Jack Graham - One Thing
God has a plan for every life. And success in life is knowing and doing the will of God. If you get to where you're going at the end of your life, where will you be? That's a good question, right? If you get, or when you get because you'll get there! Wherever you're going, when you get there what will you be? Now unfortunately many people don't understand that God has a purpose for their lives. They're sort of wandering through life, just making it through life, meandering through life, "hanging out" in life, coasting. Maybe there was a time when you were going for it, even spiritually, you were living the Christian life, but now you're more about the past than the present or the future. And you've got things on cruise-control. You're just kind of coasting through life.
Well, effective people, successful people in life, certainly, effective, successful Christians in life determine what God wants them to do and then they do it by the power of His love. Well, in Philippians 3 beginning at verse 12, that's the message. The Apostle Paul, writing from prison, gives us these words: "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own". What an incredible thought! We belong to Jesus Christ! He made us His own! Verse 13: "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus".
If I am going to discover the "one thing", the thing that God has made me to do, then the first thing that's got to happen in my life and in your life is that we make an honest evaluation of where we are right now, an honest evaluation. That's what the Apostle Paul is doing here in verse 12. He said, "I haven't arrived yet; I haven't gotten to where I'm going yet, but I'm pressing on. But I haven't arrived. I'm not satisfied with where I am. I'm not where I was, I'm not where I will be, but I am not satisfied with where I am".
Now we should be content in life with what we have. But we should never be content with where we are spiritually. There should be a divine discontent in all of us. Though we are satisfied with Christ, we are not satisfied with where we are spiritually. Now it's amazing, isn't it, that the Apostle Paul said this? After all, in my view the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian who ever lived! He reached hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of people for Christ as a missionary, as an evangelist, as a preacher and teacher of God's Word. And even in a prison cell, filled with God's Spirit, inspired by God's Spirit, he gives us scripture, and millions upon millions of people have come to faith in Christ because of the witness of the Apostle Paul. And yet here in prison he's saying, "I'm not there yet".
I guarantee you if the Apostle Paul wasn't there yet, I'm not there yet, and neither are you! And we have to be honest and humble. It's a honest, humble evaluation of where we are. Paul said, "I'm not finished. There is far more! There is much more that I want God to do in me and through me! I want to live a life above and beyond today, onward and upward! I'm reaching forward; I'm straining at the prize, the goal, the high calling of God in Jesus Christ"! He really tells us his goal in verse 10 of chapter 3, when he says: "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection".
Now Paul knew Jesus, but he wanted to know more and more of Jesus. He wanted to know Him not only personally, but progressively, and ultimately perfectly in His presence. He wanted to know Him passionately, and so he's saying, "Lord, I want to know You". And, of course, we know when you want to know Him, you want to make Him known as well. So the goal of the Christian's life is to know Him, Jesus - in the power of His resurrection, and then to make Him known! I've been a Christian now for decades and I am thankful for the way God has led me all the way, but I can tell you, I know that God wants to do much more in me and through me! God is not finished with me, yet. I never want to coast, I never want to be on he sidelines watching what I'm supposed to be doing. And we have the resurrection power of Jesus in order to achieve this and accomplish this.
This same Apostle Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me". That's the one thing: to passionately pursue the prize, and the prize is Christ and His calling upon our lives, to keep chasing that down, knowing that we can never be defeated in Christ. There may be losses along the way, but we'll never be defeated. And we're not victims in life; we're victors! We're super-conquers in the Lord Jesus Christ! And I want to keep driving to win in life over the temptations that I face, over the trials that all of us deal with, over the tests that come our way, I want to live a Christ-centered life! Not a self-centered life, but a Christ-centered life! That's the "one thing": to know Him and to make Him known. Paul was saying, "I will continue to fulfill my calling and live my purpose".
You say, "Well, I don't know that I have a purpose. I don't know if there's anything left for me". Listen to me! If you're not dead, you're not done! If you're not dead, you're not done! God has so much more for you! Ephesians 3:20, "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above and beyond all that we can ask, think or imagine"! And, therefore, Paul, you've got to love his humility because even this man, such a great leader, was teachable and coachable and expendable to God. You know, a great athlete, a truly great athlete is always coachable.
I've known some athletes along the way who thought they had arrived. They knew it all, done it all, and ultimately they were soon finished. But when you are coachable and when you're teachable, you know you're still growing; we're still getting there. And I don't know where you are. Maybe you're a brand new believer, maybe you're a long time believer and follower of Christ, but wherever you are in the Christian life, there is far more, there is so much more! And that's where you start. It's the one thing. It begins with a humble, honest evaluation. You can't change something until you confront something, you can't change it until you confront it. And so the Apostle Paul said, "I haven't arrived. I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way".
Secondly, the "one thing" includes a holy motivation, a humble, honest evaluation, but also a holy motivation. "This one thing I do". And the one thing is to strive for the prize of the high calling, the holy calling, the high calling of God in our lives, to do what we were made to do, what we were meant to do. What God has prepared for us to do. When we're saved, He has prepared good works before us. And so the "one thing" is what motivates us to pursue Christ. Here's what the psalmist David said in Psalm 27:4 "One thing I've asked of the Lord. This is my constant prayer," he said, "that I will seek after that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life". This was David, a man whose heart, his heart after God, a man, it says in the Scripture that he served God in his own generation. It was his way of saying, "Every day of my life I want to seek God. I want to know Him more. I want to worship Him. I want to be with Him".
Jesus was talking to Martha who was upset because her sister Mary wasn't helping in the kitchen. There was heat in the kitchen and it wasn't just coming from the oven! It was coming out of Martha's ears! And she was so upset and she was cooking, trying to get things all ready for Jesus, and Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet. And she's in a scurry, Martha, and Jesus said, "Martha, Martha". Now you gotta know when God calls your name twice, that's listen up. It's like when you call your children their full name, right? "Martha, Martha, you're worried about so many things. But Mary has chosen the better part, the necessary thing". Many things are worrisome but one thing is necessary. Mary chose the better part. She chose to listen and love and learn of the Lord by sitting at His feet. The "one thing". Just like the blind man who met Jesus and said, "One thing I know! I was blind, but now I see"! The "one thing". It becomes a holy motivation, a sanctified ambition.
I read a book this summer that I appreciated. It's called Essentialism. It's not a Christian book, it's just a book. It's about getting your priorities straight in your life and doing what is obviously essential. Because there are many non essentials in our lives. Here we are at the start of a new season of running around in car pools and getting stuff together and ball games, and work and travel and we're running around, running around like a chicken with his head cut off, doing a lot of different things that are non essential; not that big a deal! And what we need to learn how to do is to say some gracious "no". Just say "no" to some things that are not necessary or not needful, and to say "yes" to the things that are essential in our life. Many of us don't have time to say "yes" to the essential things because we're running around doing all the non essential things! My choices in life typically are not necessarily between what's good, what's bad, but what's good, what's best and what's better!
How do I spend my time? We're talking about giving our time. That's a matter of determining what God wants you to do and do that. You know, there's incredible power in focus, in concentration. When you concentrate there is clarity. Light, for example: you focus light and it becomes a laser, and there's power when light is focused. But light defused has very little power. Same is true in a life: a life focused has incredible clarity, concentration, courage, all the rest, because we have power when our lives are focused on the one thing that God has made us to do. But so many of our lives are defused, here and there and everywhere, and so we don't have the time, or take the time to do what God has called us to do.
Now, it's not to say that we don't have interests and involvements and things that we enjoy; expectations on our life, things that we want to do, things that we must do, things that we have to do. What I'm saying is when you are successful in your life, especially your Christian life, it is when you are focused on God's plan, God's purpose; on the mission for which He has made you! And therefore, every decision, every detail of your life comes under the umbrella of this overreaching purpose in your life, God's plan. Strive for the prize. Paul said this well in 1 Corinthians 6:12, when he said, "Not everything in my life is helpful". He says, "All things are legal, but not all things are helpful". And the word there is expedient. You hear the word expedition in that word. Expeditious, something that moves you forward. Not everything is expeditious in my life to move me forward. He says, "All things are lawful for me, but I'm not going to be enslaved by anything".
Many of us are enslaved by just all the stuff and the stresses of life and we don't take the time to do the very thing that makes life wonderful! Which is to stay focused on the most important thing. So there are a lot of things in my life that I could do but aren't helpful. They don't get me down the road in my pursuit of God's plan for my life. And oh, by the way, when you're running this race and living this life, run your own race! Have you noticed there are always people around that will try to tell you how to run your race? If I had listened to people over the years who tried to tell me what to do, how to do it, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere.
Now, I'm not saying we don't listen to people. Even to critics. We can learn from the critics. But we don't live there! We're not obsessed by what others tell us. We determine what God has told us to do and then spend our days prayerfully doing exactly what God is leading us to do. Run your own race! Don't let your parents tell you what's you're going to do with your lives. They can guide you, they can counsel you, they can help you. Don't let your friends, your counselors, your school teacher, find out what God wants you to do with your life (we'll talk about that in just a moment), discover what God wants to do with your life and you then you stay focused everyday on what He's called you to do.
And you, like the Apostle Paul, will do more than you can possibly, far more than you could possibly imagine. Be true to God and be true to yourself and your calling. That's what I'm saying. I read an interview with some people that had lived to be over one hundred, and they were asking them about some their regrets. Do you have any regrets? And you know what the top regret was of people who lived this long. They said things like, "I wish I would have not spent my life doing what other people told me to do, what other people expected me to do". Do what God has called you to do, and do it every day by His grace.
Thirdly, the "one thing" includes heartfelt determination, heartfelt, heart burning determination! Verse 13. He uses some muscular words here when he's talking about striving, when he's talking about reaching. It's a picture of an athlete straining at the tape with every nerve, every ounce of energy. Striving for the prize. He said, "I'm striving with heart, with determination. I'm not going to quit. I'm forgetting those things which are behind, I'm reaching forward to those things which are before". It's a heartfelt determination. And in order to live for the future and fulfill the plan that God has for you in advance, you have to move past the past. You have to get over your past sins, your past successes, your past sorrows, your worries, your fears, your anxieties, your defeats as well as your victories.
There are some things we must learn to forget. We cannot live in the past. You can't live your life looking through the rearview mirror. That's why the rearview mirror is small and the windshield in front of you is big! You can learn from the past, and if you don't learn from the mistakes of the past, you're bound to repeat them. But you don't live in the past. You can't live looking over your shoulder. Paul said, "I'm focused not on what happened, but what is going to happen next". Now if anyone could have been neutralized by his past, like a lot of people are, it would have been the Apostle Paul. After all, he was a religious terrorist. He killed Christians. He persecuted the church until he met Christ and Jesus changed his life. He was a self described murderer, and the chief of sinners.
And if Paul had lived back there, he would have never accomplished anything in his sin and in his shame for his past. He did a lot for the Lord in the past as well, and he could have patted himself on the back. He's in prison. He says, "All right, there's Timothy and there's the others. I'm going quit, go on to heaven and let somebody else do the work". No, he's still striving, he's still straining. Paul was abused, he was criticized, he was neglected, he was beaten, he was punished, he was put in prison, but he refused to quit. Jesus said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back over his shoulder is fit for the kingdom of God. So you have to forget about the past and move forward".
Some of you listening to me today are stuck; you're paralyzed and neutralized by what happened to you in the past. You were abused, you were hurt deeply, you were rejected, you were neglected. Maybe you were even hurt at church or hurt in your family, and you just can't get passed your past, and you're never going to fulfill God's plan for your life until you get over your sin, your shame, your successes, your past, your sorrows and move forward. Look, if you have sinned (and we have all sinned) Christ has forgiven you by His cross, by His blood, of every sin. If you are a man or woman in Christ, the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son cleanses us from every sin.
But how many times have I heard people say something like this, "Well, I know God has forgiven me, but I just can't forgive myself". What!? God can forgive you, but you can't forgive yourself? Are you greater than God?!! If God can forgive you then receive His grace and get over your guilt! Get past your sin and your shame and move forward and pursue the will of God for your life! If someone hurt you, you can't spend the rest of your life licking your wounds. Get up, get going again! There's so much more, far more that God wants to do in your life! But if you stay in the past you're never going to get there.
Three things quickly in closing; if you're going to make the "one thing", the one thing in your life: number one, get up every day and pray for God's power and presence and provision in your life. Every day seek Him. Philippians 3:10, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection". There's no power apart from believing prayer! Get up every day, if there was one thing about the one thing that I would tell you is that first thing everyday, "early will I seek You", Matthew 6:33 "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness". If there's one thing that I could tell you about success in life it is to get up every day and first seek God.
Secondly, present yourself unconditionally to God. Say, "Lord, my life is Yours, all of it". Don't compartmentalize your life, and by that I mean, okay, I've got my church interests over here, and my Jesus thing I do over here. But here's the family thing, and here's the work thing, and here's the making money thing. Here's what I love to do, you know, that's compartmentalizing your life. Remember, we want a Christ-centered life. And when Christ is at the center, He will help you lead your family. He'll give you the enjoyment and the pleasures you need in life. He'll give you a fun. Hey, it's a great thing to live for the Lord! It's wonderful following and serving Jesus. If you know what I'm talking about it's a great life! So present your life to the Lord. As Paul said in Romans 12:1-2, "Present your bodies completely and wholly to the Lord, acceptable to Him". "Don't be conformed to the world", sucked into the system, squeezed into the mold of the world, "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" in Jesus Christ. Get up every day daily and present your life to the Lord.
And then thirdly, plan your strategy, i.e. your schedule. Because I guarantee you if you don't plan your schedule, someone else will do it for you. So you pray, you've presented yourself to God, ask God to lead you. Now sure there are things you have to do, you must do. You have to get on with that, but don't let just life come at you pell-mell. Control your calendar, your schedule. Growth doesn't happen accidentally or automatically. Maturity doesn't just happen. Spiritual growth happens when we plan to grow.
So what are you doing spiritually to grow in your faith? Are you reading your Bible? Do you have a plan to do that? What about your prayer life? It takes discipline, devotion and determination. There are a lot of people in life who desire, they have the desire to win but they don't have the determination to win, and the discipline to win. And so plan your strategy and work it every day and watch God work in your life. And when you fail, and you will fail, when you fall, there'll be times of failure and defeat, you get up, dust yourself off and in the power of Christ go forward "forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are before, we press on to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ". Amen?