A few years ago, I was working at my home office on a snow day. The white blanket of snow created a breathtaking view of my neighborhood. Soon, however, that view was interrupted by a neighbor.
No one had tried to drive up the steep incline that goes through the middle of our neighborhood. Most had just parked at the bottom of the hill and walked up. But not this neighbor. She gathered up a steady rate of speed and started up the hill. To my great surprise, she was making it. Slowly, she crept up the hill. With great skill, she eased toward her driveway.
What she did next though, shocked me. She stopped at the end of her long driveway, which is on another steep incline, just to get the mail. Once she secured the mail, she shut the door and hit the gas, only to find that the car now would no longer creep forward. Instead, her tires spun as she drifted into another neighbor’s yard. I can only imagine what was going on behind the wheel as her car then started slipping back down the hill. In a matter of moments, she was at the bottom of the very hill she had just conquered, where she would be forced to leave her car, walk up the hill, and try again the next day.
What happened to my neighbor? She lost sight of the mission and soon lost momentum and forward movement. Consequently, she was pulled downward instead of moving upward.
The same dynamic is often present in our lives, especially at this time of the year. Often in January we set a goal and begin in a new direction. Initially, we gain momentum and get traction. Then something happens. We get distracted and start slipping. Before long we are right back where we started, only this time we are less motivated to climb the same hill again.
In reality, this is a temptation in every area of our lives. That is why I love the book of Philippians. Its 4 little chapters are full of rich theology and pulsates with contagious joy.
Chapter 3 is an often quoted part of this letter. In it, the apostle Paul recounts how his former life of power, fame, and achievement was reduced to waste in light of the gospel. The reality of Christ’s achievement totally overshadowed his own so that he is now content with Christ.
Yet while Paul is content with Christ, he is not content with his own spiritual progress. He knows that he had not reached full maturity in Christ. So what will he do? He will not sit around staring at his naval. Instead he will focus on the mission and make a commitment to move forward. He says it like this, “But one thing I do (I love the sense of focus): forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13b-14).
The term “straining forward” comes from the world of athletics. It is the picture of a runner straining every muscle in her body to cross the finish line in record fashion. I see a picture of a wrestler (not the commercialized sitcom version but the real Olympic-type kind wrestler) who strains every muscle in his body to conquer his opponent. It is a word that denotes intense and focused effort, improvement, and it is effort exerted to move FORWARD.
At CLA we realize that what can happen in our spiritual lives can also happen in our school. If we are not constantly straining forward to be the best school we can be, to create the best culture we can, and to be build up each of our students, we will start to feel the wheels slipping, and before you know it would we could be at the bottom of a hill. And that is a situation we are not willing to tolerate.