Pressing On: Lenten Meditation, 3/17/2013
By: Jason Sierra
“I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
As a teenager I read Paul’s call to “press on” as a call for personal ambition and drive, that oneness with Christ could somehow be achieved by pressing forward, by pushing with all my might. There was a glory to be had in it, like a climber summiting a peak and soaking in the sunlight.
As I read these verses a decade later, however, they can easily take on a darker and more tired tone. Like a long distance backpacker wading through soaking rain and thick brush, there have been times when pressing on has been all I could do. Resisting the urge to sink down into the mud I had to convince myself to go forward, to press on despite exhaustion, disillusionment, heartache and disbelief.
This was especially true for me in my faith journey during college. Like many, I felt distant from any emotional and intellectual connection to my faith. I was making that transition, as Paul speaks of in another letter, to an “adult faith.” During that time, staying engaged in a community, engaged with the scriptures, engaged in prayer, became hard work.
And yet, away at school, in the stillness of what felt like a stagnant faith, I could feel a cool pull of fresh air that would draw me back to worship, to relationship and community. Having cleared space in my own spirit by ridding myself of both ambition and obligation, I was able to catch a whiff of the spirit drawing me in. In my case that meant causing me to get out of bed, walk off campus to church, pray, sing and finally kneel at the rail to receive the bread and wine. It was the slow repetition of this small calling and a willingness to follow it that eventually led me back toward an active faith.
This week we focus on the Spirit’s gift of discernment, an important one for those of us who are in our young adult years. There is so much to figure out. What career or major will we pursue? Where will we live? How will we measure success? What kinds of people will we choose to share our lives with?
It can be daunting to approach these tasks alone. We can feel either that we are pressing on through ambition, or pressing on out of fear, because we feel we must. But Paul assures us that if we can put away all these things (he calls them things of the flesh, the accouterment of “righteousness”), we can begin to see that pressing on is only our response to God drawing us closer. We press on because God is pulling us in with gravitational force.
Rather than see discernment through the lens of the world, as a pressing-on toward success and fulfilled expectations, we are invited to discern by listening, by following, and by being drawn out of peace and stillness into the life God will make known to us in Christ.
Spirit, give us stillness that we can feel your pull upon our lives. Father, give us peace that we can step outside our own ambition, stubbornness, and desire to stay put and be drawn toward your presence. Christ, open us to see you in the world; let our hands find your work. Amen.