“These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”
Philippians 3:7- 9a (Common English Bible)
Saint Augustine writes in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Restlessness is the dominant mood of Never Til Now, written by Matt Roy and Ashley Cooke and performed by Ashley Cooke; “I’m a walking definition of unsettled and restless. The needle in my compass points anywhere but home.” These lyrics speak to a relatively constant way of living: movement from one place to another, never finding contentment, never finding “home.” A bleak and disappointing existence settles in on the voice of the song, “I thought I’d always be alone.” And several stanzas later, “Never saw myself with a white picket fence dug into the ground.” Suddenly, the narrative shifts, “Never ‘til now.”
In this teaching from Philippians, Paul’s world has been turned upside down. Observance to the law of God had been used as the metric for separating the “clean” and the “unclean” – that is, those who were worthy in God’s sight and those who were not. Suddenly, Jesus walks into Paul’s life and the cross topples that religious distinction. Every element, every conviction of Paul’s former life has been called into question. Paul falls for Jesus; Paul falls hard and life simply will never be the same again. Former markers of status in Paul’s life and ministry are now empty – are “as sewer trash.” These prior riches have paled in compassion to Jesus. One thing matters to Paul, “that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”
Never Til Now captures the discouragement of a restless heart, a heart that seeks home but never finding, and celebrates the possibility of arriving at a place of rest brought by the love of another, “Out of all the prayers I’ve prayed. You’re Heaven’s answer.” The voice of the song initially denies unhappiness, “I never wanted to tap my brakes. I never wanted to settle down.” Yet, as though there is a Freudian slip, admits traveling through “hell” until that someone special “walked into that bar” and they danced until closing time. No longer the same person who walked into the bar alone, the voice of the song has become something new because of experiencing something new in another.
This is what Paul wants us to hear in Philippians, that when our restless hearts are nearly consumed in the flames of anguish, an encounter with Jesus becomes Heaven’s answer to our deepest longings. Each of us knows people who struggle through life without a deeply satisfying relationship with Jesus. Perhaps we are that person. They deny anything is missing in their life. They make an effort to convince those around them that they don’t need a church, don’t need to read the Bible, don’t need to cultivate a prayer life. Nonetheless, secretly their hearts remain restless. Paul’s life never lacked anything, he claimed, before Christ. The voice of Ashley Cooke’s song never thought about a different life. Then a great love walked into their lives. That is when “never” became, “Never ‘til now.’