The chase

What’s an action movie without a good chase scene? Back in the day, it was John Wayne on a horse. In 1968 it was Steve McQueen in Bullitt, driving a Mustang; that car became such an icon that in 2020 it sold for over three million dollars. Pulse-pounding car chases are such a Hollywood staple that an entire movie franchise — Fast and Furious, spanning from 2001 to the present — can be built on them.

Umm, wait…how many times did they pass that green Volkswagen?

“Chase” is active language. It’s one thing to have dreams or goals. It’s another to chase them. It’s one thing to envision the future we hope for. It’s another to strive toward that future in the present, to continually ask ourselves, “What am I doing today that shows that I’m really serious about my goal?”

The apostle Paul, as we’ve seen, always thinks toward the future in a way that shapes the present. He knows that the resurrection of Jesus points forward to the future bodily resurrection of the faithful, and wants to live with resurrection power now. And he wants the Philippians, of course, to do the same. That means keeping the goal in sight, knowing that we’re not there yet, but bending every effort to live in light of that future. He uses himself as an example:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it, but one thing I have laid hold of: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14, NRSVUE)

“I press on,” he says, twice. To my mind, that language suggests an image of endurance, like a marathon runner who has hit the wall but keeps plodding forward. But Paul may mean something even more active than that: the verb can be translated as chase, pursue, even hunt down. Even the verb “to lay hold of,” also used twice, is more active; it can suggest seizing something forcefully.

We can think of the Christian life as a race or marathon; Paul uses similar imagery elsewhere (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 4:7). But we shouldn’t imagine runners who are on their first lap, pacing themselves. Think instead of runners in the final stretch with the finish line in view. All of their focus, all of their imagination, is bent on breaking that tape.

So: what, if anything, are you chasing?

. . .

When I was younger and first starting my career as a professor, I worried about publication. Even at a Christian seminary, I was dogged by the everpresent sense that I hadn’t done enough to earn a seat at the table, or that what I had done wasn’t good enough.

Now, at the other end of my career, I don’t worry as much about such things. Not that I’m completely done with “impostor syndrome,” mind you; it’s just that I’ve been here long enough that I know that no one is likely to show me the door.

More importantly, though, my goals have shifted. I used to be content to add another line to my résumé in whatever way I could. And to be perfectly honest, that still matters to me. But the closer I get to the end of my own personal marathon, the more I care about what lies beyond. I don’t want to write for the sake of publication credit. I don’t want to teach in a way that just conveys information. I want to write and teach for transformation; I take joy in knowing I had a part to play in people’s movement toward God and growth toward wholeness.

That, in the end, is the résumé that matters to me now.

So let’s keep our eyes on the prize. And that might mean rethinking the prizes we pursue.