No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Paul, Philippians 3:13-14
The NFL season has just started, and people will often use the phrase, “Defense wins championships.“ Yet we all know the truth in sports: if you don’t score points, it’s impossible to win. Hunkering down and keeping everything out of your net/endzone/goal will never lead a victory.
Recently I was talking with a friend who provided a helpful metaphor on a subtle Christian attitude that seems common these days.
He said that he notices a defensive approach in many people as they live their faith in Jesus. Not defensive in terms of defending one's faith from antagonistic attacks, but defensive in terms of a passive approach to the Jesus life. In other words, the primary benefit of faith becomes simply to handle the challenge of life without being beaten. Like when the U.S. men play Germany in soccer and don’t push forward because they just hope for a tie. In this mindset, Jesus helps you deal with everything coming at you, which you feel you have no control over. Life is stressful, it’s overly busy, and there is little you can do except try to fend off the negative stuff. Now that’s certainly the reality sometimes… but it’s not the whole story.
The presence of Jesus is absolutely foundational in our journey with God... but it’s hard to read the New Testament and conclude that “handling what life brings” is the endgame, isn’t it?
Paul’s message to the Corinthian church is about pressing on… trying to win, even. That’s not a very defensive approach.
The early church had such confidence in Jesus transforming them as a starting point, that it led them to take risks for the sake of the mission. The goal wasn’t just to survive. It was to go out and actually do something. It was to move the ball forward, seeking after the kingdom, being unafraid and unashamed to do wild and risky actions of trusting Jesus and offering radical love and compassion to the world. They went all in. They broke social assumptions and ran toward the people that others ran away from.
Sometimes I wonder where our (my!) theology of risk has gone. Are we eager to pursue new things when we sense Jesus calling us? Are we willing to actually change our schedules? Are we willing to meet new people, step into new places, and open the door to new directions? What about changing a career if Jesus stirs? What about praying boldly for direction and a faithful trusting heart?
Paul reminded Timothy as a young leader that God did not give him a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline. It propelled Timothy. Timothy was only half Jewish and as such felt rejection nearly everywhere he went. It would have been so easy for him to not pursue his ministry calling because it seemed too risky. But he trusted God and stepped out, and became a building block for one of the most influential young churches in the New Testament. Its effect is still felt today.
We know we have the amazing God of comfort who meets us exactly where we are. Today, for a moment, let’s consider the God of challenge who invites us to trust him as we lay our lives down for one another and this kingdom of love that Jesus died to express. There is such joy in winning at life by losing ours.
I want my life to be about pursuing the kingdom of immeasurable worth, not just sustaining regular life with an upbeat attitude. Don’t you? I’m trying to learn how to take new risks. Will you join me?
Jesus, lead me in whatever direction you want. Open me up to trust you and step out in new directions with new joy and boldness.