We love progress. When we’re trying to lose weight. Or launch a product. Or finding the perfect spouse for us. Or working on a massive project with our team. Or finding the right home in San Francisco. Or getting the funding that will turn our dreams into reality. Or watching our children take their first steps.
We love progress and all the words like it: advancement, movement, gaining ground.
progress – forward or onward movement toward a destination
Where in your life are you seeking to see the most progress?
What are you actually trying to move forward in your life?
Whatever you’re seeking to move forward in your life, there’s a process that’s necessary to bring it to fruition.
Desire. Vision. Strategy. Discipline. Attention. Execution.
Desire – What do I really want?
Vision – What’s my picture of the preferred future?
Strategy – How will this happen?
Discipline – What structure and practices are necessary for this to happen?
Attention – Can I bring my focus to this and keep it there?
Execution – Am I doing the thing?
As progress is made, transformation is taking place.
transformation – a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance
Transformation usually happens over time, and rarely in a single moment. Today we’re kicking off a new teaching series called, Moving Forward: The Path of Transformation.
You don’t have to choose just one area of your life to make progress in. You can get in physical shape and be a better boss. You can save money and become a more present father. You can launch a new business and learn a new hobby. But I do think the order of things matters. As we think about the kind of progress we want to make the Apostle Paul has a word for us.
Philippians 3:4-14 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
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. 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 toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
We’re all measuring progress in our lives. And Paul is letting us know where he used to measure his. Another way to think about it is to ask this question: What do you tend to emphasize in your life? Or what is your confidence really in?
Paul was a true Israelite. But he no longer wanted this to be the truest thing about him. Oh it was still true, but he wanted his identity in Christ to be the truest thing in his life.
What do you want to be the truest thing about you?
Paul talks about how knowing Jesus has become the surpassing worth in his life. We can value a number of things in our lives, but it really matters that we rightly order these things. The word used for “surpassing” means something more excellent.
When you get clarity on the surpassing worth in your life, this is what determines the kinds of exchanges you make. And by the way, we’re always making exchanges. This is why Paul talks so much about gains and losses.
When you hear his words, you might think he’s being a little over the top. But we all do this with whatever we value most. I’ve seen people who have found their work to be their surpassing worth…so they consider it a gain and time with their kids a loss. I’ve seen people who value power as their surpassing worth…and they get rid of close friends because their friends no longer serve their purpose. Or I see someone who makes their appearance their surpassing worth…to the loss of having great character.
When Paul says that his ultimate aim is knowing Christ Jesus, he’s talking about experience…not merely information. “To know Christ” means to know by experience, not to know facts about Jesus.
Transformation > Information
Paul wanted to be found in Christ.
Do you want to be found in Christ or in your accomplishments, power, or wealth?
He wants to know the transforming power of Christ’s resurrection.
Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
He uses athletic imagery. He says he’s not there yet. When you look at Paul saying he’s not there yet and you consider all that he accomplished – it’s a little disheartening. He planted numerous churches. He led many to faith in Jesus. This man wrote about half of the New Testament in the Bible. You may think, “This guy never found contentment.”
You would be wrong. In the next chapter, he says that he has found the secret of contentment in every circumstance. I’ve been thinking of a phrase the last couple of years that has helped me understand how this can work in my life:
Content and Contending
We can be content and we can contend for more of what we want to see God do – in us, our family, our church, our city, and our world.
Paul has been a Christian for 30 years now. And he’s experienced so much. And yet, he keeps saying, “I haven’t arrived yet.”
Direction > Destination
One thing I do. Paul is going to do so many things, but he’s telling us about his focus, his attention, and his ultimate aim. Our lives can be so fragmented. One commentator said this:
Our lives are not integrated around a single, unifying purpose.
This is what we’re after here at Epic:
The vision of Epic Church is to see an increasing number of people in San Francisco orient their entire lives (EVERYTHING) around Jesus (ONE THING).
EVERYTHING around ONE THING.
Focus. Attention. Forgetting what’s behind. Straining towards what’s ahead.
You cannot move forward when you are fixated on what’s behind you.
Failures. Successes. Sin. Paul had to let go of the guilt he surely had for persecuting the church.
Looking back can be helpful or harmful. Reflect. Lessons. Gratitude. But there’s a kind of looking back that causes us to long to go back.
Paul is passionately going after a prize.
What is the prize you are straining to win?
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
There is a prize that lasts FOREVER. One commentator said this:
Earthly prizes do not last forever. Eternal prizes do.
Galatians 4:19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you
We are all being formed on a daily basis.
“Formation takes time, a lifetime.” Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation
You must have a process to see progress.
Presence of God.
But we’re being formed by more than just these practices we typically think about. Hear this from C.S. Lewis:
“I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
We’re all making progress towards the kind of person we are becoming. If you want to know where you’re headed on this journey, this question will shed some light for you:
What game are you trying to win with your one precious life?