In my work in athletics and recreation, prior to being a pastor, I took groups through “challenge courses” of different kinds. One of the courses I liked most was a high ropes course in western Washington, where we had to balance on and walk across a quarter-inch steel cable stretched between massive cedar trees while harnessed in from another cable above.
There were various sections of this course. They varied in their fear factor and challenge depending how high they were above the ground and how difficult it was to get from one tree to the next. My favourite part was the “multi-vine,” where we had to walk across the quarter–inch cable by grabbing hanging ropes from a higher cable. The ropes were at different distances apart and at different heights above the cable on which we stood (and shook).
The main challenge of this element was that our feet were 35 feet above the ground. It was a long way down, even with a harness on. The most unnerving thing for me was that even at more than six feet tall, I had to let go of the tree and lunge forward in order to grab the first hanging rope. (One girl in my group, who was just over five feet, made it across!)
Letting go, and moving forward
This experience was scary every time I did it. But it helped me understand what Paul writes about inPhilippians 3:10-14, and how we press on towards maturity in Christ.
Paul has been talking in this passage about what it means to truly know Christ, and the faith required to walk in risk-taking obedience, including suffering and even death. It’s a pretty challenging text. Paul states that even though he hasn’t yet achieved this perfection, he continues to “press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
But in verse 13, he says something curious about how he does this. He says he focuses on one thing, but then actually says two things: “forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”
I’ve come to realize the profound truth in this one thing. It contains two inseparable parts. The only way we’re able to “look forward to what lies ahead” is to let go of the various things from our past that keep us immobilized and unable to move forward.
But the other part is also true. The only way we’re able to forget the past and let go is to have such a compelling picture and experience of the promise of Jesus Christ that we continually look forward to what lies ahead. Each one depends upon the other. These together are a powerful one thing!
Back to my cedar tree. There are so many times in our lives when God is calling us forward, but we keep clinging to what is familiar and secure, not realizing that in order to continue to grow in Christ and experience more of what he has for us, we have to let go and jump. We like to have it both ways. We want to hold onto the familiar and comfortable, and also grab onto where God is calling us forward. But we have to let go of the one in order to grab hold of the other. That’s the risk-taking obedience of faith.
God continually calls us forward, not backwards. When God called the people of Israel to remember the past, it wasn’t to go back to Egypt or the desert. It was to remember the faithfulness of God in the past in order to have faith to enter God’s future for them. May God give us the courage to live out this one thing.
I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.