Eyes on the Prize

This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a women's conference in Perryville, Missouri, not far from my old stomping grounds.  The theme was Unhindered, and the Lord definitely had a lot to say on the subject, so thought I would share a portion of it with you here.

Akolutos.  What does it mean?  It's the Greek word for "without hindrances, freely, unhindered."

Have you ever heard someone say, "He or she has a calling on his or her life?"  Well in essence, they do! 

Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  

God has plans for each of us, but it is up to us whether or not we will obediently accept the call and submit to His Lordship and leadership in fulfilling it.

Some of us may be called specifically to things within our local church body such as Pastor, teacher, nursery director (God bless you!) or musician.

Some are called to specific tasks outside of the church walls.  Police (and other government authorities) are talked about specifically in Romans 13; some are called to be nurses, doctors, missionaries, but all Christians are called to be a light in a dark world - to shine His light and proclaim the good news!

Early 20th century evangelist and teacher, Oswald Chambers, best known for his work My Utmost for His Highest, began his life studying art in London and Edinburg.  It was his goal to become an aspiring artist, and he had become quite good at it.  But then...God asked him to surrender that dream, and instead follow Him into higher endeavors. 

At first thought, we might think, "That's unfair!  Why would God make him give up something he loved?"  Oh, but we've missed the point.  God didn't "make" him (or us) do anything.  He simply asked him (and us) to willingly surrender that which held higher esteem than God.  After Oswald laid down his Isaac, he received something far greater and more meaningful than he could have ever imagined! We are promised that as well.

Chambers later wrote, "We have no right to decide where we should be placed, or to have preconceived ideas as to what God is preparing us to do.  God engineers everything; and wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work."

Last week, I saw a post on Facebook that said something like, "If anything gets in between you and God, then it has to go."  So I ask...is there anything hindering you from accepting the call?

I want to look at our focal verses in Acts 28:30-31.  These last words came as an afterthought at the end of several chapters describing Paul's ministry.

Paul had been traveling throughout preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus.  In Chapter 21 and 22, Paul is arrested in Jerusalem, beaten by the crowd and taken into the barracks for protection.  In Chapter 23, Paul's nephew finds out about a plot to kill Paul, so he is quickly transported to Caesarea under armed guard.  Chapter 24 we find him on trial before Felix, then left in prison for two more years until Chapters 25 and 26 where he goes before Festus and King Agrippa.  Chapters 27 and 28, he is sent along with other prisoners to Rome by ship, where he faces a storm, a shipwreck, a snake bite and finally placed under house arrest.

Acts 28:30-31 says:

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

So what was so different about Paul?  Why did he seem to have this great can do anything approach at life?

I believe the answer comes in Philippians 1:21 where he says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  Paul knew that everything else paled in comparison to the relationship he had with Christ.  

What are some things that hold us back from fulfilling our call, and how do we combat them?

1. Fear - I believe this is our number one reason why we fail to live for Christ.  We fear what it's going to cost us.  We fear what others will think, say or do.  We fear the unknowns of the call.

Did Paul have fear?  Yes! He says in 1 Corinthians 2:3-5:

"I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

Yet, by the end of his life, we know that God had peeled away that hindrance, and now he was living his life out loud and boldly.  He even wrote to Timothy, his protege, and encouraged him by saying, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."

Paul realized that all eyes needed to be off himself and onto Christ, for that is where his power, strength and boldness came.

2. Complacency - Have you ever been stuck in a rut?  Most of us have.  We've gotten so comfortable with our rut that we've hung curtains!  It's not that we like our situation, but it's easy and familiar.

If anyone had opportunity or license to complain, it would be Paul.  He could have easily fallen back and said, "Lord...this is just too hard!  I can't do it.  They don't like me.  They're throwing stones!"

But we don't find that anywhere in scripture.  In Philippians 3:12-14, he challenges us by saying, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me....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."

Paul knew that life was not about settling in, but moving forward despite the hardships.  
3.  Distraction - At times, I've been so distracted by material things, temporary "needs" or even the "call" itself, that I forget Whom I'm being called to serve.

Paul understood what distractions were, if he were to finish the race well, he would have to force himself to submit to the Lord's leadership and retrain his way of thinking.  

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says...
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Paul was not a man running aimlessly in this life.  He had conditioned his mind and body to listen and obediently serve the One who had called him.  He had a goal in sight and was aiming for it with all of his might.

To wrap this up, back in Acts 28:30-31, Paul could boldly and without hindrance preach Christ, because his eyes were on the prize!

How about you?  Are you focused on the tasks at hand that God has called you to, or are you distracted, complacent or fearful?  

Sweet one...eyes on the prize.  I don't know about you, but I want to hear, "Well done, thy good and faithful servant!"

Blessings for the day,