At the start of the year, someone asked if I had a word for 2022 and I responded “Focus!” The natural follow-up question was asked, “What will you be focusing on?” and I wrote: “For me, it really is about continuing to be aware of distractions and things that have the potential to ‘steal’ my time, my joy, my peace, my energy, etc. One of my favorite passages from the Scriptures is Philippians 3, especially verses 12-14, where Paul talks about, among other things, ‘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.’ To me, that is what it means to focus not just spiritually, but mentally, emotionally, and physically. Keeping our eyes on the end goal allows us to focus on the things that are important; the things that really matter.”
As I reflected on that response over the next several days, a question also lingered in my mind: What kept Paul going? To the Corinthian church, he related some of his experiences: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe” (2 Corinthians 8-10, TLB). Pressed down, perplexed, hunted down, knocked down, constantly facing death was enough to make one quit, yet with each experience there was a “but” – a determined response. We also see his perspective in verses 11-12: “Yes, we live under constant danger to our lives because we serve the Lord, but this gives us constant opportunities to show forth the power of Jesus Christ within our dying bodies. Because of our preaching we face death, but it has resulted in eternal life for you.” Two more “buts.” From this perspective, the benefits of serving and living for Christ far surpassed any negative experiences he would encounter in this life.
He continued, “We boldly say what we believe, trusting God to care for us, just as the psalm writer did when he said, ‘I believe and therefore I speak.’ We know that the same God who brought the Lord Jesus back from death will also bring us back to life again with Jesus and present us to Him along with you. These sufferings of ours are for your benefit. And the more of you who are won to Christ, the more there are to thank Him for His great kindness, and the more the Lord is glorified. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our inner strength in the Lord is growing every day. These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So, we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever” (vv. 13-18, italics added).
What a terrific perspective! Woven through this chapter is the fact that Paul not only did not deny the negative experiences, he also did not focus on them. From the opening verse of the chapter – “It is God Himself, in His mercy, who has given us this wonderful work of telling His Good News to others, and so we never give up” – to the last, every experience, positive and negative, was considered in relation or in proportion to something else. As he would tell believers in Rome, “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will give us later” (Romans 8:18). For him, it was a matter of where, on what, and on whom we choose to focus. “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 would do well to follow that example. I am encouraged; I hope you are too.