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Are We There Yet?
Pursuing a Goal We Will Never Achieve
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16, ESV)
I love to travel. Seeing new things, exploring new places, and going on adventures, these things fill my tank and recharge my creativity. It doesn’t have to be a huge trip, but I love visiting places I’ve never been to. When I travel, I tend to get hyper-focused on the destination. I labor over which destination to choose. I get stressed out trying to plan the perfect stay to get the most out of the destination. It’s all about the destination.
I think that’s how we often look at spiritual maturity, as a destination. It’s all about the end goal, the final product. As a disciple, I’m chasing a state or a status of spiritual maturity. But do I ever arrive? Do I ever obtain spiritual maturity? Do I ever reach the goal? Do you?
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians that he had not obtained it. I don’t know about you, but reading those words makes me feel a little better about my own shortfalls! But I also find the whole enterprise of spiritual maturity somewhat discouraging. As Christians, we’re told to strive for spiritual maturity, to be disciples of Jesus who are “fully devoted followers of Christ,” to use one of the most popular definitions. As a pastor, most books and blogs I read about making disciples start not with Jesus but with Stephen Covey: “Begin with the end in mind.”
What I find frustrating about this approach is that we never accomplish it. We never reach the destination. We never achieve the goal. I can dedicate each moment of my waking life to reaching this goal, only to continuously fall short every single day. As someone who is very goal-oriented, there are few things in life more depressing than knowing you will never achieve the most important goal of your life. It feels like loading up the van with all the bags, snacks, and movies for the road and then driving on the Interstate, 75mph, in a straight line, for the rest of your life, and never getting to your vacation destination. “Are we there yet?”
I realize this is a little depressing, and that’s how I’ve felt about it, too. But the Lord encouraged my heart by bringing verse 15 from the passage above to my attention. “Let those of us who are mature think this way...”
So, Paul considered himself mature even though he admitted that he had not obtained the goal.
I’ll write more on that next week, but I’ll leave you with this thought to hold before the Lord in prayer. Maybe we've misunderstood spiritual maturity in our appropriation of best business practices to use in the church. Perhaps we need a new perspective on maturity. Maybe it’s not ultimately about the destination.