Don’t give up
Over the last few weeks we are been looking at the book of Philippians. We are finding out that Paul’s goal was to know Christ and to be like him and to be all that Christ intended him to be. Is this what we want for ourselves, our children, our family and friends? Paul’s very quick to point out that he doesn’t consider that he’s arrived at that point but is going to expend all his energy for as long as he lives on achieving that goal. True Christian maturity means recognising that you have not arrived and that you must keep on pressing on towards the goal. Whatever life throws at us.
Sometimes it is easier to opt out because situations become too hard, we give up trying and we don’t pay much attention to reading the bible, or saying prayers. We dip in and out then wonder why things aren’t going so well. A short time ago we played a game at SMYL. Before a meeting I hid a Mars Bar in the room. I also had a large supply of short pieces of string of varying lengths in a box. For the first game, I told the group that they had three minutes to make as long a chain as possible by tying the pieces of string together. Then, immediately they finished I told them that there was a mars bar hidden somewhere in the room and that it can be kept by whoever finds it. After it was found we sat down and discuss the two games. I asked, and you can use your imagination here, ‘How motivated were different people to win them? ‘Was there anyone who didn’t really try?’ And ‘Did anyone compete more strongly in one game than the other?’ And ‘why?’ You can imagine the answers!
And it may be a cliché but this old saying is true: it takes two to tango. It’s true in our human relationships and it is true in our relationship with God in Christ. He will not let go of us, but he needs us to take hold of him if we are to stand firm. We warm to that first truth, but find the second rather harder, don’t we? (Like the string game and the mars bar). We mean to stay close, but somehow we drift away, disentangling our hand from his to follow our own path and pursue our own interests. Christ is still there, reaching out, ready to respond the moment we ask him, but if we will not hold on then we limit what he can do. And it goes further than that. The joy of faith, the peace of God, the hope of eternal life can all be lost so easily, not because they are taken away but because we lose our grip on them, intent on grasping other pleasures. Paul recognises that he has not achieved all this yet but intends to keep on after it.
I wonder how many of you have watched this film – ‘Cool Running’. It’s a true story about the first Jamaican bobsleigh team. The background is that they had no sponsorship – everybody laughed, bobsleigh team, doesn’t that require SNOW! But the team were not interested in what people thought. They practiced in a homemade bobsleigh out of wood and metal wheels. So determined were they that one of the team members sold his car to pay for the air tickets and accommodation at Calgary. They had no proper equipment, clothing, their bobsleigh was one that had been discarded … Everything was stacked against them YET the team had a goal and that was to complete the race, no matter what. Nothing was going to get in the way of them crossing the finishing line, even if they had to carry their bobsleigh rather than ride in it.
We too, just like the Jamaican bobsleigh team, will encounter obstacles as we journey with God. The obstacles can and do distract us from our journeying with God, ‘disappointment’, ‘illness’, ‘what others think’, redundancy, other people and so on. Things that come out of the blue and stop us dead in our tracks. Knock us off course and the journey becomes difficult and sometimes we think it would be better if we were to give up! Sometimes we need to just stop and think’ what are the real obstacles’ that get in the way of us staying on course?
One thing that can hinder our journey is the past. What things from the past are you still carrying? There is a saying: ‘If you bring the past into the present, if you are not careful you will take it into the future with you’. There was much in Paul’s life before his encounter with Jesus that he might have preferred to forget – he knows he is not perfect but he is determined to persevere. How willing are we at persevering when things get tough? Paul is not saying that he wants to forget because he feels so guilty about his past. He is simply saying that if he constantly looks back the feelings of guilt will immobilise him. And they will immobilise us too. Paul knows that God has forgiven him and wants him to focus on following him. The same applies to us. Do we know God has forgiven us? Paul is telling us not to live in the past. If there are things that we have done wrong, and if we have asked for forgiveness, then God’s promise is that it is done and dealt with and you do not have to keep going back and dwelling on those events.
If there are really good things in our past, we need to leave those behind us as well, not saying that they are unimportant but recognising that what matters is how we are living today. You can’t run forwards while looking backwards – if you try it, it won’t be long before you fall over. The aim is to look forward- fully focused on what is ahead, using all your energy to make sure that you win the prize. The prize of living in God’s new world.
Paul is also saying we need to be consistent regardless of the circumstances. Things happen regardless of the circumstances we are in: the seasons change, the car won’t go if you run out of petrol and so on. We need to pray that God would help us to be consistent in following him, regardless of the circumstances.
Whatever our circumstances Christ is still here, reaching out, ready to respond the moment we ask him, but if we will not hold on then we limit what he can do. And it goes further than that. The joy of faith, the peace of God, the hope of eternal life can all be lost so easily, not because they are taken away but because we lose our grip on them, and end up intent on grasping other pleasures. Paul recognises that he has not achieved all this yet but intends to keep on after it. His goal was to win the prize that God had set before him – the prize of living in God’s new world. He knew this was a race that was going to take him is whole life to win, but he was determined that nothing would get in the way of him crossing the finishing line.
In a short while Sophie will be baptised into the family of God, and Josh, Zara and Naomi will receive Communion for the first time. Sophie is at the beginning of her journey and Josh, Zara and Naomi are a little further along. Our hope and prayers for them is that at some time in the future they will each want to stand and face the world and make the promises that were made for them at baptisms for themselves. In order for them to do that they will need our help. We will need to teach them how to have a relationship with God and to show them that whatever come their way, not to give up. You pick yourself up, dust yourself down and grab hold of Christ’s hand and move forward.
For Christ is still here, reaching out, ready to respond the moment we ask him, but if we will not hold on then we limit what he can do. Don’t leave it all to Him: each day take hold afresh of Christ and make him yours as you are his. Amen.
1. Do you keep on going when the going gets tough or do you find yourself wandering off course? What distracts you?
2. Are there things from the past that are still with you today? Are they hindering your walk with God?
3. Do you find it easy to pick yourself up and dust yourself down when move on when things go wrong or do not go according to plan?
4. What can we do to encourage each other to keep on going?
Pray for each other that that God would help us to be consistent in following him, regardless of the circumstances.