Measuring Progress

Yesterday, I urged us to be zealous in our faith, and in making my case, I referenced the apostle Paul. My choice is hardly surprising, when it comes to zeal, Paul is the obvious go-to guy. Radically saved, he abandoned all his inherited and earned privileges to live for Christ. His ministry seemed to be characterized by a reckless abandon that drove him on, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). His passion was for this purpose.

And this purpose and passion should be ours too. The writer of Hebrews encourages us, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb.12:1). It seems that the Christian life is meant to be marked by progress. Christ followers are driven, accomplished, and on the move—always onward and upward. We must run the race, and finish strong.

There are times when I hear this call to advance and my spirit soars with urgency. It’s time to throw caution to the wind, press forward, and take the hill! This aggressive appetite for adventure can pulse strongly within me. It can also subside quickly. When we stand tall and step forward, we make ourselves targets and the blows can be fast and furious. The assault of the evil one, coupled with the costs our own folly, can take the starch out of anyone. Beat down with troubles, we loose our stride and falter. These are the times my spirit stammers with regret, bent over and wheezing, I am a poor picture of a conqueror.

But before we disqualify ourselves from the race, hear this: Peter instructs those who are enduring spiritual attack, “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:9). The command isn’t to run on, but stand firm. And Peter isn’t the only one who is counseling pause. Paul himself urges us to stand firm on numerous occasions. Apparently, there are times to surge ahead and times to dig in.

However, there is a danger in pressing the implications too far. These are metaphors and not meant to be set against each other. But I do think it is safe to say that sometimes we make progress by standing still. When hardship is tripping us up and advancement seems to have stalled, we win by consolidating what we have won. Perhaps this is where you are. Things are hard and you are weary, discouraged in your faith. Don’t despair! Don’t back down—just dig your heals in.  Persist in the basics of obedience, and you will discover that you are making progress by standing firm.

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