“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”
Philippians 3:14-15 (ESV)
I mowed my grass this weekend.
I know, I know…hottest weekend of the year (maybe the decade?) and all that, but trust me when I say it couldn’t be put off any longer. Thankfully (and on a weekend like this, I am really thankful), my current yard is not a whole lot bigger than the office I’m sitting in as I write this, and it takes less than an hour to give it a good shape-up.
This yard, however, was not where I learned to mow grass. No, I got my training a long time ago in a much different- and more difficult- context. I grew up on three acres, and needless to say, the maintenance required on that property was just a tad bit more than that which is required where I am now.
Most Saturdays, starting as early as March and extending through at least September, our family would spend the better part of the day mowing, weed eating, raking, Roundup-ing, and on and on to make our little homestead look as it should. It was a big job- and one that had to be done over and over again.
On other days, my Dad and I would take a short drive across town to another yard belonging a widowed friend of our family’s, named Ms Betty. Now her yard was much smaller than ours, but let me tell you- I would have gladly mowed those three acres at home ten times before I took on the unkempt mess that was her place. It had bumps, holes, roots, weeds, and grass thicker than any I’ve ever encountered before. It was a hard job- and like the one at home, one that had to be done over and over again.
So why on earth am I spending so much time recounting for you the highlights of my lawn care career? Because I think that mowing the grass, mundane as the task might be, is a tremendous real life picture of the process of progressing in maturity in Christ- or, to use our current series language, of pushing. Much like grass cutting, Christian progress is a process that takes time, energy, and at times a maddening amount of repetition. Just about the time God takes care of certain “weeds” in our hearts, minds, and lives, others pop up (or back up) and must be addressed again.
Consider with me for a moment the nature of this process. Where do we access the power to change? Is it in our own will, wisdom, and strength? If it is, and you’re anything like me, we’re in big trouble. No, it is the transforming grace and power of God Himself that gives us what we need to progress in Him. Attempting to enact deep, lasting change in your own heart, mind, and life is the equivalent of trying to cut down three acres with a pair of scissors. It just isn’t happening- and in heat like we’re experiencing right now, you just might die doing it!
No, just as the power to change the look of a lawn is beyond you– i.e. in a piece of equipment uniquely designed to accomplish such change- the power to alter the state of your heart is beyond you too. It comes from God alone, working through His Word, His Holy Spirit, and His people in His church. Don’t allow the illusion of prideful self-sufficiency or the lie that your struggles are somehow greater than God’s abilities to lead you to forfeit the power to which you’ve been given full access in Christ.
But there’s another side to this as well, and it’s important that we don’t miss it either. Though the power to truly change is not our own, our participation is always required. We must seek God. We must search the Scriptures. We must labor in prayer. We must pursue healthy relationships with others. We must make the sacrifices required to invest in others and impact our world. Using our grass cutting imagery, we must get behind the source of power and keep pushing.
That’s what Philippians 3- the text which we’ll be exploring throughout this series- is all about. It’s simultaneously about laying aside any confidence we might have in ourselves and “glorying in Christ” alone, and “pressing on toward the prize” of knowing and becoming like Christ. It’s about participating in a process of progress, drawing on a power far greater than we could ever muster for ourselves. Here’s a quick and memorable “formula” to help you remember what we’re talking about here…
God’s Power + Your Participation = Progress In Christ
Today- and every day that follows- keep pushing, but remember that you’re not pushing alone. The “weeds” will keep coming, but the good news is that God is going anywhere anytime soon- and His power to transform knows no limit. Be encouraged by another great truth from Philippians…
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)