Thanks for downloading the STC Sheffield podcast today. Whether you’re listening whilst eating a bowl of cornflakes, or reading in a quiet moment before bed, I hope that these words will be an encouragement to you in your walk with Jesus.
In the 1840s, thousands of men, women and children deserted their homes in the Eastern United States, leaving everything they knew behind, and started on a dangerous journey across land that was totally unknown to them. It was called ‘The Great Migration’ and in the space of just 11 years, approximately 55,000 people travelled west.
The most common route to take was the Oregon Trail. It was popular but also infamous. One traveller wrote, “You could not possibly mistake the trail because it was littered at intervals of only 30 yards or so with rusting wagon shafts, skeletons of mules and oxen, and the corpses of humans.”
It is hard to imagine what those pioneers must have felt as they slowly and treacherously pressed on along the track set before them. I am sure many of them thought about the life they had left behind and whether this journey was worth it.
Those early trailblazers faced sandstorms, rain, hunger and thirst, quicksands, swollen rivers, stampeding buffalo and disease…….and yet still they strained on forward. Their determination would be rewarded with the prize of new, rich farm lands, a fresh start, and the promise of a better life.
In around 62 AD, thousands of years before the Great Migration, the apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi:
“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.”
These are verses 13 and 14 of Philippians Chapter 3, and there are two things I think that God wants us to reflect on from these verses today.
Firstly, knowing Christ or gaining Christ (as we looked at in yesterday’s podcast), does not mean that all the difficulties in our lives will suddenly stop or disappear. If that were the case, Paul wouldn’t use phrases such as ‘straining forward’ or ‘press on.’ These words inherently imply that we will encounter things that cause us to struggle, and there will be occasions when we come up against resistance.
We may feel that since we made the decision to leave our old life behind and follow Christ, our journey resembles the Oregon Trail. People we love have got sick and died, managing our finances is a bit like being in quicksand as we could go under at any moment, and the spiritual attack that we have faced feels like we are being stampeded by a herd of buffalo.
When the journey is difficult, it can be hard not to just sit down at the side of the road and give up. But this is why it is so important to be part of a Christian community that can walk alongside us, help us to take the strain, encourage us to keep pressing on, and cheer every step forward that we make.
The American pioneers didn’t head out West alone in single wagons. They travelled in great wagon trails – extended families, whole communities – on a mission together. If we are going to complete the journey of faith, we need to do the same.
Secondly, all of us are called to be pioneers.
Now you may be thinking “Well she’s got that wrong. I am definitely not a pioneer. I know I could never just quit my job and leave everything behind. And I have no desire to trek off in a wagon.”
But that’s not what I mean.
The dictionary says that a pioneer is “a person who begins or helps develop something new and prepares the way for others to follow.”
As Christians we are all called to begin something new – and that is to live a new life which has Jesus at the centre. And we need to invest in, or develop, this new life. As Paul says in verse 12, we are not to think that we are already perfect and have obtained all that Christ intends for us.
Those on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s knew that their current situation was not perfect, but the promise of obtaining new farming lands and financial riches, meant they invested all their energy and determination, into achieving this goal.
Knowing Christ doesn’t bring land and money, but it brings the promise of a fresh start and a better life with God. Our relationship with Jesus should therefore always be focused on what lies ahead of us – that future promise – the transformation that God wants to bring to our lives and the greater depth of spiritual maturity that Christ will develop in us.
All of us are called to be pioneers – pressing on to develop new Christ-like attitudes or behaviours in our lives.
We are also all called to prepare the way for others to follow Christ.
In verse 17, Paul tells the church in Philippi to imitate him, and also to keep their eyes on others who live for Christ.
How does our life prepare others to follow Jesus? Does our journey of faith reflect the goal or the prize that we are straining forward to achieve? Despite the struggles and difficulties that we may face, is the path that we walk with Jesus one that others would want to follow in?
As you reflect on these verses from Philippians, pray for those that are following you and ask God how you can prepare them to follow Christ.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are the perfect model of a pioneer; showing us a new way to live, and leading us to the better life that you promised. Help us to press on and follow you more closely today, and prepare others to do the same. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Philippians 3:12-17
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.