I hit the ground running as a young Christian.
I was determined to be and do great things for God from the get-go. Incidentally, ministry opportunities opened up fairly quickly for me and I experienced a few significant wins.
It all went so well. So naturally, I expected and anticipated the trajectory of my faith would look like this:
In fact, a life verse that served as the soundtrack for my life at the time was Psalm 27:4 where David says, “This one thing I have asked of the LORD, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on His beauty and to seek Him in His temple.”
Reality, of course, quickly set in.
The daily grind of life, along with my struggle with sin sometimes left me so beat up emotionally and spiritually that the one thing I asked was NOT to dwell in the house of the Lord and gaze on His beauty, but rather, the one thing I asked was to dwell on my couch all weekend long and gaze on Netflix!
If you have been a follower of Christ for any amount of time, you have an inkling of what I am talking about. You know that the journey of faith is NOT a straight line (as my younger-self had anticipated), but more accurately like this image below:
The truth is, pursuing godliness is sometimes wearying.
Unfortunately, in our weariness, many of us Christians have become spiritually “stuck” and aren’t growing in our faith. We’ve either allowed our past failures/present failings to bog us down, or we’ve allowed our good deeds to become the measure of our value before God, which, as it turns out, are “nothing but filthy rags”. (Isaiah 64:6)
STUCK IN A SPIRITUAL RUT
If you fall in either of those camps, despair not! You’re actually in good company. Biblical history and Church history show us that there were godly men and women who we would consider spiritual giants, who also had this back-and-forth struggle in their faith, men and women who sometimes fell into a spiritual rut!
In the apostle Paul's letter to the Church in the city of Philippi, we discover the key to breaking out of the spiritual “stuckness” you may find yourself in. His central message amounts to this: EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE REASON TO QUIT, PRESS ON IN YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST, AND THEN KEEP AT IT!
I’ll share with you very practically what this looks like in a bit, but for now, let’s direct our attention to Philippians 3:10-14 where Paul says, “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.”
I don’t know how much you know about the apostle Paul, but this dude was the standard! He deeply loved Jesus Christ and was mightily filled with the Holy Spirit. He wrote at least 13 of the books in the New Testament, not to mention the fact that he was a Church-planter extraordinaire. Paul was the varsity level of the Christian faith. If there were such a thing as an All-Star Christian, Paul’s face would be on that poster. He was the Lebron James and the Beyonce of the Christian life!
Yet, we find the great apostle exclaiming this about the Christian life in Romans 7:18-19, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” In other words, “I don’t have it all together, people! I’m not there yet. I still find myself battling with some recurring sins in my life.”
I have to admit, it is a breath of fresh air to hear Paul say that because it tells me that seasons of struggle with sin are to be expected in the Christian life.
So, how did Paul press past those sinful urges and struggles and push headlong into Christ?
He worked hard at it!
He put in the kind of time and effort one would expect from a professional athlete. It’s no coincidence that Paul uses a lot of athletic metaphors in his writings (you get the sense that he must have been a sports fan in his day). He’ll often use examples from boxing, wrestling, and even track to describe the effort required in the Christian life.
For instance, In 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, he says, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Paul is cluing us in on WHAT IS REQUIRED in order to break out of one’s spiritual-stuckness!
- That’s why in verse 12 of Philippians 3, he says things like, “I press on”, “I take hold of”.
- In verse 13, he says, “I strain toward what is ahead”,
- Then in v.12, he says it again, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize.”
Notice that nothing about his choice of words is passive. In other words, no one stumbles into godliness. Each phrase speaks of intentionality in taking aggressive and energetic steps towards the end goal of becoming more like Jesus Christ.
But there’s even more to that because in verse 12, he says, “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” This is huuuuge because it means that all my PRESENT efforts in the pursuit of godliness is rooted in the PAST effort of something profound Jesus Christ already did.
JESUS HAS BEEN BUSY
Here’s what I mean.
On the cross at Calvary, Jesus paid the debt that you and I owed God, thereby making things relationally right between God and us. This is what is called JUSTIFICATION. Presently, however, there is a gap between who we are and who God has destined us to be. In that gap, Jesus is continually working through His Holy Spirit in us to mold and shape us into whom God created us to be so that we can someday be presented faultless before God.
God knows you’re going to be messy.
God knows you’re going to fail.
All of that was factored in when a high cost was paid on the cross for your life, hence it’s in that messiness that Christ is now presently working!
Listen to this, at no point in your faith will Jesus ever go, “Man, this dude is one tough nut to crack! Oh well, we tried. C’mon Holy Spirit, let’s find the next guy!” That will never happen because in every experience in your life, both the high points and low points, Romans 8:29 says God has predestined you to an eternity with Him so that even now, you are continually being conformed into the image of His Son.
So, here’s what that all amounts to: Because of what Jesus Christ is presently doing in you through the Holy Spirit in you, you are presently a point of pride for Jesus in God’s presence.
Furthermore, there is a day coming when Jesus Christ, with pride and pleasure, and in the presence of God the Father, will BRAG ABOUT ALL HE HAS DONE IN YOU! That is why the apostle Jude ends the book of Jude with this benediction: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, AND TO PRESENT YOU FAULTLESS BEFORE THE PRESENCE OF HIS GLORY WITH EXCEEDING JOY.”
Can you even fathom what that moment will be like??
THIS is the “goal” and the “prize” Paul is referring to when he says in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” It is also what he is referring to in verse 12 when he says, “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
Our motivation for pressing on in our faith in Christ, and then to keep at it is rooted in what Christ has already done, is doing, and will eventually do for us in God’s presence!
So, let’s talk practicalities here: How do you actually do this? How do we break out of our spiritual-stuckness by pressing on and keeping at it?
Well, look back at verse 13, “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.”
STEP ONE: STOP LIVING IN THE PAST
Stop dwelling on your past failures for which Jesus Christ has already forgiven you and saved you from. On the same token, stop keeping score of your past ministry successes as a measure of your present worth and value in Christ.
But rather, strain forward and press on in your faith in Christ, and then keep at it.
STEP TWO: LIVE A CONFESSIONAL LIFE BEFORE GOD
While it IS true that God’s love is eternal and nothing will ever separate you from Him, the reality is that unconfessed sin in your life will ROB you of your joy in and affections for Jesus Christ.
So, make it a priority to launch into each day with a clear conscience before God by confessing any and every known sin in your life. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (NLT).
STEP THREE: ENGAGE IN ACTIVITIES THAT STIR UP YOUR PERSONAL AFFECTIONS FOR JESUS CHRIST
This will look different for each person, so ask yourself the question:
- “What moves me toward Jesus?”
- “What activities stirs in ME a greater love for God, and a longing for more of His presence?”
I’ll give you one example from my life to get your creative juices flowing. I have something I do that I call, KINDNESS BLITZ. It’s not a program nor do I have a schedule, it’s just me doing random acts of kindness, especially to people who don’t know Christ.
So, I’ll pull up at the drive-thru window at McDonalds and engage the lady taking my order. There’s no line behind me, so I start chatting with her to see how she’s doing [This is a true story]. She goes on to tell me how stressful her day has been and how she hasn’t been able to go shopping and doesn’t even have basic things like paper towel. I make a mental note of it and as soon as I leave, I run to Wal-Mart and pick up a 6-pack of paper towel. Making my way back to Micky-Ds, I pull up at the drive thru again at her window and say something super-casual like, “Hey, check out what I found!”, then hand her the pack of paper towel and thank her for helping me with my order. I don’t linger, I just drive off!
What sets this apart from any other generous act of kindness that thousands of people do each day is the fact that from the moment I placed my hand on that pack of paper towel in Walmart, I had been praying over it that God would somehow use it to answer a question about Him she may have been asking. I’d been interceding in prayer for this lady that God would use this random act of kindness to “woo” her to saving faith in Christ somehow, someway.
It is this activity that stirs up my affections for Jesus Christ on a regular basis.
What about you?
How has God shaped and created you to best enjoy Him? Along with living a confessional life and intentionally choosing not to live in the past, what moves you toward Jesus? What stirs in you a greater love for God, and a longing for more of His presence?”
Whatever it is, PUSH HEADLONG INTO IT!
Don’t get bogged down by your past failures or present failings, and don’t become spiritually complacent by relying on your past successes in ministry, but instead PRESS ON IN YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST, THEN KEEP AT IT!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.