Keep Pursuing Spiritual Goals
“Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize.”—Philippians 3:13, 14.
1, 2. How much effort was put forth by those competing in an ancient footrace, and why? (1 Corinthians 9:24)
“A GOOD runner from the moment that the barrier falls thinks only of getting forward, sets his mind on the finish and counts on his legs to win for him.” Thus first-century historian Lucian described the intensity of those in the footrace. Every nerve and muscle was strained to reach the goal first. The prize, often a crown of leaves, normally brought the victor a lifetime of “the choicest praises,” for everyone knew that the victor had spared “neither cost nor pains” until the ‘prize was won.’a
2 Using the runner to illustrate what is needed to succeed as a Christian, the apostle Paul admonished those pursuing the goal of eternal life: “Run in such a way that you may attain [the prize].” (1 Corinthians 9:24) Paul said that he was “stretching forward” (like a runner whose body was bent forward, going all out for the finish) and “pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.” (Philippians 3:13, 14) If a Christian “runner” is to receive the reward, the prize of eternal life, not any other pursuit, must become the focal point, or target, toward which his whole life is directed. Is this true of your life?
‘Be of This Mental Attitude’
3. According to Philippians 3:13, what attitude should mature Christians reflect?
3 By “forgetting the things behind,” the apostle Paul showed that this reward was his most important goal. He called the “things behind” a “lot of refuse,” “garbage,” or “dung.” (Beck; Authorized Version) This was a strong statement, considering what Paul had left behind when he got into the race for life. (See page 4.) Reflecting on his own example, Paul urged: “Let us, then, as many of us as are mature, be of this mental attitude.”—Philippians 3:5-8, 15, 17.
4. What preliminary goal should be reached by (a) interested ones who are not yet baptized? (b) newly baptized ones?
4 Those to whom the apostle directed his remarks had already entered the race and had attained Christian maturity. But what if you are not baptized and so have yet to enter the race? Then you need to work toward this as a first goal, for those who fail to run will not receive the prize of eternal life. However, if you have just started in the race for life, then, as the first goal, you need to reach out for Christian maturity. This would mean striving to accept the full range of Christian truth and to have your “perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Hebrews 5:14; 6:1.
5. What questions can we use to identify our mental attitude about the goal of life?
5 Yet Paul’s words, “Let us, . . . as many of us as are mature, be of this mental attitude,” indicate that even those who are mature need to examine their “mental attitude,” for some could be “mentally inclined otherwise.” (Philippians 3:15) For instance, what things did you leave behind? Do you still view them as did Paul? Or have the materialistic and prestigious attainments in the world absorbed more of your time and attention? Of course, a Christian must provide the necessities for himself and his household. Paul worked at the difficult trade of tentmaking—quite an adjustment from the illustrious career he previously followed. But now the “prize” was the big thing in his life, not his secular employment. Is the same true of you?—Acts 18:3; 20:33, 34.
Training in Godly Devotion
6 In his counsel to Timothy, the apostle Paul drew attention to a quality that is vital for all who want to gain the “prize.” Undoubtedly having in mind the years of rigorous training required of athletes, he wrote: “Be training yourself with godly devotion as your aim. . . . to this end we are working hard and exerting ourselves.”—1 Timothy 4:7, 10.
7. What is godly devotion, and how can we examine our motivation?
7 Godly devotion refers to an attachment to Jehovah personally. It is what we are at heart, and is not necessarily determined by our external religious acts.b Therefore, we regularly need to examine why we engage in sacred service. Is it because of what others might think if we do not? Is it to build an impressive record before men? Is it simply because our parents insist? Or is it because we want to please God? At times we all need a gentle push from others. A personal quota or an organizational arrangement may act as a stimulus, but what is done should truly be “deeds of godly devotion.”—2 Peter 3:11.
8. To develop godly devotion, what is needed in addition to Bible study?
8 By becoming “nourished with the words of the faith” through personal and congregational Bible study, a person can develop godly devotion. (1 Timothy 4:6) But more is needed than merely covering pages. Ask yourself: What does this tell me about Jehovah? How should this affect my life or my view of others? Will I apply what I have learned? When? How? Such meditation is part of our training toward godly devotion.
9. What experience shows the need to train constantly with godly devotion as our aim?
9 An athlete, while training, constantly analyzes how to improve. As runners in the Christian race we must be careful never to take our spiritual development for granted. One woman who had attended meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses from childhood, as well as having engaged regularly in the field ministry, found that more was needed than simply that routine of Christian activity, because she later became involved in sexual immorality. After recovering, she said: “I had assumed that I was a spiritual person, but I realized that I had just gone through the motions. After my spiritual fall I began to do much more personal study and applied it to myself. I begged for Jehovah’s help. As a result, I began to grow spiritually, developing for the first time a personal relationship with him.”
10. How can an appreciative eye help us to draw closer to Jehovah?
10 Also, an appreciative eye is needed. For instance, upon enjoying a piece of delicious fruit, you might reflect: ‘What a Father we have to provide something so delightful!’ Or, upon gazing at a colorful sunset, you might exclaim: ‘What an artist our Father is!’ In everyday matters make it a practice to take note of evidence of Jehovah’s care. You will thus draw closer to him.—1 Thessalonians 5:18; James 4:8.
‘Stretch Forward’—Not Perfect Yet
11. Can a Christian, because of years in the truth, relax?
11 Some in the first-century Philippian congregation, because of being in the way of the truth for some time, may have begun to relax, feeling that they had reached a satisfactory level of spirituality. Paul drew attention to his own example, saying: “Not that I [an apostle, and a Christian for over 25 years] have already received it [the heavenly prize] or am already made perfect, but I am pursuing [it] . . . Brothers, I do not yet consider myself as having laid hold on it.”—Philippians 3:12, 13.
12. Why must a Christian continue to strive to put on the new personality?
12 A Christian’s life is ever progressive. Continual “advancement” is needed in putting on the new personality. Disqualifying weaknesses must be resisted. (1 Timothy 4:15; 1 Corinthians 9:27) One Witness revealed that she was often haughty and easily upset by others. After being counseled, she realized this could jeopardize her attaining everlasting life. “I then strained to think positively of others. After forcing myself for a while, it became easier,” she admitted. “When I would become provoked, I would pray: ‘I don’t want to be this way, Jehovah. You know I have such a hard time, so please help me!’ He really did!” As a goal she sought to overcome a specific weakness and display more of the fruitage of God’s spirit. She was blessed, even qualifying to serve as a missionary. Are there goals of this nature that you need to pursue?—Galatians 5:22-26.
13. What goal did one family reach, and what motivated them?
13 Realizing that he is not “already made perfect” or that he has not yet gained the prize of eternal life, a Christian keeps watching his attitude toward the ministry. A married couple in the United States examined their circumstances. At the time (back in 1958) the wife was a school’s primary teacher and the husband, as a sales executive, was earning over $40 per hour. “Then we began to think of some who served at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had given up a fortune to serve there without pay, just to bring the truth to persons like us,” the wife said. Stirred by that example, the couple sold their home and, together with their two children, moved to where the need for Kingdom publishers was greater. Both were content to do menial labor to support their family. Their whole life was now wrapped up in helping others, as they each were soon conducting, on an average, 15 weekly Bible studies with interested persons. “We reaped a depth of joy money could never buy. And especially were we delighted to see our children grow up with the same love for Jehovah,” stated the husband.—Philippians 4:12, 13.
14. What are some personal goals that many have reached for?
14 Of course, not every family could make such a move. But an increasing number have made adjustments to have a larger share in the preaching work, perhaps even becoming auxiliary or regular pioneers. During the 1981 service year each month, on an average, 151,180 persons engaged in the pioneer work—an all-time high and nearly 10 percent more than the previous year! Many have made Bethel or missionary service a goal. With the recent opening of Gilead extension schools in Mexico and in the Federal Republic of Germany, many more have been able to reach new and expanded goals in their personal lives. Still others have worked hard to develop a deep love for Jehovah in their children. Dedicated men have reached out for the work of a ministerial servant, an elder, or even a traveling overseer, by developing the required spiritual qualifications.—1 Timothy 3:1-13.
15. How can Christian wives help their husbands keep the goal of life foremost?
15 Christian wives help by keeping the “prize” foremost. “I’ll never forget what my wife said when I read that three of the men I trained to take my job when we moved had just become millionaires,” related the Witness mentioned in paragraph 13. “She said: ‘Money is here today and gone tomorrow. What we are doing by helping persons spiritually has lasting good.’ She always encouraged me not to get involved in making big money again. With her help we entered the circuit work when our children were grown.” Yes, women who support their husbands spiritually can assist them in obtaining “goodwill from Jehovah.”—Proverbs 18:22.
16. (a) When the apostle Paul told the Philippian congregation, “You lacked opportunity,” what did he apparently mean? (b) How do we know that Jehovah is not one who is never satisfied with the efforts of his servants?
16 The first-century Philippian congregation had been exceptionally generous to Paul, but a span of time passed wherein they gave nothing materially. Why? “You lacked opportunity,” wrote Paul. (Philippians 4:10) Perhaps difficult times, changed circumstances, or their not knowing where Paul was prevented them from doing what their hearts desired. Our circumstances may also limit what we can do. Jehovah realizes this. As an example, under the Mosaic law Jehovah accepted as a guilt offering what a person could afford, even if it was only eight cups of flour! (Leviticus 5:5-11) All that God asked was that sacrifices be of the best.—Exodus 23:19; Hebrews 13:15, 16.
17. What are like milestones on a racecourse in our pursuit of the final goal, the prize of eternal life?
17 However, are we truly giving Jehovah our best? Do we keep before us every day the grand reward of eternal life? (Compare Hebrews 12:1, 2.) We can be greatly aided in doing so if we have spiritual goals that we are endeavoring to reach along the way. These become milestones on the racecourse. As we have seen, one of these milestones is baptism. Have you reached that point? What about Christian maturity—genuinely accepting the whole range of Christian truth, no longer doubting, questioning, challenging every new thought? And have you learned to make daily decisions on the basis of Bible principles? If so, you have passed another milestone. Have the fruits of the spirit become deeply imbedded in your personality? Does the field ministry have the same importance to you that it did to our exemplar, Jesus Christ? And what about the reason why you do things? Are you moved by true godly devotion? Even though he was an elder in the Christian congregation, Timothy was counseled that he needed to train himself with this as his aim. Are we attaining some of these goals and reaching out for others, with the grand prize of eternal life always in view? Are we really “stretching forward”?
18. What rewards do we receive now from developing godly devotion?
18 The rewards of such effort are many. As Paul said of godly devotion, “it holds promise of the life now.” (1 Timothy 4:8) He well summed up the satisfaction we can have right now despite difficulties: “We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. . . . We bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having.”—2 Corinthians 6:10, Phillips.
19. Why should each of us pay attention to how we are running in the quest for eternal life?
19 Then soon we shall grasp our final goal—‘the life to come.’ Paul could say in anticipation of his heavenly reward: “I reckon that the sufferings of the present season do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) Yes, all the exertion in the race will amount to nothing in comparison with the blessings of the prized reward of eternal life, whether in heaven or on earth. So keep your eye set on spiritual goals. Run to win. Run as if your very life depended on it—for it does!—Psalm 37:3, 4, 11, 29.
□ What is the essential goal toward which a Christian must strive, and what “mental attitude” should we have about reaching it?
□ How do we train ourselves with godly devotion as our aim?
□ What are some preliminary goals as we strive for the final goal of eternal life?
□ Is Jehovah never satisfied with our efforts in his sacred service?
a Observations by ancient Greek poet Pindar in his Isthmian Odes, I 40-50.
b The original Greek word, eusebeia, was used at the time by philosopher Philo to describe a genuinely religious person in contrast to a “counterfeit” worshiper who made only a lavish display of external religious acts.
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There are preliminary goals in our Christian course as we strive for the final goal of everlasting life
More Fruitage of Holy Spirit