Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
“Are we there yet?” What parent has not been peppered with those words from the backseat! They might be heard in a jaunt across town to a birthday party, or a long trip across country. Inevitably a child asks, “Are we there yet?” Even adults are eager to get to where they are going.
In today’s Scripture the apostle Paul wants us to know that he is not there yet. He tells us that he has not arrived spiritually, but he keeps on keeping on: “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on…”
Whether we journey spiritually or spatially, we want to arrive, to get there. We might even imagine that we will get there spiritually, that we will finally arrive. But what if we never arrive? What if our journey of the finite to the infinity of God continues on in eternity? What if the boundless, immeasurable love of God will forever draw us deeper and deeper into God’s heart? What if “being transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18) is everlasting? Can we ever say that we have arrived?
We are indebted to Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – 395), a great theologian of the ancient church, who thought deeply and wrote deeply about our journey to God. Gregory was influential in the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, and a stalwart defender of the Nicene Creed. One of his greatest contributions to the faith was his concept of epektasis, how the spiritual journey ‘strains’ forward eternally into the very life and glory of God. Gregory drew upon today’s Scripture in articulating the doctrine of epektasis: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward (epektasis) to what lies ahead.”
Epektasis means that we are on a continuous, never ending forward movement whether in this life or the next. “Epektasis involves…an intense desire or longing, an ardent love on the part of the human soul to be filled with the inexhaustible plenitude of God’s infinite Beauty.” (Stephen R. Turley, Awakening Wonder) There is no ending to our longing to be filled with the glory and goodness of God. Elsewhere Paul prays that we be “filled with the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). And that will take us a long, long time! An eternity of God’s goodness and delight!
In his book, The Life of Moses, Gregory described our ascending, longing journey into the infinity we call God:
And so every desire for the Beautiful which draws us on in this ascent is intensified by the soul’s very progress towards it. And this is the real meaning of seeing God: never to have this desire satisfied….And so no limit can be set to our progress towards God: first of all, because no limitation can be put on upon the Beautiful, and secondly because the increase in our desire for the Beautiful cannot be stopped by any sense of satisfaction.
We will never say that we have “arrived”!
Ponder that for a moment! Imagine! And revel in the wonder that “no limit can be set to our progress towards God.” It is going to take us an eternity to begin to plumb the deeper depths of the sea of God’s goodness and grace! So let’s keep on keeping on! Let’s ‘strain’ forward in our epektasis into the glory of what is coming!
Grace and peace,
P.S. Water from Rock’s 2016 Lent devotional “Worthy Is The Lamb: Seeing the World in the Light of God” is available to order. Order copies for yourself, your family and friends, study group, Sunday School class, church, etc., by using our order form. Books ship starting Feb. 2nd. Lent begins Feb. 10th.