When we understand what the goal is and we come to grips with who we are, then we can run the race with abandonment. Paul could see the goal clearly. He was delighted to give everything he had to reach the goal. He ran the race with enthusiasm; in God’s strength. We get a taste of Paul’s holy abandonment in Philippians 3:13. “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it but one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining for what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.
It was a crisp autumn day as the teams gathered for the High School Section cross-country meet at Crown College. The runners were anxious and excited as the starting time for their race drew near. This was a significant race because it determined who would advance to the State cross-country meet. The girls ran their race first. The teams gathered at the starting line eager for the race to begin. The gun went off and the mass of runners surged forward, each runner jockeying for a better position in the pack. On this occasion the runners crossed an open field and then disappeared from view. When they finally reemerged the mass of runners had spread out so that there were small clumps of girls running together. The lead runners had put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. The final stretch of the race brought them back across the open field toward the finish line. The lead runner pushed hard and crossed the finish. She was followed closely by a second runner. Not far behind came two more runners each pushing hard. One was slightly in front of the other, but just yards before the finish the fourth place runner gave all she had and passed the girl in front of her to finish in third place. It was a thrilling finish to the race. But I don’t want you to miss a significant, but easily overlooked, detail. The girl who pressed hard and finished third didn’t have to do that. The first 10 runners were going to the state competition. That was the ultimate goal. She had already earned her spot at the State meet. She could have easily coasted into the finish, but instead she gave everything she had all the way to the end.
That was the kind of race that Paul ran. He gave everything he had all the way to the end. He was willing to cut the anchor ropes of the past that held him back. Paul let go of his misguided zealousness that fueled his hatred of the Church. He also let go of a stellar career in service for Christ. He set aside all of his success to run all the way to the finish. No runner can run well looking over his shoulder. Paul knew he could not run the race well by constantly looking back. So Paul committed himself to forgetting the past and staying focused on the future. He did not discount his past, he just didn’t live there. He put all his effort in moving toward the goal. He didn’t waste his energy trying to recreate the past. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted by side issues.
Paul had his eye on the prize. He had a clear idea of why he was running the race. In Philippians 3:12 he writes “Not that I have already attained all this, or have been made perfect, but I press on to take hold that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Paul used a play on words to create a vivid image. God had taken hold of Paul on the road to Damascus. Now Paul was striving to take hold of Christ. The ultimate prize for Paul was knowing Christ. He was willing to do whatever it took to attain that prize. Paul was not talking about winning his salvation. Paul knew that he could in no way earn his salvation. He made this clear in his letter to the Ephesians. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) He was running the race to win the prize of knowing Christ intimately and personally. To know Christ, to really know Christ, that is winning the prize.
Paul gave his maximum effort to win the prize. There’s a difference between going for a jog and running a race. When you are out for a jog you can set whatever pace you like. If you want to stop and walk for a while you can. But when you’re in a race, you don’t hold back. You give everything that you have. That is what it means to run a race. We are running in the most important race of all; the race of life. We are part of Christ’s team and our goal is to run for Him. Do your best to eliminate the distractions that would keep you from running the race well. Let go of the things in your past that weight you down and keep you looking back. Put all your effort into the things that will move you forward.
To the untrained eye running looks pretty simple, but it is not. The goal in running is to get your momentum moving forward not side to side. Untrained runners often expend energy inefficiently. It is common to see a runner swinging his arms across his body and bobbing his head from side to side. Some runners get into the habit of striding slightly to the side, alternating with each step. These things expend energy that could be better used to move forward. A talented runner will align her arms, legs and feet so that all of her momentum is moving forward. As we run the race of life we should pay attention to the way we are running. Just running is not enough. If we take the time to examine our lives we may discover that we are not running as efficiently as we might. In this most important race of all we want to focus our energy on moving forward toward the goal.
So as you run your race keep your eyes on the goal. There is no greater goal in life than knowing Christ and helping others to know him. Don’t settle for anything less. Strive to win the prize that God has set before you. It is attainable, but you have to get on the track and run the race.