Have you ever played golf (or mini-golf if that is your preference) on a course with many hazards: sand, water, stray dog, whatever. As you prepare to hit the ball and visualize the shot in your head, are you telling yourself stay out of the hazards, stay out of the hazards? I don’t know about you but if I do that, it’s pretty much a guarantee my ball is headed that way. In my Christian walk, I fall victim to the same problem. Avoiding something by thinking about it more seems to be contradictory and yet that is often how we address sin. In fact, it is such a large part of how we think as Christians, it has become part of our identity in America. It doesn’t take much searching to see how preoccupied we are with what we can and cannot do. It is no wonder the world identifies Christians as an angry, negative people.
What can we do to think differently? In Philippians 3:12-15, we are given an answer of what our focus should be:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us 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.
Paul is telling us here to keep moving forward towards where we want to be. To concentrate on where the golf ball should land, not what it should stay away from.
If you have not read Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love, I highly recommend it. One of the points Francis makes is to pray for more love and it will result in more love. It is in the pursuit of Christ, rather than the avoidance of sin through which change happens:
…you have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin. When you are pursuing love, running toward Christ, you do not have opportunity to wonder, Am I doing this right? or Did I serve enough this week? When you are running toward Christ, you are freed up to serve, love, and give thanks.
Should our effort be to run towards Christ or away from sin? When asked about which are the most important of all the commandments and rules in the Jewish Law, Jesus answered: …”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” There are 613 commandments in the Torah, and of all of those, the two which Jesus deemed most important are not about staying away from sin. They are both about moving closer to God. It seems pretty clear what Jesus wanted us to focus on.
I encourage each of you to do this in your personal prayer life as well as your discipleship to others: focus on where you are going, not what you want to avoid. When you pray, pray about who God wants you to be, your place in the Kingdom, what God can accomplish through you. Pray that God will show you who He wants you to be. One of my favorite quotes is by Dan Kimball from his study They Like Jesus, But Not the Church: “Being a Christian should be about what we stand for – not what we stand against.” Shouldn’t this be the identity people know of Christians?