I may have written this blog before, so stop reading if you’ve heard this before. We are all works in progress, and some days we make more progress than others. But our failures don’t define us any more than our successes do. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn is that I am not the sum of what I do. It’s really easy to tell myself who I am based on what I do. For men, that tends to be based on your job. For women, that tends to be the roles we inhabit: wife, mother, friend, bookkeeper, housekeeper… I judge my progress on how much I check off my to-do list or how well I think I have done my assorted jobs instead of on how well I followed Christ with my whole life.
Sometimes I butt heads with Paul, but I love the imagery of Philippians 3 where he tells his readers to keep running, “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.” (Philippians 3:12-14) We are all running a race; we aren’t all running the same race, but we are all looking forward to what lies ahead, and our habits today will determine what finish line we’re seeking.
If you follow Christ, then the ultimate finish line is the heavenly prize Jesus claimed for you when he redeemed you, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have earthly goals, too. Your earthly goals should honor Christ, but they may not be specifically spiritual in nature. I have set some fitness goals (which now need adjusting, as Engelberta decided she and I must compete on “American Ninja Warrior” when she gets “big” next week…), and they may seem silly to someone in good shape, but I am determined to do at least one pull-up before I die. The other goals are far more achievable, as I have done them all at least once in my life, but the pull-up has eluded me since the days of Presidential Fitness Testing in elementary school. But I am pressing on toward my goal. Some days I feel like I am never going to make it, and other days, like today, I realize that I am slowly getting stronger. My form is getting better, I can accomplish more challenging workouts, and one day soon that pull-up is going to happen – not immediately, and not if I don’t keep working towards it, but soon enough that I want it even more with each day of pressing on and looking towards the prize.
So now my challenge is to chase after each of my goals, especially the ultimate goal of seeing my faith perfected through Jesus, as hard as I chase after my pull-up. It’s harder to measure spiritual growth, but those moments of reflection when you realize that you are stronger than you were before, you react differently than you used to, or you more often than not see people as who God created them to be make me want that prize all the more.