Reaching Forward to God’s Goal
Open Your Bible
Philippians 3:12-16, Romans 8:28-30, 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, Colossians 3:1-4
BY Guest Writer
There’s a quote attributed to Maya Angelou that somehow gives comfort to my inner critic: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I’m not sure if these are actual words written by Dr. Angelou or if it’s one of those quotes that has been passed around so much on Instagram nobody knows the true source. But wherever it comes from, I like it. Something in it resonates with me, an echo of much-needed grace.
I’d like to think this is a message someone in the church at Phillippi needed to hear when Paul’s letter came to town. In Philippians, Paul isn’t writing to correct an issue or fight a dangerous teaching. Instead, he’s sent an extended thank-you letter, a note of encouragement, and a rally to keep going.
Metaphors about running races and winning prizes aren’t all that unusual in Paul’s writing, but if we look a bit more closely, we’ll find the words of a gentle, loving coach here. His letter to the Philippians includes a heartfelt thank you for their support, and the reminder that there is still so much work to do for the kingdom (Philippians 1:21–24). He points to Jesus’s obedience unto literal death as the ultimate example of humility (Philippians 2:8), a stark contradiction to his own list of credentials for “confidence in the flesh,” which is enough to make any zealous striver or recovering perfectionist wither. It’s also a false confidence Paul now recognizes as utterly empty (Philippians 3:4–6). His priorities have changed.
Yes, there is work. There is effort. There is a goal to pursue, a race to run, a job to do (Philippians 3:12–13). But look for the grace between the words: there is no striving in his words. Paul calls this way of thinking a mark of maturity—the realization that all we need is God. This is not the anxious striving to appease an angry Father. This is not fearfully walking on eggshells. Instead, Paul appeals to his readers’ identity as “citizens of heaven,” and encourages them to “live up to whatever truth we have [already] attained” (Philippians 1:27; 3:16).
And so, there is the tension: to work hard for God’s purposes, but trust that Christ has taken hold of us. To embrace our identity as kingdom citizens, while knowing we won’t live this life perfectly, nor could we ever earn our way back into a right relationship with God. To be content where we are while seeking to grow, and trusting that when the time is right, the Holy Spirit will reveal truth and nudge us in the direction that will lead us to look more like Jesus. “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead,” we learn to pursue the ultimate prize: Christ Jesus Himself (Philippians 3:13–14).
We grow. We learn. We know better. We do better. Until the day we step into the kingdom and the breeze on our faces feels like home.
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, writer, a spiritual director in training, and a contributing writer at The Rabbit Room. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts, with her husband Chris. Some of her favorite things include used bookstores and good coffee. You can find more of her writing at jenroseyokel.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jen_rose.