“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.”—Philippians 3:13, 14, NIV
On April 15, 2013, during the Boston Marathon, two bombs were detonated at 2:49 p.m., close to the finish line on Boylston Street near Copley Square—some three hours after the winners crossed the finish line. Three people died, seven runners lost limbs, and many more were injured. Yet, runners continued to cross the finish line until 2:57 p.m.
The runners closest to the explosion experienced sudden, deep terror and trauma. Those who succeeded in reaching the finish line that day did so by remaining laser-focused, despite the fear and terror they were experiencing. Marathon winners affirm that as they race to the finish line with other runners, all competing to win first, there is no time to look around to see who else is coming. Their only focus is pressing forward toward the finish line.
The imagery of Philippians 3:13, 14 is that of a runner who is racing toward the finish line. Paul says there is one two-dimensional thing we must do. Doing this one thing will help us remain focused in order to fulfill our purpose.
First, we must forget what is behind us. Every moment spent looking back is a moment lost to looking forward. It does not mean one should ignore and forget the lessons learned from experience or not appreciate the blessings and success of the past. But it does mean choosing not to make the past our constant focus—whether good or bad, joyful or painful.
The second aspect of the one thing we must do is to press on toward the goal. The truth is, we cannot move forward with a neutral, laissez-faire attitude. On the contrary, to press on, we must be determined, intentional, and focused on the prize to which God has called us. If we choose not to focus on the past, yet do not have perseverance and determination, we will not reach our goal. If we are determined but keep looking behind we will not win the prize. We must “forget what is behind” and actively “press on toward the mark” to reach God’s goal for us through Jesus Christ.
The last 12 months have been particularly painful and discouraging for a lot of people in the Atlantic Union Conference territory. Many of our members, relatives, and friends have either been infected by or lost their lives because of the coronavirus. Painful memories of COVID-19 will stay with us for a very long time. As we hold on to the blessed hope of the Earth made new, where there will be no more pain or death, we must summon our faith and trust that God will enable us to remain focused and determined to keep pressing forward.
Ellen G. White noted, “In all the busy activities of his life, Paul never lost sight of one great purpose—to press toward the prize of his high calling. One aim he kept steadfastly before him—to be faithful to the One who at the gate of Damascus had revealed Himself to him. From this aim nothing had power to turn him aside”—Our High Calling, p. 371.
Like the apostle Paul, we are simply passing through this virus-infected world. It is not our final home. We are pilgrims, bound for the promised land. Along the way, we have and will continue to face many difficulties, but we are reminded that God is with us. We must keep our eyes on the prize that awaits us. May God give us the courage and the strength to press forward until we reach the high prize of heaven to which He has called us.