Recently, while I was sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my son’s turn to be seen, I began to examine my key chain. Every time I’m in the waiting room, I examine something different. One time, the ceiling tiles, another, the floorboards . . . I’ve been told by many people that life with me is crazy, fast-paced, and exciting… but I digress.
I’m embarrassed to say that I spent 30 whole minutes examining all the stuff that I had on my key chain. I discovered that I no longer need half the keys I’ve been carrying around for years. Armed with this new information, I did what any sensible person would do: I immediately took them off my key chain.
However, immediately after removing them I had a tsunami wave of illogical anxiety about this action. As I sat there, I frantically began to make all kinds of excuses about why I couldn’t get rid of these keys . . . on and on went the lame excuses.
Truth be told, within five minutes of removing the same keys I had scrutinized and examined, they were back on my key chain! Why? Because I wasn’t ready to let go of what they represented in my past. Bottom line: all these keys represented how I perceived myself—good or bad. In other words, I wanted to hold on to them because I was comfortable with the way they made me feel…about myself. I had been carrying these keys for a long time, and they were now, unfortunately, part of me.
I’m happy to tell you that at that point God decided to enter the conversation. He quickly let me know that I was being ridiculous and was anxious about nothing. He reminded me who I was in Him and told me, “Omar, let the keys go!” In the end I found the nearest trash can, and now those extra keys live there. Because of the lesson I learned from this experience, I can’t describe the incredible joy and peace that I have received by obeying God and letting go of things that were holding me down.
THE KEYCHAIN OF LIFE
Silly story, I know, but I saw my experience is a metaphor for all the things that we decide to hold on to in our lives. Things that we think are too important to give to God, when all the while they’re causing us untold stress, anxiety, and perhaps even fostering pride. Things that matter to us, or in the past have made us feel good about ourselves, but now, in the light of a relationship with Jesus, are absolutely worthless. (See Philippians 3:1-11.)
IT’S ALL ABOUT CHANGING FOCUS FROM SELF TO JESUS
But how do we just let go of all the stuff from our past? Some of it is small, some of it is big, but all of it weighs us down and holds us back. Admittedly, it’s easier said than done, but with God, all things are possible. Simply put: it’s all about focus. To be successful, we must change our focus from ourselves to Jesus. And the apostle Paul shows us how. He writes, “I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don’t feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven” (Contemporary English Version, Philippians 3:12-14).
These three verses are like last Christmas fruitcake, they’re dense!
You’re a mess!
Let’s unpack what Paul is saying and see how we can apply it to our own life. Just a reminder: Paul was a psycho! Before he became Paul, he was Saul. His résumé read: “Super-Jew! In charge of hunting down Christians, torturing, imprisoning, and killing them.” That was his identity. It was who he was, what he did…and he was good at it. So if you think you’ve got a past that causes you emotional pain, guilt, hurt, and shame, Paul’s got you beat!
Later, Paul, now converted and writing from a jail cell, shares with the believers in Philippi (and us) five principles needed to effectively live the Christian life and draw closer to Jesus:
1. Have complete honesty about your present level of spiritual maturity (v. 12). Paul recognizes that although he’s better than he used to be, he’s not yet where he needs to be. For many of us, this is a tough pill to swallow, but Jesus, when He was speaking to a bunch of Pharisees about why He was hanging out with “sinners,” put it clearly: “it’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick . . .” (NIV, Mark 2:17). Jesus makes a pretty compelling point that the sick will never get treatment and get better, if they don’t first recognize and admit that they’re sick. How about you? Like my lame excuses for useless keys, do you excuse your sin? Do you blame the present circumstances in your life? Do you blame your parents for the way they raised you? Whatever excuse you’ve got, stop it! Tell God the truth about sinful you; it’s the first step to allow God to work the miracle of His salvation and sanctification in you.
2. Have appropriate recognition of the true power source (v. 12). Paul recognizes that it’s God (and God alone) who has initiated this positive change in him (verse 12). King Solomon (listen up, he was the wisest person who ever lived) put it like this: “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God . . .” (The Message, Proverbs 1:7a). Learning to recognize God’s authority in our lives and being willing to submit to it, is a crucial step in effective and positive life change.
3. Have persistent forward progress (v. 12a). The words that Paul uses in the second part of verse 12 are action-oriented: “running and struggling.” The bottom line is that in order to get rid of bad habits and start new ones, we can’t just sit idly by on our hands and expect God to wave His magic “Holy Spirit” wand over us and “PRESTO-CHANGO!” we’ll all be better. The fact is that although God provides His Holy Spirit power to begin and continue the process of our sanctification, we are still responsible for working to make it happen (see Philippians 2:12). Don’t be deceived. Changing takes hard work! That process will not be quick or easy, because, our sin is stuck deep within each of us and we must do more than have persistent forward progress, we must…
4. Actively forget what is behind and actively focus on what is ahead (v. 13, 14a). It’s not enough for us to work without ceasing; Paul clarifies the process of running and struggling even more by stating that he has to actively “forget what is behind, and . . . struggle for what is ahead.” This means that he had to daily and sometimes minute-by-minute, reprogram his mind and his thoughts to dwell on Jesus and what was right and true.
I’m a recovering addict and have, in the course of my own counseling, helped many addicts to take the steps needed for recovery and sobriety. At the beginning of my recovery process, I didn’t think that I could live even one second without my addiction—much less stop thinking about it. However, I learned that if I could change my thoughts, then my actions would follow suit. And if I could change my actions, then my habits would follow as well. Paul seconds that idea of actively choosing to forget certain negative things/thoughts and willingly choosing to focus on certain positive realities, even if they aren’t in front of you…yet.
5. Keep your eyes on the prize (v. 14b)! Paul completes this process by always keeping the goal in front of him. What is the “goal” and “prize” that he mentions three times in these verses? Well, in the second part of verse 14 he tells us it’s heaven. Paul understands that as long as we’re on this earth, we’ll be constantly struggling to be all that we can be.
Almost fourteen years ago, when my wife and I were having our first child, our birth coach told us that the most effective thing my wife could do to get through labor and childbirth was to have a picture of our daughter to look at and focus on. So when my wife’s contractions began, we pulled out the blown-up ultrasound image of our daughter and plastered it on the wall opposite her bed. My wife focused and pushed …no matter what happened, she knew what the end result of all her labor would be!
Trust me when I tell you this: heaven and eternity with Jesus is worth it all. So, keep your eyes on the prize and don’t give up or give in—no matter what!
He is Faithful
I can’t describe the incredible joy and peace that I have received by obeying God and letting go of those things, that were holding me down and keeping me from drawing closer to Jesus and becoming more like Him.
Stay on the “narrow road” of life with Jesus, never let go of His hand, and I promise that one day you, like Paul, will be able to say that you have finished the race, kept the faith, and are ready to see God (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Until that time, keep asking yourself, “What’s on my key chain?” If there is anything that gets in the way of your salvation, then by God’s power, let it go. Keep focusing on Jesus, because He who called you is faithful to finish the changes He began in you (Philippians 1:6).