Stay the Course

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I love listening to people share their favorite Bible verses.  It amazes me how particular passages leap off the page and offer precise encouragement and challenge that seems tailored to certain seasons.

For several years now I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my favorite verse.  In the preceding verses, the Apostle Paul reviewed his resume and took stock of his pedigree.  Impressive as it was, he came to the conclusion that having a relationship with Jesus was the highlight of his life.  Hands down.  Knowing Jesus, in fact, was of such significance to him that it totally upended his value system.  In verse 8 he wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

I love that.  Paul’s background was noteworthy – he was well-educated and extraordinarily religious – but Jesus Himself became Paul’s treasure.

It’s not surprising, then, that a few years before he penned Philippians, Paul articulated his values loud and clear.  He told church leaders in Ephesus, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Since Paul prized knowing Jesus above all else, his singular ambition was to tell other people about what Jesus accomplished so that they could know Him too.  And it makes perfect sense.  If knowing Jesus is the goal, proclaiming Jesus is the task.

Observing Paul’s laser-like focus is helpful to me as I consider how I’m spending my life.  All it takes is a glance at social media or a couple of minutes watching the news to realize our world has a lot of need.  Innumerable people are hurting, near and far.  With so many needs and so much hurt, I often wonder what to do or where to go.  The list of worthwhile causes is extensive, and countless Jesus-loving people are serving the world well in His name.

Where I go awry is by comparing my response to the world’s need with the responses of other believers.  Sometimes I’m driven by overt pride: How can people call themselves Christians and not be concerned about this particular issue?  Other times I fall prey to backdoor arrogance – the self-depreciating attitude that still casts self as the star of the show.  I can’t believe I’m not out there doing what so-and-so is doing in response to such-and-such crisis.  In any event, when my eyes are on myself instead of Jesus, I’m either callous to others’ needs or I’m relying on my own strength to meet them.  Neither situation deepens my knowledge of Jesus or fuels a desire to make Him known.

As a follower of Jesus, I want to live an informed, engaged life.  I want to care about people and their needs because God does.  I want to be sensitive to where He may lead me or how He wants to use me.  And I want to rejoice that I’m part of a Body – a Body that functions beautifully with Jesus as the Head and each part playing its God-given role.

Paul’s ministry, as fruitful as it was, didn’t reach everybody in the Roman Empire.  His goal was to advance the knowledge of Jesus and his method was to “finish [the] course” God assigned to him.  Paul’s course looked different than Peter’s, for instance, but both had the same aim.

Likewise, God has assigned a unique course to each of us, but we share an end goal.  “To know Him and to make Him known”, as my alma mater phrased it.  Or as Paul wrote, to know Christ Jesus and to testify to the gospel.

So next time you turn on the news and your head starts spinning, pray.  When God prompts you to respond in a specific way to a particular need, do it.  And on an uneventful Tuesday, stay the course.  Treasure Jesus, and keep your eyes open for the next opportunity to share that Treasure with someone else – whether that person happens to be on the other side of the world or in the office next door.

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