cargo ever appears, and each time, reluctantly, the customs official waves the driver on.
Finally, after many years, the officer is about to retire. The driver pulls up. “I know you're a smuggler,” the customs officer says. “Don't bother denying it. But [darned] if I can figure out what you've been smuggling all these years. I'm leaving now. I swear to you I can do you no harm. Won't you please tell me what you've been smuggling?”
“Trucks,” the driver says. (Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms our Lives, Henry Holt and Company, 2007, pp. 3-4; www.PreachingToday.com)
Sometimes, we can’t see for looking (as my mother used to say). It’s easy to miss the obvious, especially when it comes to our own spiritual growth and maturity.
Some people focus on certain spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting. Others focus on the teachings of a favorite preacher, and still others look to a specific program or system of discipleship to help them grow in Christ. Now, all of these can be helpful, but if you miss the obvious, you’ll never grow in your relationship with Christ; you’ll never mature beyond that of a baby Christian; you’ll never become all that Christ has called you to become.
So what should be our focus if not the spiritual disciplines, the teachings of favorite preacher, or some discipleship program? If we want to become all that Christ has called us to be, where should we look? If we want to become fully like Christ, reflecting His beauty, where should we focus our attention. If we want to reach the level of full and complete spiritual maturity, where should we concentrate all our efforts? Well, If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Philippians 3, Philippians 3, where the Bible shows us where to focus: Philippians 3:12. The Apostle Paul is speaking, and he says…
Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (ESV)
Paul admits that he has not attained full maturity yet. He’s still pursuing it, because he belongs to Christ. Christ has a hold of Paul, so Paul wants to grab a hold of Christ, becoming like Him in all His fullness.
Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. 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. (ESV)
Do you want to be all that God called you to be? Do you want to be fully and completely like Christ? Then, 1st of all…
Focus on the objective. Concentrate on the goal. Keep your eye on the finish line.
That means you have to take your eyes off the past. Or as Paul put it in verse 13, “Forget what is lies behind.” Forget the “good ol’ days.” Forget your past achievements, because they can actually become your greatest barrier to any future achievement.
When he was in his mid-80's, the great cellist Pablo Casals kept practicing his instrument for four or five hours each day. Someone once asked him why, at his age, he still worked so hard. “Because,” he said, “I have a notion that I am making some progress.” (Leonard Lyons, Reader's Digest, Nov. 1993, p.136)
That’s the attitude we need to have – especially those of us who are older, especially those of us who are more mature.
Philippians 3:15-16 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (ESV)
You see, if we begin to rest on our laurels, if we begin to rest on our past achievements, we can actually drift backwards; we can actually regress in the Christian life. Sometimes, the greatest enemy to any future progress is past progress. It’s our past achievements which often keep us from moving forward in life.