Running the race in the last days Bible Study
The Forward Gaze and the fixed hope: Where are you looking?
by I Gordon
Pro 4:25 Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.
We've been studying 'running the race in the last days' and last time we explored a passage in 1 Peter that tells us to 'gird up the loins of your mind'. So we looked at the mind games that occur in any competition and saw that spiritually speaking, the mind is the battleground for the believer. What we think about and focus on is important! I'd like to do a second part on this, carrying on with the second half of the verse. So let's see if you can you finish the rest of this verse?
1Pe 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit...fix your hope...
Can you remember the end? What do we fix our hope on? It is this - 'fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.' So I want to look at this forward focus... this fixed hope. In any race there are lots of distractions. Can you run very well constantly looking sideways? What would happen trying to run forward while always looking back? How long before you trip and get a face full of mud?
When I first started running at an Athletic club it was in the 'tiny-tots' division. I was very young. Very little. Very easily distracted! We would line up at the start with a tall old man saying 'get ready... get steady... go!' And we'd be off, trying to run as fast as our one foot long legs would carry us. But I was easily distracted. I'd be running but if someone drew up alongside I'd spend half my time looking at them, crossing lanes, running s's down the track. Or you'd see Grandma or the parents on the sideline yelling 'go, go...' So you'd wave out or worse go over to see them... mid race... and the 'go, go' soon became 'no, no!'
But as you get a bit bigger, you start to learn that when you are racing you must remain focused. Especially in sprinting. You look forward and you do no divert your gaze. If someone draws up alongside you do not look at them. It will only slow you down. You fix your gaze completely on the finish line, the destination, and don't get side tracked.
We can see this single focus when we look at the professionals. Here is a photo from the 100m at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Note the complete forward focus of these experts and how they have learned to ignore all distractions. Argh, well... alright... 'most' of them are focused!
So this study will be pretty simple. We'll look at the fixed hope, the forward focus. But we'll include the good and the bad of looking around and looking back. This will be part 1 of a 2 part message on this theme.
Fix your hope on the grace to be brought to you
1Pe 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us to fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. The grace that you threw yourself upon for the salvation of your soul, is the same grace that upholds you in this life. It is also the same grace that will be fully manifest and will transform all believers at the coming of the Lord Jesus. 'Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.' And how great it is to have this hope, this confident expectation, of what is to come. A read recently about the famous atheist Jean-Paul Sartre, who as he approached his death was resisting feelings of despair and would say "I know I shall die in hope, I know I shall die in hope." But then, in profound sadness, he would add, "But hope needs a foundation." And he had no foundation. His belief and faith was ultimately in a meaningless purposeless existence.
In contrast, the believer has an incredible out-of-this-world future to look forward to. The best is yet to come. We should always remember that others need this hope and we should share this hope we have!
But our ultimate hope is in that which is still to come. When we are young we have lots of hopes and dreams. The world promises so much. But the longer you are here the more your hope narrows and your focus fixes on His coming. That is not to say we are without hope until that day. Far from it! Kind David said 'I would have despaired if I had not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living'. With God, there is always hope. But there is an ultimate hope. The blessed hope. It is something we should never lose sight of. Distractions will come from all around but the true athlete will stay focused on his ultimate goal. So it says 'fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at His coming'. It helps us stay focused in this race.
Now there are a few 'fix' type verses in the New Testament. Can you think of any?
2Co 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Heb 3:1 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest
1Ti_6:17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.
Fix your eyes on what you cannot see. Fix your thoughts on Jesus - what He did, who He is, and who He will soon be. Don't fix your hope on the uncertainty of riches or the things of this world But fix your hope on grace. And specifically the grace that will come with Christ. Peter had a forward focus. We'll come back to this verse but look at a similar desire and focus that the Apostle Paul had:
Php 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (13) Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus .
Paul was an extraordinary man. Incredibly focused. He wasn't looking around at others, He wasn't looking back. He was looking at what God had for him now in view of the approaching prize and finish line of his race. So let's just take a little time to talk about the sideways and backwards look and then come back to this forward focus.
We live in an age where most people are busy looking sideways. In fact there has never been an age, in the whole history of the world, when people have been so busy watching... one another! It's called social media. Now there is a good side to looking around. If we are looking with a caring eye, wanting to help and encourage others, that's obviously great. But often this sideways look is more in trying to keep up with the Joneses. 'What is he doing? What has she bought? Oh they just have a holiday. Look how great those pics are? Look how great their lives are?... I wish mine was like that.' It can definitely be used for good but according to recent research, increased social media usage is instead leading to increased depression and loneliness!1 Why? Because your life never seems to measure up with all those great posts others are placing! They even have to keep coming up with new words and acronyms to describe what people are experiencing these days. One is FOMO. FOMO is 'fear of missing out'. People have to keep checking their Facebook and social media to make sure they are up with the play and not missing the latest gossip, happenings and events!
Left to fester this sideways look can become the 'jealous eye'. I was trying to think of an example on the Bible when a character kept looking around at someone else instead of what God wanted for them. Can you think of someone like that? 2
We shouldn't be comparing ourselves with each other. We shouldn't be jealous of what another has. We all have different roles, talents and gifts. The hand shouldn't compare itself with the ear and the eye should not look down on the foot (well, apart from physically!) What did Paul say in this scripture before us? ' I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.' His focus was on what God had for him. No one else. Can you remember when Peter was wondering what the Lord had for John in the future and said 'Lord, and what about this man?' The Lord replied 'If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (John 21:21-22) In other words 'What I have for him, is what I have for him. But you, follow Me!'
So Paul wasn't looking around comparing himself with others. The other thing that Paul said is that he stopped looking back. 'Forgetting what lies behind'. You may have been a bumpy race up until this point but it can't be your focus. Let it go and press on!
That's not to say that we should never look back. There is a good valid looking back. There were times in Israel's history where they would erect little monuments or reminders or markers to the goodness of the Lord. Can you think of any of these? In the days of Joshua they setup some stones by the Jordan.
Jos 4:20-24 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. (21) He said to the Israelites, "In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' (22) tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.' (23) For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. (24) He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God."
What are these stones? Well... they are a marker. A sign post from a point in time to help people to remember. When they saw them they could think back and say, yes, the Lord got us through that time. Have you got those? I have times, little experiences that stand as markers in my life which I look back on and remember from time to time. These are the legitimate backwards glance because they help the forward race.
It was said that the great missionary Hudson Taylor used to hang a sign in his home with two names on it. Two Hebrew words - 'Ebenezer and Jehovah Jireh'. It was a sign that helped him remember.
1Sa 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."
Gen 22:14 Abraham built the altar there and... Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide (Jehovah Jireh)
'Thus far the Lord has helped us' and 'the Lord will provide'. One looks back at God's past help and faithfulness and uses it to look forward with hopeful expectation of provision still to come.
So what is it that we need to leave behind and not look back on? When we are living with ongoing regrets from actions or missed opportunities from the past. For my own life I can look back and think 'argh, maybe if I did that or made that decision'. 'If only I had...' But it's so not helpful. What did Paul say again? Forgetting what lies behind, pressing on to what lies ahead... Even worse is holding onto malice and unforgiveness for past hurts. Like I said at the start, how well can you run constantly looking backwards? You can't. Bad things happen in this life. We are sometimes both the cause and recipient of hurtful actions. But we can't keep looking back holding onto past hurts. Maybe you have meet someone who always brings up hurts from the past which they have never been able to let go. And yet when you won't let go and forgive, when you have to keep looking back in anger, you find that you are the one that is bound.
Mini Sub-Study on Forgiveness
I recently read about one of the Greek words often translated 'forgive' in our Bible and want to take a mini detour to just look at this word because it relates to this thought of letting the past go.
Luk 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive ( apoluo ̄) , and you will be forgiven ( apoluo ̄).
There are different Greek words that are translated into the same word forgive but they give slightly different meanings in the original Greek. For Luke 6:37 most translations have 'forgive and you will be forgiven'. Which is true and an aspect of this Greek word. But when we look at how the word is used elsewhere it gives a fuller understanding of the word.
Mat 27:17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"
Joh 19:10 Do you refuse to speak to me? Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"
Luk 13:11-12 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. (12) But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity."
Some people have been hurt in the past and won't let it go. They hold onto the past bringing it up time and again. And yet what they may not see if that if we don't forgive then we are the ones that remain bound. But as we release others, we ourselves are set free. So Luke 6:37 could just as accurately be translated:
Release and you will be released.
Free and you will be set free.
Loose and you will have liberty.
Not always easy but with God it is possible. Joseph's brothers thought he was going to hold a grudge. They were scared that once their father Jacob died, that Joseph would pay them back for their evil. When Joseph heard this he wept.
Gen 50:19-21 But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? (20) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (21) So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
The forward focus
We've seen that Paul wanted to press forward. He wasn't going to get distracted trying to be like those around him. He wanted to know more about God's call on his life. And he wasn't going to keep dwelling on past hurts, mistakes or even sins. The past was past and He could leave it there to move forward. He simply fixed his gaze on Christ and pressed on towards the goal, the finish line, and the prize. . In the words of the Amplified Bible:
Php 3:13-14 ... one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.
This brings us full circle to the instruction of Peter:
1Pe 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
If we are not going to keep looking and trying to keep up with the Jones' around us... If we are not going to spend our time looking back, then what are we going to fix our gaze and hope on? The coming of the Lord! The blessed hope. And how we can live today with that firm focus in view.
I have a feeling that in the days to come, should the Lord delay His coming, this hope and desire will only become more profound. As we have stated before, things are changing in our culture and not for the better for the Christian. We see the signs of the approaching storm clouds. There is an increased sense that this is not our home. An increased longing for things to be put right.
And yes, for some who have been patiently waiting for longer than they hoped, it can be difficult. I listened to J.D Farag the other night who spoke about this and gave a great little verse from proverbs which states:
Pro 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
How much more so will the Lord's return be? It is LIFE in its fullest sense! So Peter says prepare your mind for action (because it will be a battle), keep sober and alert (in this race you are running), and fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. This hope is an anchor for your soul.
In any race you have to focus. Don't spend your time looking around at everyone else. What is God putting on your heart? Don't keep looking back with regret or anger. The past is past. Focus on the prize. Focus on the finish line. Think, as Christian in Pilgrims Progress did, on where you are going.
Prudence inquired, 'And what is it that makes you desirous to go to Mount Zion?'
Christian replied, 'Why, it is there that I hope to see alive my Savior who hung dead on the cross. It is there that I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are an annoyance to me. They say that in that place there is no death, and I will dwell there with the company that I like best. For, to tell you the truth, I love Him because He eased me of my burden. I am weary of my inward sickness. I desire to be where I will die no more, with a company that will continually cry, 'Holy, holy, holy!''
(John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress)
My thoughts went to King Saul. Can you imagine King Saul if he had Facebook?
1Sa 18:6-9 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. (7) As they danced, they sang: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." (8) Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. "They have credited David with tens of thousands," he thought, "but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?" (9) And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.
Beware the jealous eye! ↩