“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. 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”. Phillipians 3:11-14

What do you think of goals? Paul had a goal, and he pressed toward it.

People who have goals are different. They’re the leaders, the ones who get the job done, who set the example and inspire others. Keeping our eyes on the goal is the baseline that organizes the necessary tasks, but is also the motivator that keeps the whole endeavor running. “Without a vision the people perish”. We need to have that vision, we need that goal. Paul’s overarching goal was to know his Lord better.

It’s always the small things, done in a consistent manner with the eyes on the expected outcome rather than how much we are being inconvenienced that count; and this says a lot about the life of faith.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s harder to stay fit. If I eat a bag of chips or skip a workout, I don’t notice much of a difference. But if I eat a bag of chips every day, and never work out, a lack of inertia starts to build up. I get lazier, I feel less and less like hitting the gym or watching what I eat.

Our spiritual life is much like this. If I miss praying or reading scripture here or there, it won’t kill me. But if I never do, it soon tells on my attitude. It gets harder to trust, I’m less patient, more likely to go sideways when life hits me in the face.

Looking at all the work we have to do rather than the goal, or looking at the clock rather than completing the mission demonstrates the difference between legalism and discipline. One enslaves, the other sets you free. And the person who is always watching the clock will never be as effective as the one who has his eyes on the Big Picture.

I’m excited about life. It’s just bursting with possibilities, of things to accomplish and achieve. We can be anything, we can do anything, if only we will keep our eyes on the goal.

We’re all familiar with the phrase “The just shall live by faith”. It’s found in Romans, quoting from the Old Testament prophet Habbakuk, but in the latter case, it’s sometimes translated “The just shall live by his faithfulness“. I used to think this rather changed the understanding of phrase, but I think less that way now. Faithfulness – a term we associate more with steadfastness or dependability than a religious virtue – still requires faith in the sense that we more commonly understand it. If you don’t believe in an ultimate positive outcome, of the fruit your discipline (when you’d rather just kick back and watch some more TV), then why do we labour, why are we dependable and steadfast? The carpenter ultimately pictures the finished house, not just the nails and boards in front of him at any given moment. They’re just the material his vision works with, but not the thing itself.

The disciplines of regular prayer and the reading of scripture are just one instance of faith. Whether we exercise and watch what we eat, when we help our kids with their homework, when we labour on the PTA or coach hockey, we are all demonstrating discipline;  that is, faithfulness, and faith that these small inputs will make a difference. Small things – the unexciting, ordinary jobs that life is made of – done regularly achieve great things. Whether it’s keeping fit, building a house, or knowing God, the immediate outcome may not be obvious: but looking back we can see what a difference it makes.

Are we faithful, or are we legalistic clock watchers? How we approach these things says a lot about our motivation. If I try to do a set of push-ups, do I look at how much work I have to do – or the fact that I am improving my health, which is my real goal? Do I read the Bible because I feel I have to, or because I’m trying to learn more about Jesus? It makes all the difference in the world. One speaks of law, the other of grace and relationship with the Living God. I am discovering – no matter how detached and calculating my decision to seek Him is – that I am rewarded when I seek God to know Him rather than pray or read out of legalism or a sense of obligation.

What are your goals?