Habakkuk 3:2-6 (New Revised Standard Version)
O Lord, I have heard of your renown,
and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
In our own time revive it;
in our own time make it known;
in wrath may you remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His glory covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
The brightness was like the sun;
rays came forth from his hand,
where his power lay hidden.
Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed close behind.
He stopped and shook the earth;
he looked and made the nations tremble.
The eternal mountains were shattered;
along his ancient pathways
the everlasting hills sank low.
The prophet has heard about יְהוָ֗ה , the God who IS. He has heard about God's reputation. He has known the history of the manifestations of God's power and might. He has reveled in awe at the accounts of the LORD's demonstrations of authority over nature and intervention in the physical universe.
Now, he wants God to do it again.
He wants God to make Himself known.
He cried for God to act as God has always acted. Namely, in his mind, he knows, that out of God's wrath flows the mercy of God.
God's wrath is not like the wrath of man. It is no knee jerk, emotionally immature reaction to what does not go our way. It is not an explosion of uncontrollable anger with no purpose. It is, rather, God's wall of resistance toward anything that goes against His purpose. It is His response to what defies His love and mercy. It is His expression of indignation against all that oppresses and dehumanizes people.
It is God's strategic message to a rebellious people to return to the shelter of His love and mercy.
As we turn to our verses from Philippians today, we follow the journey of one who has turned from wrath to mercy to find that God was already and always there. Paul shares, with us, his personal reflections on what it is like to strive toward that place where God has called us upward. He let's us know that we, having been revived from the dead, have not yet arrived at the goal and yet, we keep moving toward it, not to be accepted by God, but because God has already accepted us.
Advent reminds us that something us ahead of us, beginning, and unfolding.
We are not there yet.
(Philippians 3:12) Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
I’m not there yet, but thank God, I’m not where I was.
Progress is the word of the day. It is that quality which enables me to “follow after” and not be discouraged by the distance ahead. As a Christian, I have already been captured, apprehended, and held secure by Jesus Christ. That is a great comfort. But it is not that false comfort that lulls one to sleep. It is not that sinister imposter that whispers in the ear, “You have arrived; now rest quietly. No further progress is necessary.”
It is not that at all. Rather, it is the assurance that what we are becoming is not to be stifled by our inadequacies. It is not to be prevented by our lack of ingenuity. It is not dependent upon our own strength. It is not limited by our lack of vision.
We are still to work out that which His has worked within us. We are to pursue the prize. We are to follow the course. We are to move forward in faith.
We are not there yet, but the race is not over. We keep on keeping on.
Do not lose heart. Others have gone before and they had no more and no less than you to propel them on. We are given the stamina and the fortitude for the pursuit in whatever quantities are necessary for our unique calling under God.
Never give up. Your life is no accident; your calling is no second thought of God. This journey you are on is His purpose for your life. No, you are not there yet, but neither are you where you were. Press on!
(Philippians 3:13-14) 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.
This Advent season, we have an opportunity to refocus on the one thing. It is the thing Habakkuk longed for, Paul longed for, and we long for.
What if you had to leave everything behind except one thing?
What if you had to sort through your prized possessions and you only had a few minutes to make the decision? The storm is coming and you can only carry one thing with you.
What if you had to surrender all your trophies, all the reminders of your past success? What if your most cherished disappointments – that’s right, I said “cherished” disappointments – had to be forgotten. Men and women often treasure their failures out of some misguided sense of safety and security.
Forgetting what is behind means unshackling oneself from the comforts of past victories and the comfortable excuses of past defeats.
We are called to press forward toward a goal we have not yet achieved. The press involves some stress – the right kind of stress that is the tension between where we are and where we ought to be. It involves energy and intensity. It calls for commitment and consecration.
More than anything else, it demands a clear fix on the prize. Without knowing all the details, we can know that there is a clear mark. It is the calling of God in Christ Jesus, but it is not just any calling. It is the high calling.
It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, who you’ve been, or what you’ve done – great or small. The high calling is higher, loftier, and more wonderful than anything. It deserves to be the ONE thing in your life to which anything else of value is attached. If it cannot be attached, then it must be left behind because it is not worthy of the one great thing in your life: the prize.
A Complete Mind
We have all heard it said, when we complained about a pain, that it was all in our minds. That was probably not entirely true. Yet, it is true that our minds are powerful and how we set our minds and upon what we set them is vital to everything in our lives. That is why the Christian calendar devotes days of preparation for great celebrations like Christmas and Easter.
How much more so can be preparing for the great event of the unfolding of God's purposes in the culmination of all history?
(Philippians 3:15) Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
There are two profound truths in this often-confusing verse. One is that if we are perfect in every other way, let us think as such – all thoughts fully integrated and focused on one great goal: the mark, the prize, the calling.
Of course, no one has arrived, but some think they have. Paul challenges such folks to live what they profess. Other ways of understanding perfection evoke visions of completion and maturity – relative terms. The point is this: if we have reached a certain point of maturity, it should affect the way we think. Our attitudes must be those reflected by Paul when he declared that he had not arrived and was committed to pressing on.
Mature people are always growing, always climbing, never satisfied with where they are spiritually, and always looking forward.
Another great truth is the principle of relaxed concern as regards the spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters. Relaxed concern means that we care, we help, and we pray, but we don’t take the whole burden for their choices on ourselves. We trust that God can handle the misconceptions of His children about themselves.
Our trust is in God and that, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (1:5)
So, like Paul, we can encourage our brothers and sisters not to become self-satisfied, but we cannot judge their progress. That is God’s job and He does it well. What we can and must do is pray for spiritual dissatisfaction in our hearts and in the hearts of our fellow believers that is characterized by the words of the old hymn:
I am satisfied with Jesus.
He has done so much for me.
He has suffered to redeem me.
He has died to set me free.
I am satisfied. I am satisfied.
I am satisfied with Jesus.
But the question comes to me as I think of Calvary:
Is my Master satisfied with me?
Don’t Lose Ground
The prophet would not have had to pray for revival if the people of God had not lost so much ground in their pilgrimage of faith and obedience. Paul knew that it was possible to move backwards as well as forward.
(Philippians 3:16) Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
You shouldn’t have to start over again and again.
Nothing is as frustrating as having to retrace old ground. The solution then, is not to lose ground in the first place.
Have you ever wondered why some of us as Christians have to seemingly deal with the same issues over and over again? Why is it that we forget the lessons we have learned? Why do we insist that God rescue us from the same old tired errors and sins?
Why do we need so many personal revivals in our lives?
We grow complacent and the Spirit finds a way to wake us up. We stay focused on the prize for a time and then we get distracted. From distraction, we move toward boredom and from boredom to spiritual coldness and before we know it we are as useful as dead folks to the Kingdom of God.
And then we need revival again.
Revival is a good thing – especially if it is not always about reclaiming lost ground. Revival ought to be about encouraging us to the next step of spiritual progress, reminding us of the goal set before us, and stirring us up with a fresh breath of spiritual energy.
Sadly, it is often about waking the dead who ought to be alive. To that dilemma, Brother Paul speaks and admonishes us to walk by the rule of humble progress with our minds all focused on the one thing that surpasses all else.
Don’t lose ground – not this time. And if you do, regain it quickly and move on. The more you practice your faith, exercising it in daily discipline, the less likely you will be to fall, the more likely you will be to keep moving on toward the mark.
Let us keep moving forward, as we do, sing this song of ascent from Psalm 126.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.