Pressing Toward the Mark

Written by Jack Hayford
Pressing Toward the Mark

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. – Philippians 3:13, 14 KJV

I was a fourteen-year-old boy when the veteran evangelist Esther Kerr Rusthoi visited our church in Oakland, California. Approaching her 60’s, Rusthoi was yet gripped with a fiery passion to serve Jesus and proclaim His Word. She described how, when in her 20’s, she had gone hiking in the rugged beauty of California’s mountain terrain with a group of young people. They had settled into their sleeping bags for the night in a dry riverbed when the terrifying rumble of an approaching flash flood shook them from camp. With no time to make it to the river’s banks, the leader yelled, “Quickly! Grab hands, hold tight, and press into the flood!” Though only a few feet high, the wall of water hit hard, but they were able to resist it because they held together and pressed against the tide. Esther went on to read this text from Philippians 3, and her message became my life-verse, imprinted on my soul over half a century ago.

A Text to Compel a Lifestyle

What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. – Philippians 3:7

The Apostle Paul had been a man dominated by pride who thought that religion and academic achievement were enough. Yet in a confrontation with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he discovered that nothing he thought was enough really was. As he bowed before the lordship of Jesus, his life began to rise to its true dimensions. While not devaluing discipline, Paul realized that following Jesus is not about religious achievements but about walking in a permanent lifestyle of dependency upon Him. Over the years, I came to terms with the recognition that—no matter how many years of seasoned service to Christ I accumulated, or how much wisdom or respect I gained— before the Ancient of Days, I am always a child. We are wisely warned against ever supposing we “know everything.” And we are compelled to always remember that, for the believing lifestyle, knowledge ultimately does not relate to information but rather to a Person—to know Him with an ever-increasing depth and familiarity.

A Word to Focus a Life-Purpose

Wrapped up in the word “press” (dioko) is the idea of pressure. Occurring three times in Philippians 3:4-14, “dioko” intermittently describes “to follow,” “to pursue,” “to persecute,” or “to flee,” suggesting impassioned pursuit. Paul says that he follows after Christ in strong pursuit, but he also describes how, in his former life, he persecuted the church with zeal (v. 6). There is an element of violence, urgency, and desperation implied here—one that we can adapt for ourselves: To press in on anything that would jeopardize God’s purpose in us. Not by legalistic mandate, but by the manifest passion and purity of our own pursuit of what Jesus has called each of us to be.

Paul writes, “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” (v. 12). He’s talking about maintaining compass-like direction, for life depends on it. He’s staying on course, refusing the vanity of imagination, for he knows there is no more wonderful, creative person in the universe than the Son of God. And the maximization of the creativity He pours into us will always be in proportion to our humility before Him.

A Truth to Sustain Life-Hope

The goal of our “pressing toward” is the prize of the high calling of God (v. 14). Two generations ago, people entering ministry leadership were frequently told, “Yours is the highest calling.” One of the most majestic releases in my own life, thought, and ministry came when I recognized that there are not higher callings above other callings. Leaders have a greater accountability before God because of those we influence in the name of His Son. But there is no higher calling than being what every human being has been made to be under the creative grace of God and His purpose in you. Church leadership is the ministry of serving and advancing God’s people, not the quest of advancing our own success. None of us who lead have been called to build a ministry or a great church—we have been called to build big people and to cultivate their ministry.

Those Things Which Are Behind

There is something about that call to press toward the mark that captures the vision of the ancient Olympic race course five centuries before Christ. Paul uses the language of the athletic field of competition, exhorting us to press forward, while calling us to forget that which is behind—our past fears, our past focus, and our past failures.

We are called to new faith that overcomes fear. Fears will trail you with the lying forecast that you can’t make it. Fears are today’s lies about tomorrow’s promise. Fears are denials of hope rooted in doubts about God’s power, presence, promise, and workings. God always offers us the guarantee of His presence, and that’s enough to cast fears aside. The timeless rule for every runner in every race is, Don’t look back.

We are called to new values that overcome self. Press in for values that overrule self. Focus personal goals only on serving others, not your own convenience. It was 13 years into my own ministry before I discovered that I wasn’t to be concerned about my own goals, but I was to make my goal the service of what God wants to do in other people. Give your life away because to save it, you will inevitably lose it. To find your life is to lay it down—first at the feet of Jesus and then in the face of the challenges of your life. Our high calling is to a new value—to serve others in the wisdom of the Lord’s way.

We are called to great grace that overcomes failure. Don’t give up! We are called to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…[to] run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1, 2). The One who calls you has already won. Keep your eyes on Him… even if you stumble, He will carry you on.

In the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, one of the greatest candidates for the gold medal in the 400-meter run was Derek Redmond of Britain. Just 150 meters out, his Achilles tendon snapped. A startled gasp erupted out of the crowd as they watched him stumble, then catch himself and continue. Limping painfully down the course, he remained intent on finishing the race, no matter how long it took. As the other runners sped by, a figure pushed his way out of the stands and onto the track. Redmond’s father put his arm around him, lifted his son’s arm over his shoulder, and helped him to finish the race. It is a marvelous illustration of God’s enormous mercy and grace when failure or brokenness besets us on the path toward our goals. If we will just stay on track, we can go the distance, because we have a heavenly Father who will come, put His arms around us, undergird us, and see us through to the end.

The Lord is calling each of us to go the distance, but on His terms. He is yet saying to all who put their trust in Him—as He said to me more than 50 years ago when I received my life-verse—“Keep moving forward so My power can be released in you and My purpose may be fulfilled in you.”

Keep pressing toward the mark.

Copyright © 2005 by Jack W. Hayford, Jack Hayford Ministries

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