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Striving for the Prize

Volunteering with International Friendships (IFI), Peggy and I enjoy rich, enduring relationships with students from around the world who attend area universities during this important season of preparation and transition. Some apply themselves toward undergraduate diplomas while others strive for Masters or PhD-level degrees, all of them growing in knowledge and understanding as they equip themselves for what lies ahead, uncertain as that is. We celebrate their accomplishments with them, smiling at how they’ve matured since we first met.

It has been 40 years since I graduated from something—college is a distant memory, and much of that for which it prepared me is likewise in my rear-view mirror. Yet no matter our age, the eternity that lies ahead is no less vast, nor any more measurable than when we began our journey on this earth; it is as certain and promising as it ever has been, even though “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”1 Such confidence is ours; such peace!

In this assurance, Paul applied himself with the focus and intensity of a graduate-level student pursuing an imperishable diploma: “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. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”2 What did he discard in his striving for heavenly gain? His worldly credentials. “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

Then is our earthly learning of no value? Of course not. How greatly God is glorified when in Him we apply our skills in the trades, our insights in the professions, our knowledge in the lab or our savvy in the marketplace. Yet we yearn for the day—and may we strive for it—when we win the ultimate prize for which He has called us: being found in Christ and welcomed into the presence of God.

Father, thank you for such a certain hope in such an imperishable prize. This moment, I pause to set my sights heavenward, and I ask that you would guide me all my days here. Amen.

1 1 Corinthians 2:9
2 Philippians 3:13-15
3 Philippians 3:8, 9

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Smooth Pebbles

Shortly before Peggy and I married, a friend—who at age 44 seemed as old as Father Time and every bit as wise—shared this insight with me, “Marriage is like putting two rough stones in your pocket—their edges catch and wear on each other, and over time they become two smooth pebbles.” Looking back now, 35 years later, his was a fair simile for our marriage: our understanding of each other has only grown, we appreciate our differences more, and we trust each always has the best interests of the other in mind.

Appealing to the Ephesian believers, Paul urged them to persevere as one: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”1 He went on to explain that each of us uses our own gifts to support each other, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”2

There is a point in our maturation process when we realize that, together, we grow in ways we could never grow alone. In fact, we cannot reach “the whole measure of fullness of Christ” by ourselves—it’s not a solo act. Paul’s teaching should not surprise us, for unity is the very nature of God, and it is Jesus’ desire that we live in it. Hours before His betrayal, He prayed to the Father on our behalf, “… that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”3

Oneness takes humility and trust—which can be scary—but together we rise to heights of joy and reach to depths of love otherwise unattainable. So we unite, using personal gifts for the common good, submitting pride to humility, discarding harshness for gentleness, replacing blame with forgiveness, rejecting retribution in mercy. We grow up into Christ together, smooth pebbles from rough stones.

Father, how wise your ways. Send your Spirit to move us to a place we have neither the ability nor the inclination to go on our own—to unity with each other and in you. This is your will; may it be so. Amen.

Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:2-4)

1 Ephesians 4:3-6
2 Ephesians 4:12, 13
3 John 17:22, 23