I was a late bloomer athletically. During most of my school years, I was one of the slowest boys in my class, year in and year out. I’m not sure when that began to change, but by late in high school I could keep up with the pack when running, and in my college years I discovered I could actually leave many behind in a sprint. Only in sprints though. I had developed a quick but short-lived burst of speed. Several times I began a jogging regimen only to remember a couple weeks into the process that I absolutely hate distance running. My all-time record distance is a two-mile run. Noteworthy, it is not.
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. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Paul uses athletic events such as foot races as metaphors for our spiritual journey. He doesn’t mention the distance of the race he has in mind, but for the comparison to have any validity, he must be referring to a long distance event. My spiritual growth remarkably mirrors my running achievements, and thus you may correctly imagine that I find this passage somewhat concerning.
My spiritual growth tends to come in sharp bursts followed by distressing plateaus or even periods of backtracking. I see the growth I’ve undergone, or I revel in new knowledge or a breakthrough in understanding that God has provided me, and I stop growing while I indulge my sense of satisfaction. On occasion I’ve even gotten so confident I’ve grown past a given sin that I’ve gotten complacent and fallen right back to the struggle I had supposedly overcome.
Paul urges us to instill in our spiritual growth the attitudes of an elite athlete in training. Stopping in the middle of the race course to revel in my progress along the track… Getting so confident in my lead that I actually backpedal along the more scenic sections of the course so that I can take it in all over again… Paul says that’s no way to run this race of the life of the Believer.
Constant clawing and scratching for every new inch of the track.
Steadfast determination to never give up ground.
Focusing on the prize awaiting every victorious servant of God.
Doing all things that draw me closer to it and doing nothing that carries me away from it.
These are the attributes of any Olympic runner capable of grasping a prize of limited value. Paul invites me to consider how much more I should be doing to win a prize of eternal value. My conclusion? Far more than I’ve ever done thus far.
Dear God, You’ve taken me far from where I began in my journey of sanctification and service in Your glorious name. At times, You’ve grown me in ways and with speeds that took my breath away. In between those times I’ve often sat idly waiting, distracted from the goals You’ve set before me. Forgive me. Build within me great energy and endurance. Teach me to keep You and Your plans for me in the forefront of my mind at all times. Show me how to love all actions that bring me closer to the man You desire me to be, and teach me to hate every use of my time and energy that takes me in other directions. Make me into a servant that pleases You, one with a record of service that is worthy of the time You’ve given me on this earth. Amen.