During my tenure as administrator of a children’s home there was a young man there for several years. His name was Dakota, and one thing that always made me smile about Dakota was the way in which he answered whenever someone asked him how old he was. His answer would, without fail, sound like this: “I’m twelve, going on thirteen.” It wouldn’t matter if he was going to be thirteen in ten days on ten months, he was “going on” whatever age was next. The only thing that ever changed about his answers was the age he was and the age he was going on.
Anyone who has ever seen the classic film The Sound of Music will remember the famous gazebo scene in which Liesl and Rolf sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Amazing how much difference a year can make, if the lyrics of that song are to be believed! Liesl had so much she did not know, so much she needed…and Rolf, just one year older, seemed to be the answer to all of her needs.
While these illustrations may be amusing, the idea of “going on” is biblical. For Dakota, the moment he reached a birthday he was looking forward to the next one. He had achieved one goal, and wasted no time setting his focus on the next one. Not everyone verbalizes this as succinctly and frequently as Dakota did, but the principle is true for all of us. After all, I don’t think anyone sets a goal of sixteen, thirty-five, sixty (whatever, just pick an age) and, upon reaching that milestone, says, “Whew! I made it. I’m at the finish line.” With our physical age, of course, we don’t have a choice. Time marches on, and the birthdays will keep coming ’round whether we want them to or not. Not so with our spiritual walk, however.
When it comes to spiritual growth, some individuals set no goals. Others may realize a need for growth and identify a target, but upon reaching it they begin to coast. Neither of these, however, is consistent with what God asks of us. Neither, come to think of it, are they consistent with anyone who is serious about anything else in life. Professional athletes don’t set arbitrary goals and then coast once they’ve been reached. No basketball player would accomplish 100 consecutive free throws made and then decide he never needed to practice again. No golfer would get a hole-in-one and decide her training days were over. On the contrary, they would, like Dakota, simply shift what had been the goal to the achievement, and insert a new “going on.” The same holds true of artists, musicians, engineers, chefs, mechanics, carpenters, teachers… The vocation doesn’t matter; the point is that the exceptional individuals in any career path are always seeking to grow and improve.
Likewise, Scripture teaches that we should have that same mindset when it comes to our spiritual growth. Philippians 3:12 is probably the best known verse on this topic. Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (ESV). Had Paul obtained anything in his Christian walk? Of course. Far more than many others, in fact, yet he “had not obtained.” Accordingly, he would continue to “press on.”
In other passages Paul talks about this “going on” principle with the phrase “more and more.” In Philippians 1:9 Paul writes, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” And just a few verses later, in 9-11, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more” (all ESV). Peter references the same idea, writing, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, ESV).
In each of these passages the instruction is clear…when it comes to spiritual maturity, we can never “make it.” Until we reach heaven, we must always be “going on.” What has always struck me the most in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is that they were already doing well. In 4:1, Paul references walking to please God, and then says “just as you are doing.” Then he says, of loving one another, “that indeed is what you are doing.” Yet Paul does not say, “Way to go! You made it!” Neither does he say, “Just keep doing what you’re doing!” Rather, he tells them–and us–to do “more and more.”
So, how is your Christian walk? Are you spending time each day in prayer? If so, that’s great. But don’t get comfortable, do more and more. Are you regularly reading the Bible? Yes? Wonderful…now do it more and more. Are you faithfully tithing? Do more and more. Are you demonstrating Christian love in everything you do and say? No, I didn’t think so. Me either. I do okay sometimes…but there is plenty of room for “more and more.” We have plenty of “going on” to do, don’t we?