But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Phil. 3:7-8a)
There was a man who changed my life. He was a professor at a Christian university and a pastor, and I met him about 30 years ago at a retreat. I had been asked to take over a Bible study with roughly 80 adult attendees after the primary teacher resigned. It happened suddenly and I didn't feel prepared for the responsibility, but I was open to whatever the Lord was calling me to. I was sent to a training retreat for teachers at Arrowhead Springs, which was a requirement to fulfill this role. I was twenty-two years old.
This man was my roommate. He was an older gentleman, and one of the friendliest people I've ever met. Also one of the godliest. I will remember, after lights out, how he would close the day out in prayer for us. It impacted me. I sat with him through the seminars, shared meals with him. He told me I should go to seminary. I couldn't think of anything that sounded less interesting. I had grand plans for my life, and working at a church wasn't something I could ever picture myself doing. He challenged me to pray every day for a month, to know if it was God's will for me to go. I agreed to do that, and I did pray—every day.
Two weeks later, I woke up one day and knew that the Lord wanted me to go to seminary.
I will never forget that man. I knew of him, before I met him at the retreat, but I didn't really know him. Knowing him changed everything. I was a Christian, but the Lord used my encounter with this man to set my feet on the path.
Paul wrote in Phil. 3:7 that all the things he thought were great, what the world considered a "gain," he considered to be a loss—without value—for the sake of Jesus. These things were impediments to his journey, things of no consequence in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.
Paul didn't just have a change of values; the entire course of his life changed. He didn't simply regard things as a loss, he actually lost them. What changed for Paul, that he could feel this way, and give up everything that the world around him regarded as gain?
He met a man. Meeting that man changed everything for him. The man he met, on the road to Damascus, intercepted the course of his life. That man appeared in power, and had defeated death. Paul wasn't living out a perspective; he was following that man, with the goal of one day, too, attaining to the resurrection of the dead (Phil. 3:11).
Knowing Jesus should change everything for us, also. Not just knowing about Jesus, but actually knowing him. If we know him, it should change our values, the way it changed Paul's. If we knew him, his values would become ours. If we knew him, his losses we would gladly share.
Everything in this world seems to stand in the way. We listen to the opinions of those around us. Media tells us what is important. Professors in universities tell their students that Christianity is idiotic. The demands of surviving in a culture which requires so much work and stress can crowd out all of our relationships, but most especially, the One. How can we know him, the way Paul did?
We know him by identifying with him. We identify with him by walking in his footsteps. By sharing his values. By inconveniencing ourselves for his sake. By focusing on that moment when we will stand with him, face to face, and not on the distractions which surround us. Those things are worthless. If you will commit to that course, you will know him. He will meet you, right where you are. His love, power, and peace are available to those who commit to his way. It is real, and it will change you. It is for those who actually give things up for the surpassing greatness of knowing him. It is possible to know about Jesus and not truly know him. Many will satisfy themselves with that.
Don't let that happen. Nothing this world offers can compare.
Read his words. Surrender your dreams. Pray that your heart would yearn for the things that his does. If you do, it will.