“With this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
“With this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
We all know that marathon runners must consistently train over months, periodically running longer and longer distances to get fit for the race. They do so because the goal is before them—to complete the marathon. Those who lose sight of the goal can easily grow tired of the daily grind of running and fail to keep training consistently. When that happens, they are unlikely to finish the race.
Paul kept his eyes on the goal before him despite great hardships. We have much to learn from his focus.
We have followed Paul through one missionary journey and most of a second. This week we will move out of Acts, which simply tells the stories of his travels, into some of Paul’s letters. Last week we watched Paul experience persecution in place after place. How was he able to keep going? To answer that, we will look for insight from his letters into his goal. Next week we’ll pick up the second journey again.
The first letter that Paul ever wrote was likely 1 Thessalonians. We read last week of his visit to Thessalonica on the second journey (Acts 17:1-9). You may want to review what happened on your chart on the previous page of this workbook. Because Paul was forced out of the city so quickly, he decided to follow up with a letter.
Read 1 Thessalonians 3:1-8 and note the context surrounding these verses.
Extra Training: If time permits, read the entire book of 1 Thessalonians after reviewing where Paul was in his own race and the trials he was facing. Consider what you learn from him about being faithful to the race set before you.
1. What was Paul’s concern? In other words, why did he write this letter and send Timothy to Thessalonica? What news did he receive back?
2. What reassurance about his own race did Paul give the readers of his letter (1 Thess. 3:3-4)?
Read 1 Thess. 2:1-4.
3. How did Paul describe the goal set before him in these verses?
4. Sharing question: Honestly evaluate how important it is to you on a scale of 1-10 to please God in all that you do. Consider how much you even think about that as you go through your day, making choices about what you think and how you respond, and act. What one thing can you do this week to keep that goal before you at all times?
5. Responding to God: Draw a picture of you! Yes! Illustrate the choice to please God or to please yourself or others. Picture yourself making the right choice.
Although 1 Corinthians was written later in Paul’s journeys, it includes some great insights into his focus. Early in the letter Paul revealed that the church in Corinth was fractured. Various church members had chosen their favorite teachers to follow, and schisms were developing. Read 1 Cor. 3:5-15.
Extra Training: Read 1 Cor. 1:1-3:4 which describes the problems in the church in Corinth. In what ways could these quarrels have affected the Corinthians and their own races?
6. In 1 Cor. 3:5-9 Paul depicted the people of this church as a field being farmed. How did he illustrate his own work in that field (1 Cor. 3:5-6)? What results did he expect from his work (1 Cor. 3:7-8)?
7. Paul then changed the picture of believers, no longer portraying them as a field but as a building (1 Cor. 3:9). What was Paul’s work on the building? Why might he describe it this way? What work were others doing on the building?
8. What kind of work brought reward to the worker? Contrast the two types of work and what they may represent.
9. Although this picture of the building specifically applies to teachers and leaders within the church, we can extend the principles to all of us and our Christian races. What do you learn for your own work in your own God-given race? How will you feel that day when your work has been revealed if you receive a reward from Jesus?
10. Sharing question: Consider what you are building for the kingdom of God. Think about the ministry God has given you. Consider the spheres of influence into which he has placed you. Are you working out of your own power, building with things that man can grow and produce (like wood, hay, and straw), or are you working out of God’s power and strength producing what only God can produce (like gold, silver, and gemstones)? Describe one thing you can do in your life and/or your ministry in order to insure that you are building with the things that last. Make it your prayer request for your group this week.
11. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem describing your desire to build something of eternal value.
Read 1 Cor. 4:1-5.
12. How does this passage relate to Paul’s goal and/or his focus on it?
13. How does 1 Cor. 9:16-17 connect to this passage?
14. Summarize Jesus’ parables in Luke 12:35-48. What is the primary lesson?
Extra Training: Use your resources to learn more about stewards or to read what commentators say about the parables you just read.
15. Responding to God: Spend some time listening to God in light of today’s verses. Write a prayer below that expresses your desire to hear from him. Ask him for insights and then answer the next question.
16. Sharing question: What did God say to you from these parables and the verses in 1 Corinthians about the importance of focusing on the goal in your race?
As we continue considering Paul’s focus, we’ll move forward in his life to a letter written some years after the first two missionary journeys, Philippians. We read last week about Paul’s visit to the city of Philippi during his second journey. You can review what happened there if you desire.
17. For what was Paul laboring or striving (Phil. 3:12, 14)? In other words, what was his focus?
Extra Training: Research the Greek games of that era and the prizes awarded to the winners and how it relates to Paul’s goals.
18. In order to focus, Paul said that he had to forget other things. What were they? Go back to Phil. 3:5-6 and list some of those things specific to Paul. Consider our previous lessons. Can you think of other things he had to put behind him in order to move forward?
19. Sharing question: What in your past trips you up and makes it difficult to focus on the goal ahead? They could be good things, like those Paul listed in Phil. 3:5-6; they could be sins and mistakes that you have made; or they could be losses that you grieve.
20. Phil. 3:5-6 are great verses to help you put the past behind you. What truths in the following verses help do the same thing? If you struggle with the past, it may be helpful to memorize one or more of them.
21. Sharing question: Which of the verses in the previous question most helps you focus on the goal rather than the past? Why?
22. Responding to God: Use the verse that you chose as the basis of a prayer for yourself and your focus. Write it below.
Paul was a focused, single-minded believer. In our two lessons in Acts, we watched him keep keeping on no matter the cost. In his letters he expressed this focus in many ways. Today we’ll read one last passage where he describes the hardships and difficulties that he experienced in order to finish the race set before him by God.
Read 2 Cor. 4:7-18.
23. Sharing question: Which description of the contrasts between Paul’s difficulties and attitudes (2 Cor. 4:8-9) do you find most encouraging? Why?
24. To what does Paul attribute his ability to make it through all of these problems (2 Cor. 4:14-16)?
25. How does Paul describe his focus as he bears the pain of persecution and attack (2 Cor. 4:17-18)?
Extra Training: If you have any Greek tools that you can use, investigate the meanings of the adjectives in 2 Cor. 4:17 where Paul contrasts his suffering with the glory to come.
26. Sharing question: What is your part in making sure your inner person is renewed day by day, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:16? What do you do to allow God’s renewal to take place, especially when you grow weary of the race?
27. Responding to God: Draw a picture of the future when you are in the presence of Jesus. Draw him giving you a reward or prize for faithfully completing the race that he has given you to run.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21 (NIV)
How exciting to share this adventure with you at this time! For it was during the last weeks of December, 2000, that Father God spoke very clearly to my husband and me, that we were to leave a very successful, thriving sports ministry after thirty years of involvement as staff and volunteers. We have often referred to it as our “Abrahamic calling”, as we were told to leave what we knew—as Abraham was told to leave Ur and go to a land he would be shown. That is exactly what Father said to our hearts. We had no idea what or where our future would take us. But He did tell us to be in the posture of Mary at the feet of Jesus rather than Martha. He then did an incredible work by giving us both the same Scripture passage of assurance: “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me… Then the LORD replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time… Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.’” Habakkuk 2:1-3 (NIV) I don’t know about you, but that is not usually one of those passages that just pops up for devotionals. In fact, we were visiting some friends and one of them just mentioned the passage in some casual conversation. When we got home, we immediately looked it up and there was our instruction: Watch/Wait/Write.
As is the case with many in the Word of God, time is for our growth. Being a “type A” personality, my hubby had to grow in sitting at the feet of Jesus rather than making something happen. He felt six weeks would probably be the max of such a posture. When it became six months, then twelve, well, I’ll leave the atmosphere to your imagination. Plenty of questions and searching went on. Multiple times we went back to the Habakkuk passage for assurance. But just as in the cases of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, we knew that the Lord had given us His direction.
About three months prior to our resignation, the Lord led me to a book by Stormie Omartian, Just Enough Light for the Step I Am On. I cannot tell you any of the content, but that title was seared into my/our heart/mind. The Holy Spirit has used that phrase through much of this adventure. Unfortunately, we want a huge floodlight and He tells us He is our flashlight. Just keep the focus on His steps and follow along.
It has now been eight years of getting to know Him more closely and intimately. The vision came for us to establish a new ministry that would come alongside pastors and churches to help them build houses of prayer. He gave us the blueprint and we wrote it down. We have watched Him provide people, finances, open doors, and even let my hubby be a contributing writer for a book designed to use for a bible college and seminary course curriculum. We have spoken around the nation and made multiple new friends. And this past summer, He even had us invited back to that former sports ministry we had previously served in to teach coaches and their spouses how to pray together.
Staying in the Word, relying on prayers of many old and new brothers and sisters in Christ, and reading multiple books kept us focused on the call. We are still in that posture of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. That is the only way to “keep on keeping on”. I don’t think it is supposed to change. Remember, Jesus is waiting, too. He is waiting to come back. Until then, He is still busy about Father’s business—prayer—as are we.
Every mom who has gone to a ball game to watch children has heard the familiar saying, “Keep your eye on the ball.” From the first game I attended, I noticed that this is the phrase repeated again and again. Even with this admonition, the kindergartener in the outfield at a t-ball game will usually watch a passing butterfly with great interest rather than focus on the game in which he is playing. Even professional athletes lose focus at times. Last night, I heard a television announcer criticize a professional football player in a playoff game for dropping a perfect pass because he took his eye off the ball.
In a similar way, it is easy for me as a mom to lose my focus on eternal things just as the ball player takes his eye off the ball. When life is filled with taking care of children and their needs, we get caught up in the immediate need or on the next item on our “to do” list and forget our primary focus. Do I see myself as “just a mom” taking care of the daily needs of my children or do I see that I am called to raise up a godly offspring to know the Lord. In both cases, I am going to love my children and meet their needs. However, I can choose to have as my primary mindset the spiritual training of my children and a focus on eternal values rather than merely moving from one meal or one crisis to the next without giving any thought to spiritual things.
We receive so much input each day from the world’s viewpoint that we have to renew our minds continually in order to keep our focus on the eternal. Paul gives us this exhortation in Romans 12:2.
“Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”
Action Step: Are you renewing your mind each day? Are you keeping your focus on eternal values or have the world’s values captivated your heart? Ask the Lord to renew your mind each day as you read his word. Write out your prayer below.