Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, 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. (Philippians 3:12-14)
The beginning and the end of a journey are generally marked by excitement and exhilaration. As we stand at the starting line, we are excited about the road ahead and often we stand with friends and family who are there to encourage us. So too with the finish line. When it comes into view, we feel exhilarated, knowing that we are about to finish what we started, and again, there are often many standing there to cheer us on to victory.
But what about the road between? How do we “master the middle” . . . those long, lonely stretches when our excitement wanes, we feel like we are running on empty, and exhilaration is as far from us as the east is from the west?
The key to mastering that middle of the road between the start and the finish is to mirror our Master. And one of the best ways to do that is to keep Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi in view every step of the way. These words characterize one of the primary marks of a Christian who has learned how to master the middle.
The apostle Paul knew well that the middle stretch, which often feels so dreary and whispers to us to quit makes up the lion’s share of the time we spend on our journey. Unlike the starting and finish lines, where there are frequently people there to cheer us on, there are many times in the middle when no one is there. The road is long and arduous; there are unexpected twists and turns and long hills to climb, and we find ourselves all alone. If we do not master that stretch, it will begin to master us.
Again, we must look to the example of Jesus Christ. How often in the middle of our Lord’s journey did He find Himself alone! He spent long nights alone in prayer, seeking strength and direction from His Father in heaven. Even when He was surrounded by huge crowds, their interest was only rooted in what they could get from Him. Only a few of those who pressed in around Him were interested in simply being still and being with Him.
At the beginning of His race of redemption, the heavenly host cheered Him on with its glorious anthem: “Glory to God in the highest!” And when Jesus ascended back to His throne of grace, I’m quite sure that the heavenly host was there to welcome Him home and rejoice over Him once again. But that stretch of road in the middle was often as long as it was lonely. Isaiah prophesied about what the life of the Suffering Servant would be like:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3-4)
And then there was that last, terrible, excruciating uphill climb, as the darkness closed in around Him and the only voices He heard were jeering, not cheering, and He uttered that despairing cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even His Father, who had twice thundered from heaven that “This is My Son, whom I love,” had turned away; the loving Father had become the merciless Judge.
Jesus’s body had been torn by the savage scourging, His hands and feet pierced through by the cruel spikes, His every breath was a shuddering agony, and He was utterly alone . . . yet He never wavered, not once . . . He never wavered in His love for you, Christian; He had set His face like flint (Isaiah 50:7) and He pressed on toward the goal, which was your eternal redemption.
Perhaps you’re on one of those long, lonely stretches of road today; perhaps you’re facing an uphill climb and you’re not sure you have the strength to finish; perhaps you’ve stumbled and fallen in a heap by the side of the road and you feel like there is no one there to offer a helping hand and get you back on your feet. Wherever this message finds you, if you are struggling to master the middle of your journey, look to your Master and draw strength from Him. You may not see anyone cheering from the sidelines, but there is One who is cheering you on every step of the way—your Savior is praying for you. Jesus said He will never leave nor forsake you, and He is offering you His hand of supernatural strength and encouragement.
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
And when you cross the finish line, Christian, you will hear cheering like you never heard before! If you have run your race for the glory of God, it will sound just like this:
“Well done, good and faithful servant!”
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!