By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
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. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Hebrews 11:8-10; Philippians 3:12-16, ESV)
Perhaps you can capture the image of the high-stakes jockey turning the corner with the lead and glancing under his left arm to see where the competition is. Or maybe it's the vision of an Indy car driver, briefly glancing in the rear-view mirror (small as it is) to verify his position. Even the runner, making the slightest head turn during the curve of the track, looking to see who is following and how close they are. So many things we do and experience involve a glance behind. It's healthy in many cases and it is absolutely necessary so that you can gain or verify your bearings. But the glance behind is invariably brief. If it weren't, one would lose focus of what is really important.
The jockey knows he has to cross the finish wire first. The driver is pressing on to pass under that checkered flag. The runner has his heart set on being the only one to break that tape. And all of these things have a common thread - they involve a distinct forward gaze. After all, you have to see and know what is in front of you if you are going to achieve that prize.
When God called Abraham, he picked up and moved to a place he had never been. We have record of Abraham maintaining some ties with his former home, but they appear to be limited to the times he sent back for a wife for Isaac. You may recall that Jacob ended up back there as well - but that's another story. The significance here, as I read it from the account in Hebrews, is that Abraham trusted God to be there at the end of his journey. He believed God would provide that city, even if he had never seen it before. Sure, he may have glanced behind to remember where he came from, but it was that forward gaze that really defined him. His faith, as recalled in the passage above, drove him to obey on a completely different level.
Paul certainly had this scenario in mind when he wrote to the church at Philippi. He was exhorting them not to completely ignore what came before or where they had been, but to place their primary focus on what lies ahead. He called it a prize based on an "upward calling" from God. I know Paul didn't read C.S. Lewis, but I've got to believe the thought here is similar. The past does shape us, but it doesn't define us. What we are to be for eternity lies ahead and that's where we must turn our attention. With that type of vision, what we've come through will seem forgotten by comparison.
So what about the rest of us? We're not being called out to go someplace we didn't even know existed (though we may be called to go somewhere other than our current place). We're not a struggling first-century church (though we are definitely in the same battle). For the most part (and I can only speak for myself with any level of certainty or authority), we're comfortable ... perhaps too comfortable. Perhaps what we need is a good dose of the competitive drive that Paul mentions or the forward-looking determination that served as the core to Abraham's faith. Maybe I glance back too often or do so with a lingering gaze when my focus should be on what lies ahead.
As I travel my Crooked Path, I should remember where I came from and what I've been through. Those events, people, and places serve as a basis for who I am and why I think and react the way I do. But I can't forget to fix my eyes forward most of the time. My prize isn't behind me, it's out in front. As Larry Crabb once noted, we go through our life stumbling, picking ourselves up, and pressing on until one day we find ourselves Home with a Heavenly Father, who loves us more than anyone could, and a Divine Brother, who died for us and will embrace us ... and we will break into an eternal smile.
- Where is your focus most of the time? Is it behind you fixed on what is immediately around you?
- If you can imagine being able to focus on what is ahead - your true prize - what would it do to you? How would it change the way you live?
- Are you heading toward a city where God has laid the foundation, a prize from His "high calling"? In your vision, is there a Heavenly Father and a Divine Brother waiting to welcome you with open arms?