“Wasn’t that awesome?!”, my friend shouted. She was waiting for me as I ran through the finish line of my first ever 10 mile race. I was panting (yes, like a dog!) and I could barely catch my breath. “Awesome” definitely was not the word I would have used to describe that race; “awful” seemed much more accurate to me.
As sweat ran down my face and into my eyes, I looked up to see her bright smile, beaming eyes, and super-fit body. I was certain she could have run another 10 miles that day without a problem, and I was questioning if I could walk another 10 steps. It was at that moment she chose to suggest, “You know, we should sign up for the Detroit Half Marathon! I totally could’ve run another few miles!” Since I was still gasping for breath, her suggestion was laughable to me.
It was shortly after that incident when it occurred to me that it must be a lot more fun to run a long distance race if you have actually trained to run the race. I hadn’t trained at all for the race, and it sure hadn’t been fun for me. It is that experience which pops into my mind when I read what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25:
”Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Unlike me, my friend had trained for and in every way was thoroughly prepared for the race. She had altered her diet; faithfully followed a strict running plan for months; read magazines and all kinds of literature on running; and followed the advice of others who had run long distance races.
I, on the other hand, had signed up for the race on a whim, and my focus was primarily on what I would wear, and making sure that my iPod was charged and had enough songs on it to last the duration of the race. While my friend focused on the internal aspects of running the race well— which required much discipline—I foolishly focused on the external, “worldly”, things. What she focused on helped her to run the race with great strength and endurance. She not only started, but more significantly, finished the race strong. In contrast, what I chose to focus on did not help me on race day and I paid the price.
In the 1st Corinthians passage, our life is compared to a race and we are encouraged to run “the race” with intent and the discipline necessary to WIN the race. My friend was able to run a good race and finish it strong because she was focused, she had trained hard, and she was willing to deny herself indulgences while preparing for the race. She ran the race with the goal of getting a prize!
If we wish to finish the “race of life” strong, we must be disciplined and focused like my friend was for her race. Like a racer with the end goal in mind, we must know that the goal of our Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Like a racer who would never carry a backpack filled with rocks and think they can win the race, we must ”throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). And like a racer with the finish line in sight, we must continually “fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
The training and discipline that is required to finish the race strong involves studying God’s Word, the bible, through which He will give general instructions and encouragement for the race; daily communication with your “coach”, the Holy Spirit, through prayer which will give you daily guidance and the assurance of God’s Presence and love; and gathering with other believers who will “train with you” and spur you on when you think you can’t go on.
So what is the prize of winning the race of life? Nothing less than the fulfillment of your purpose in life—becoming like Jesus, to the glory of His Name!
Are you running the spiritual Olympic event of your life with the intent of winning? Or are you simply “jogging for Jesus?”