Raise the Mark
by Glorious Failure
Pastor Roland was spitting again. He spits when he gets excited. And on this particular Sunday he was very excited.
“I press ON to the mark of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ!” His words entered my mind over and over. The sound of his twangy southern voice bounced off the dry-wall (he hung himself) of the small (mostly) empty country church in which I grew up in rural Kentucky. It was Spring, and I couldn’t have been much older than nine.
The sermon was about running the race of faith. Our pastor, a faithful man who’s integrity and sincerity was unquestionable even though his formal training nonexistent, taught from Philippians. His sermons are my first impression on the analogy of life as a race. A cursory Bible search for comparing life to a race reveals occurrences in at least five New Testament epistles, four of which attributed to Paul. But for me pastor Roland, and not pastor Paul, first defined what it meant to run the race of faith.
The mark. That’s what it’s about — pressing on toward the mark. I got it.
Even from a young age I understood the concept of a race. That’s part of the beauty of the analogy. It’s accessible even to young children. To win! That’s the point of a race. Right? Run fast! As fast as possible. (And cross the finish line before anyone else, too, but whatever.)
So my nine year-old ears listening to this sermon heard this, “Run the race. Hard. When you reach the mark you get the prize: Jesus.”
I was good with that. When I finish my race I get Jesus. Cool. Let’s go!
Until last month.
I was reading Philippians in a Bible study with some guys from my church. I read chapter three where Paul discloses why he runs the race: to attain the resurrection. (3:11) He explains how to run the race: let go of the past. Press on to what’s ahead. (3:13) But reading his explanation of the prize, the language struck me in a way it hadn’t ever before.
Verse 14 reads, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (KJV) The shift for me occurred in the little word “of”. Of what exactly? Well previously I interpreted “of” in attributive position, that is, to refer to the prize that belongs to those called by God. Put another way there exists this prize as a separate object in itself, which will be awarded at the end to those who run the race. However, on this day I read “of” descriptively, that it described the prize to be the calling of God itself.
Do you see the difference?
For the first time I saw that the prize is not just Jesus. It is Jesus. Yes. But it is also the call of Jesus.
The prize is the running of the race. How great is that?! It means I don’t have to wait till the end of my life to receive a prize. It means the whole point of this life isn’t to wait till the end so I can then receive my prize — at a later date — somewhere off in the distant future.
It means life matters now. The day-to-day details that we call mundane, become anything but. How I choose to spend my time — matters. How I treat my wife and kids — matters. What I eat — matters. How I spend money — it matters to God. All of it.
Now. Lest you accuse me of denigrating the sufficiency of Christ to be the prize, as what Paul meant when he penned this passage, let me here fully admit I believe in the sufficiency of Christ. For all things.
Look, the same guy who wrote Philippians also wrote Colossians, which contains in its first chapter one of the most beautiful and brilliant pictures of Christ’s deity as immutably and unquestionably supreme. I suppose in this post I’m clarifying the prize of Christ for the satisfaction of running the race, which is to say finding satisfaction in the running of the race itself, or the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
This means I can find satisfaction in this life, today. And that is perhaps the most exciting implication from this insight. This world is still fallen and broken. I fully admit. I’m not saying we’re fully glorified. That’s the hope of our resurrection. But we can be satisfied in Christ now.
“Faith is the Victory” goes the old hymn I sang all those years a
go in Roland’s small country church. What I’m learning now, decades later, is that faith is also the prize. The high calling of God in Christ Jesus is the prize. I don’t have Jesus fully, yet. But I am called, and I am running the race. And my soul can be satisfied.