Do you sometimes feel that you that you are trying to walk a tightrope and someone is constantly shaking the rope? Life today is tough. We seem to be pulled in every direction.
Often when we are at home, we feel stress and strain because of pressures on the job. Work still needs to be done, but we have not had the time. When at work, we are being pulled by family responsibilities, feeling we just do not take the time we should with our families. And then there is always the lawn that needs to be mowed, or the car that needs work.
Besides that, when we are at work or home, we often feel as if we are letting the Lord down because we are not as involved in His work as we feel we should be. Let’s not forget that being good providers, being faithful parents, and being Christ-like young people, are all part of what God expects of us.
Doctors are learning more about how stress affects us physically, and stress has been linked to a number diseases and chronic health conditions. Cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, intestinal problems are all complicated or caused by stress in a person’s life.
Frazzled nerves, a churning stomach, and a pounding headache show in our eyes and in the lives of those around us.
Does Jesus have an answer for us? Can he settle our nerves and help us get a hold on life itself? Yes, but it is something we must apply.
Near 61 or 62 A.D., Paul was in a Roman prison, and had cause to be feeling stress in his life. Paul knew that his days were numbered, and that he may not get to see many of his brothers and sisters in Christ ever again, especially those at the church at Philippi – at least not in this life.
Our text this morning is from Philippians 3:12-16. This chapter begins with Paul telling the Philippi church how he wanted to become more like Christ in every way. Let continue with Paul’s thought, beginning in verse 12:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
This morning, let’s look at some things that Paul teaches us that may help us with the stress in our lives.
►Realize that life is a growth process, not an arrival.
Paul said it this way (12, 13): “not that I have already obtained all this:
“or have already been made perfect”
“do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it”
When we think we have arrived, or we are the best we are ever going to be, or that’s just the way we are – at that point we cutoff the growth process. We never get beyond where we are. In our mind, we have arrived. We can easily become so enamored with the destination that we lose interest in the trip. On a vacation trip, we can be so anxious to get there that we pay no attention to each other, to conversation or the beauty of sunsets. The same can be true of goals in life. Goals are important, but the destination must not overshadow the travel in that direction.
We will feel less stress as we accept our frailties and failures, and determine to keep growing. We should remember that Paul, a great man, continued to grow. Near the end of his life he still wanted his books and parchments. READ: 2 Timothy 4:12-13
12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
The Christian life is a growth process, not an arrival.
►We need singleness of purpose
Stress is often present because we are pulled in so many directions. We tend to think everything is vital. Our values only become true as we put things into perspective. READ Philippians 3:7-8a.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
When everything is moving in the one direction, when we are all set to please Christ, stress is eased. This is the solution to worry. READ: Matthew 6:33.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Note also that the “one thing” in verse 13 in our Philippians passage has action in it: “I do”
Singleness of purpose will clarify our perspectives, and help us see that some things are not nearly as important as we once thought, and we won’t feel so pulled in so many directions.
►Forget the past
Sins of the past become weights around our necks to hold us down. We are told how to meet God’s conditions of forgiveness. READ Acts 22:16.
16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.
READ Galatians 3:26, 27.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
We must also forgive ourselves. Let’s leave the baggage of our past sins at the station. As Christians, we don’t have to carry those bags any more. In 1 John 1:7 we are told:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
We must also forget our past successes. We cannot live on past good works. Life must be lived today. Jesus said it best in Matthew 6:34:
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We cannot worry about tomorrow. We cannot drag our load of yesterday’s along with us, and ever expect to have productive, stress-free lives. Let’s forget what is in the past, and live today for all its worth.
Do not give up. A lot of stress builds on the inside because we have nothing to reach for. This is the case in the mid-life crisis. We either have received all we ever wanted, or decide we never will get what we wanted. This also can happen to people of retirement age. Goals have already been reached and people give up because they stop reaching.
Paul said it clearly in verses 13 and 14 of our text:
“straining toward what is ahead”
“ I press on”
Epekteinomai, translated in the NIV as “straining toward”, means to “reach forth unto” or “stretch out towards”. Paul often used athletic metaphors in his writings, and you get the mental image of a runner giving their best effort right to the finish line.
Dioko, translated here as “press on”, means “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing” or “to seek after eagerly, to earnestly endeavor to acquire, or pursue.”
Now I am going to change metaphors on you a bit. This might be a good time for each of us to reach in and pull out our spiritual dipstick. When was the last time I attended a Bible class or a ladies devotional? When was the last time I was here for Sunday evening worship, or Wednesday Bible study? What activities of this church family am I involved in to help with God’s impact in this community? We all – every one of us – must keep reaching and working to grow and to serve.
Whatever you thought of Chief Justice Rehnquist, you have to admire someone who continued to work and be productive, someone who wanted to be a contributor, right to the very end. Brothers and sisters, let’s not ever give up. The joy of service and the satisfaction of being a contributor will vaporize stress in our lives. Keep reaching.
►Never forget the prize
Our prize is the upward call of God. It is never down here on earth. The reward is reserved in heaven. We may receive a few “sub-prizes” down here, but the real prize is in heaven.
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Near the very end of his life, Paul expressed it to Timothy like this, in 2 Timothy 4:8
8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
In verse 15 of our text, Paul says all of us who are mature, should take this view. If we are mature-thinking Christians, we will see that life is a growth process, that we need singleness of purpose, that we must forget the past and keep reaching ahead, and that we must never forget the prize.
Paul gives us a special admonition in verse 16 to live up to that which we have already attained. We sometimes feel that we need more instruction, more teaching, before we can really serve God. Paul tells us that we need to live up to what we already know, what we already have in Christ Jesus. You may have had a conversation similar to the ones I had with my parents when I was growing up. “Hey, I’m 17 years old!” and the response was usually something like, “Well, then act like it.” We may have been a Christian for many years, but let’s make sure we are really living a life of gentleness, kindness, love, service, and a commitment to personal spiritual growth.
We have blessings in Christ, we have an understanding of God’s Word, let’s be mature in our thinking and live up to that which we have attained. The stresses of life shrink as we remember these things and apply them to our lives.
Where are you today? Is your life filled with stress because you have lost your focus? Or, perhaps you need to be reconciled to God. Whatever your need today, we stand ready to help you. Won’t you please come as we stand and sing.