Stephen Covey has taught many to “Begin with the end in mind.” It’s a good habit, and certainly, many highly effective people have it. I was reminded of this habit while reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians recently.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us...But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.─ Philippians 3:12-14, 20 (NLT)
I wondered what motivated Paul. I wondered what he saw “lying ahead” as the “heavenly prize.” Paul endured much in his life as a missionary around the Mediterranean─imprisonments, beatings, stonings, betrayals, shipwrecks, people who opposed him, people who wanted to kill him. There had to be a strong vision for what lay ahead to endure such a life. He did not just begin his missionary life with the end in mind, but he lived with it daily before him as a constant reminder of why he was “pressing on.”
This is not the first, nor the last, instance that Paul uses this metaphor of running a race to gain the “heavenly prize.” He wrote of it five years earlier to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:24-27) and four years later to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:6-8). This was not a passing metaphor for Paul but a rule of life. In these passages, he speaks of disciplining himself and training his body to do what it should. Every step had a purpose, leading him to the prize. To Timothy, he confessed his death was near but that he had “fought the good fight…finished the race and…remained faithful.” His prize awaited him─the “crown of righteousness.”
Through all his trials, for at least nine years, Paul kept this vision ahead of him. He forgot those things that were behind and pressed on ahead.
He ran the race with purpose.
He focused on the prize─the crown of righteousness.
He lived here as a citizen of heaven.
He lived with the end in mind.
If we choose not to live this way, Paul gives us a view into that world right there in Philippians 3:
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven─ Philippians 3:17-20 NLT
To live without the end in mind is to think only about this life here on earth and to make your appetite your god. We must live as citizens of heaven, thinking about the life to come, and living this life in that light, making God the Father our central passion and focus.
Life is long, and this race is too. If this sounds exhausting to you, then I have good news: You’re completely incapable of doing this! Do not be deceived─the power for living the Christian life does not run on your willpower. It runs on the grace and faithfulness of God.
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.─ Philippians 2:13
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.─ 2 Peter 1:3
This does not mean you have achieved perfection. You will still sin. But it does mean you can, like Paul, forget what is behind and keep pressing on toward the heavenly prize in Christ Jesus, by the grace and power of the One who called you!