The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Press Through!

For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall. – Psalm 18:29

Faith is only as strong as the object in which it is placed. For instance, trusting in fools is like cutting the legs right out from under you (Prov. 26:6; 13:20). A fool is someone who fails to factor God into their life equation (Psalm 14:1). The psalmist King David said when he put his trust in God he could “run against a troop,” and “leap over a wall.” Actually, a literal rendering of that last phrase is that he could run through a wall. Run up against any walls lately?

Life is filled with barriers, obstacles, walls. These walls can prevent us from fulfilling God’s mission for us. They can keep us from the promises of God and His abundant life. They can even keep us from His presence when they become sin (Ps. 66:18; Is. 59:2; Hab. 1:13; Mat. 7:21-23). What do we do when we come up against a wall? We trust God and press through!

When I was a young man I played some football. There’s a lot of physical contact in football; blocking and tackling is what they call it. Football is like coming up against walls of human flesh, bone and muscle. An offensive lineman is taught to block through tacklers. Tacklers are taught to tackle through people. And sometimes a running back has no choice but to try and run through a would-be tackler. Tackling, blocking, or running through someone involves setting your target for contact through, or behind the object of your aggression. This is taught in most contact sports, e.g. boxing, martial arts, lacrosse, basketball, even baseball when home plate is blocked by the catcher. All of this makes for some spectacular crashes and the winner is usually determined by the fastest, strongest or heaviest of the two people making contact. There is an exception though. Sometimes someone with less speed, less muscle, and lighter weight beats out a better opponent because of their heart. Heart and determination can make up for a lot of deficiencies. In sports there are people with reckless abandon who throw caution to the wind and sacrifice their bodies for the good of the team. These are the players who are fun to watch. These are the players it’s easy to root for. That’s what makes contact sports so exciting. It’s no fun watching millionaire athletes give half-hearted efforts that waste their talents and the time and money of the fans. There’s a lesson to learn and apply here.

There’s a certain amount of faith incorporated in athletics. A successful team has players that believe in themselves and believe in the team. They also have to believe in their coaches. Faith in yourself and other people can take you only so far in life. There comes a time when the wall is too high even when you’re giving it all you’ve got. All athletes find this out sooner or later. And this is a life lesson learned by everyone sooner or later in our earthly existence. There are illnesses with no known cures, relational problems that seem irreparable, psychological and emotional scars that just don’t seem to want to go away. There are dead end circumstances in life. There are bankrupting situations. Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived (1 Kings 4:31) looked at life “under the sun” apart from God and said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14; 2:17). “Vanity” means literally vapor. That done apart from God comes to nothing. Living life apart from God is like trying to blow down a concrete wall with a puff of smoke. All you’ll get doing that is teary eyed and likely lung cancer.

That sounds pretty futile. Life without God is frustrating. But there is an alternative. There is a way to run over or through the walls of life. Trust in God. That’s what King David learned. That’s the message of God in His word. That’s His promise to all who would trust in Him. David was inspired to say, “For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him . . . . It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:29, 30, and 32). David knew a powerful resource outside of himself. That Source was and is God.

How does God give us victories over the walls in life? How do we run over them or through them? In the New Testament the apostle Paul wrote, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14). Notice a few things from Paul’s God inspired words.

First, Paul was humble. He said, “Not that I have already attained or am already perfected . . . . Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended . . .” Paul new he hadn’t arrived. He knew there was still work to be done in and through him by God. He didn’t have an exalted view of himself. He had no delusions of grandeur. Paul was aware of and admitted to his own personal limitations and weakness. Paul wasn’t dependent on himself. He was very honestly aware of his humble state. He knew the first step in scaling or busting through a wall is humility not pride (cf. 1 cor. 15:10; 1 Pet. 5:5-6).

Second, Paul had a “press on” attitude of faith. Despite Paul’s limitations, he pressed on. That’s because he wasn’t dependent on or limited by his own relatively weak strength or resources. Just prior to these verses Paul said he was willing to give up everything in life for the sake of knowing Jesus (Phil. 3:7-11). Paul mentioned the resurrection power of Christ as well as the fellowship of suffering with Jesus. That’s a powerful faith one two punch to hit the walls with. The point is Paul didn’t go up against the walls of life in his strength or presumed personal ability, he pressed on in the power of Christ. His press on attitude of faith was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Third, Paul had a simple singular strategy. Paul said, “but one thing I do.” He had a singular focus. The game plans that are the most successful are usually the ones that are the simplest and easiest to understand and implement by the players. If you go into a game and your coach tells you, “Okay men, to win, we just have to do one thing,” those players are going to get excited because they can focus all of their energies on a simple single task. When you concentrate your efforts on a single objective you bring the most power to bear. When you have to divide your efforts and resources they become diluted, less effective. Complexity often leads to confusion and indecision. Our prime singular focus is to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” What does that mean? It doesn’t mean we gain heaven by our efforts or works. Eternal life and heavenly citizenship comes as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus as Savior (Eph. 2:8-9). It does mean that like an athlete we need to train and prepare for the race or the game. We need to be disciplined and assess life in a way that avoids that which would hinder us. We need to question those things that might keep us from gaining the prize at the end of the race. Ask does this bring me closer to the finish line or slow me down? Does this bring me closer to Jesus or cause me to drift further away from Him?

The prize offered are the words of Jesus, “Well cone good and faithful servant . . . enter in the joy of your Lord” (Mat. 25:23). Those are the words I want to hear and you should want to hear when we cross the finish line of life. We don’t want to just finish the race, we want to finish well. To hear those words of Jesus we’ll need to be vigilant, disciplined, and ordered by the word of God. We’ll have to trim the fat from our diets and regularly exercise and workout. Get into the word, digest it, and let it build spiritual muscle in you (cf. Psalm 119; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12).

There is a balance to be maintained here. In a sense it is not all us or all God in this life as a Christian. We are completely dependent upon the grace of God, but we still labor (1 Cor. 15:10). We work out our salvation and God works in us as we work (Phil. 2:12-13). There is a balance between our part and God’s part. God has designed life this way. We do our best and trust the Lord for the rest. We scale walls in the power of the Lord. We hit the walls in the power of the Lord and let the bricks fall where they may.

Lastly, Paul was focused and appropriately forgetful. Paul says, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching to those things which are ahead.” We shouldn’t dwell on past victories or defeats. Onward and upward is our focus. We press on from one victory to the next. We press on from one defeat to the next. But we press on. We press through. A baseball season is long and filled with both winning and losing streaks. Every team has them. The same is true in life. We will experience defeats. We will experience victories. We can’t allow our defeats to be compounded by dwelling on them to the point of depression. We learn from them. We are disciplined and discipled by defeats, but then we move on. The same is true of victories. We can’t dwell on victories and neglect the ongoing war and future battles. Some people life a defeated life because of a single defeat in life. Some people gain a victory and revolve their life around that one victory. The result is stagnation and stuffiness spiritually. Look at Acts, God’s people pressed on from event to event as long as they still had breath. As long as we breathe in the empowering breath of the Holy Spirit we need to press on in the purposes of God. We need to press on and have a present or current walk with the Lord.

“For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall.” God will lead you over some walls and through others. A current vital living Spirit guided saving relationship with God in Christ is essential to discerning the strategy of God for the walls you face. There are no shortcuts in this regard. But God will get you over or through whatever wall you are facing. Up against a wall? Press through!

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