Press Toward the Mark

Posted on Updated on

Press Towards the Mark

The date is 31 December 2013. We now find ourselves enjoying the sunset of a year that will soon be past. In just a few short hours, the dawn will break, and we will see just over the horizon, the beginning of a brand new day, indeed a brand new year. With the arrival of the new year we find ourselves standing at the starting line of a brand new race to run and a victory to win. Our goal is to not necessarily to become the swiftest runner in the race, but our goal is to endure to the end. ~ Keith Lionel Brown

In just a few short hours the year 2013 will take its place among the annals of history as a brand new year dawns on the horizon. The dawning of the New Year just ahead of us opens up a new chapter in each of our lives. Once again we have been graciously given an opportunity to learn from our past – to grow spiritually and to mature – and to press forward to live our lives as pleasing unto the Lord.

How do we live a life that is pleasing unto the Lord? The Prophet Joseph Smith taught us that “If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added (TPJS, p. 256). He further taught us that we must “realize that we are not to live to ourselves, but to God; by so doing the greatest blessings will rest upon us both in time and eternity” (TPJS, 179). And, President Ezra Taft Benson taught us that “We must put God in the forefront of everything else in our lives. . . . When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives” (Ensign, Ezra Taft Benson, “The Great Commandment – Love the Lord,” May 1988, p. 4).

As we strive to live our lives as pleasing unto the Lord, we begin to grow and mature spiritually. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians, in Philippians 3:12-14 uses the analogy of an athletic race to describe the process of becoming spiritually mature. We read,

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

First, Paul teaches us that we must realize that we are not perfect. His attitude is rightly expressed in verse 12 when he exhorts,

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

Paul is no longer a self-righteous Pharisee. After 30 years of being a Christian, he still had not completely conformed to the will of God for his life, and he knew it. Furthermore, he never permitted himself to be satisfied with his spiritual attainments as a Christian, and as a missionary.

If we are to grow and mature spiritually we must beware of becoming complacent. We must never feel that we have arrived spiritually. People who become content with where they are spiritually have reached a dangerous point. One of the main reasons why we become satisfied with where we are spiritually is that we sometimes compare ourselves with others, especially with those who seem to not be making much progress. However, there is always more spiritual truth to learn as we serve in the Lord’s vineyard. We need to become a more loving, a more pure, a more gracious, and a more patient people. We never in this life reach a point where we no longer need to pray, read our scriptures, or attend church services regularly. Therefore, as long as we live in this state of mortality, we must never become satisfied that we have arrived spiritually. There will always be room for progress.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught,

The nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of this life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Master and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station in which no man ever arrived in a moment.  

Second, Paul teaches us in verse 14 that we need a goal or a mark to pursue. The “mark” (Gr. skopos) is something we can see, something we can run straight at. An athlete running a race must fix his eyes on something ahead of himself. He cannot watch his feet or be distracted by watching the other runners. In like manner, we need to set our eyes upon the mark, and keep running toward the finish line with determination and focus. Here in verse 14, the Apostle Paul makes reference to the high call of God upon his life. He took God’s purpose in calling him as being his greatest objective. He had a goal that he was striving for because he knew that he had a purpose to fulfill.

What is our purpose in life? Is it just to make money, seek worldly fame, or to selfishly gratify our every want? I sincerely pray that our goals in life are a lot loftier. In Mark 4:19 Christ warned us that “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.”

So, what is this mark that we should strive for? What is the goal that we should set for ourselves? According to our text, I believe it is perfectly fulfilling God’s call upon our lives. He has called each of us to become like His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Standard of Perfection that we must keep before us. In Hebrews 12:2 we are reminded that we should always be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith….” And, in Colossians 1:28 we are reminded that “we preach [Christ] warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

There are two aspects of keeping a proper focus on the proper goal and direction of our lives. First, Don’t Look Back. Paul says in the last part of verse13, “…forgetting those things which are behind….” A runner must not look back. He knows that if he does, he will lose his speed, his direction, and finally the race itself. We must refuse to dwell on our past sins and failures. Instead, we are to “forget” them. Now, the word “forget” as used here, means “no longer to be influenced by or affected by.” What Paul is essentially teaching us is that we need to stop living in the past and start living for the future. We cannot change the past, but we can change the meaning of the past. Joseph in the Old Testament book of Genesis is a good example (see Genesis 45:1-15). When he met his brothers the second time and revealed himself to them, he held no grudge against them. He saw the past from God’s point of view. He realized that God had allowed him to suffer many trials, for through them He would put him in a place to save his family from famine. And what his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good.

Second, Establish Priorities. The runner in the race should practice persistent concentration on one, and only one aim, namely to press toward the goal for the prize.

House We Are BuildingThe story is told of an elderly carpenter who was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife, enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but they could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter reluctantly said yes, but in time, it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.When the carpenter finished his work, the employer came to inspect the house. He handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.” The carpenter was shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.

And so it is with us. We build our lives, one day at a time, often putting less than our best into the building. Then we realize we have to live in the house we have built. So let us build wisely while we can.

As we approach the dawn of a brand new year, let us resolve to walk in God’s ways, to keep His decrees, His laws, and His commandments, so that [we] may prosper in all that [we] do and wherever [we] may go.