Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 1 Corinthians:9
I have a good friend who is a power house of a runner. She ran her first marathon in January of 2009 and has run 30 more since then. 31 marathons! Can you imagine that? That works out to be 812 miles! Not to mention all of the training in preparation for each marathon and maintaining that level of athleticism in between. This type of athleticism always intrigues me, probably because I don’t have a heart for that type of physical and mental discipline. God just didn’t make me that way. Believe me- I tried to be a runner. I even joined the track team in fourth grade. I stuck to the shortest running events though like the 50 meter dash and the relay race. I would have an asthma attack just running a quarter mile, let alone like 100 more like my friend runs. I had a purpose that year in track though. I gave the other runners confidence. They took one look at me and thought, “Phew- at least I can beat her! I won’t come in last after all!” In all seriousness though, I am just not cut out for running. But that only makes me appreciate people like my friend even more.
God often references athleticism when discussing our Christian walk. I must rely on others like my friend to help me understand what Paul means when he says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Paul is saying that when preparing for a race or boxing match, every athlete trains. That’s the price of entry. But the winner focuses in on exactly what the skills and training necessary to overcome any shortcomings and remove any obstacles. Winners have an unrelenting discipline, trimming away any aspects of their lives that create a stumbling block to crossing the finish line first. As a runner races toward the finish line and not wanders around aimlessly, Paul encourages us to hone in on our faith and intentionally seek to strengthen our areas of opportunity. As Christians, Paul calls us to fight for a higher crown, one that is incorruptible. How much harder should we fight for an eternal crown as opposed to one that will ultimately fall to dust? Sadly though, we often work more diligently for our earthly crowns- working toward getting that next promotion, accomplishing that to-do list, impressing friends with a new car or expensive toy. If only we put that kind of determination toward our heavenly crowns! Oh how much more valuable they are!
I was really intrigued when my friend shared that she doesn’t listen to music or anything when she runs. She said it distracts her. Distracts her from what I ask? I would I need music to distract me from this agonizing punishment I was putting myself through. She says she removes all distractions so that she can concentrate on running and breathing. How profound is that? A runner, who runs every single day, needs full, uncompromised attention to breathe in and out and to put one foot in front of the other, both tasks our bodies can do naturally without thinking. When we want to do something incredibly well, we put all of our effort in perfecting the basics. When you think about how complex and distracted our lives have become, how often do we intentionally remove every obstacle so that we can simply walk with God one step at a time? We should strive for close and personal intimacy with God through Jesus. I can say personally, I unfortunately spend more time creating distractions than I do removing them.
Paul strived to not only guide us in our walk, but he also desired to be a role model so to be found a ‘faultless’ among the people he taught. As Christians in today’s world, we appear to be stranger and more foreign in this self-edifying culture. Now more than ever, we are to show Christ’s holiness dwelling inside of us to the rest of the world, as though we are His incorruptible wreaths, His crown jewels sparkling in the sun. If we have sin in our lives, we need to run, not walk toward repentance and deliverance from sin through Jesus. We need to always be earnestly and intentionally seeking to remove the distractions and to address the areas of our life that do not glorify God. The best part about it is, when you walk with God, He will do all of the work for you! No actual running necessary!