The third piece of our strategy for running the race of life is to run with persistence. “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat 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 9:26-27 NIV)
One summer I coached T-ball. It was one of the craziest experiences that I have ever had. The challenge in T-ball is to keep the children focused on the game. You have to be constantly calling them back to the game because they are so easily distracted. We had outfielders who chased butterflies and picked dandelions during the game. Sometimes they would get distracted and just walk off the field. We had to constantly remind the children to stay in their positions. It was not unusual for a ball to be hit to the outfield and have the whole team chase it down. We had some pretty wild games.
We are often like those children playing T-ball. We are so easily distracted by the things of the world that we forget about the race. Paul pleads with us to stay focused on race. Like a good T-ball coach he demonstrated how to run the race well. Paul was not willing to just go through the motions of discipleship. He refused to be aimless but clearly directed all his efforts toward the goal. He disciplined himself so that he would not be disqualified for the prize. I am ` from competition because of a lack of discipline on and off the field. Maybe Paul had witnessed this too. He was determined that it would not happen to him. Paul made every effort to be in control of his physical, emotional and spiritual being. His greatest opposition was not from without but from within. He knew that at times he was his worst enemy. So he rigorously disciplined himself to stay in shape for the race. Paul was not afraid of losing his salvation, but he was concerned about losing his reward.
As fully devoted followers of Christ we must guard against just going through the motions. Too many Christians lose the race at the end. We can get sloppy or careless and stumble over the finish line. We settle for getting the T-shirt that says participant rather than striving for the real prize. Godly discipline is what is needed to keep us on track. We cannot afford to just go through the motions because there is too much at stake. Eternity hangs in the balance.
Sometimes we substitute running place for striving toward the goal. Running in place may look good but it doesn’t move us forward. Running on a treadmill will give you exercise, but when you step off you are in the same place where you started. I once saw a commercial that showed a group of people running on treadmills. Suddenly a runner broke through the window and began running through a field. It ended with the caption, “You are not a hamster.” God does not want us to run on a spiritual treadmill. He wants us to run the race in the real world. In order to run in the real world we need to go into strict training to hone our skills. Just like a personal trainer develops an exercise plan for his client, God has given us spiritual exercises that will help us run the race. He calls us to develop our spiritual muscles through prayer, study, service, and worship, just to name a few.
Most of us tend to get in a rut in life. I recently read an article about exercising. It stated that most people limit the benefits of exercise by doing the same routine over and over. Our muscles become accustomed to the routine and stop developing. The article suggested that a person should vary their workout to keep their bodies’ metabolism active. We can get into a rut spiritually as well. We follow the same program year after year and wonder why we are not making progress. It is time for some serious examination of our workout plan. Instead of settling for the status quo we need to expand our spiritual disciplines for the greatest impact. We don’t have to be slaves to the past or to the latest fad. Instead we can trust the Holy Spirit. Like a personal trainer, to guide us into new areas of growth. Too many people are aimlessly running the race of life without making genuine progress. God has set the prize before us, now let us run in such a way as to win the prize!