Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth contains the familiar passage where he compares living life for Christ with running a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). It’s a great analogy not only because the road we travel is long but also because of the discipline it requires to stay on the path. Any form of athletics is by its nature a competitive process.
Everyone who competes wants to finish first, but only one can. In some events, like a marathon, participants are content to only finish, regardless of winning or losing. Both hold lessons for us. No one runs a race without a goal, and no one achieves their goal without putting in a lot of hard work before the race ever begins.
Not everything we do is of a spiritual nature, but everything we do affects our spiritual condition. What we choose to eat shows whether we are eating to nourish the body God has entrusted to us or to satisfy the glutton within and its selfish desires. How we spend our time shows what is most important to us. We will either spend it preparing to meet Christ and telling others about Him, or we will squander our time in frivolous pursuits that make us spiritually flabby and weak. Our choices in the physical realm dictate our spiritual shape.
As runners must sacrifice their desires to eat whatever they want and sacrifice their time to train rather than doing more pleasurable activities, we also must sacrifice much if we hope to run the race well. We must deny ourselves the pleasures of this world and concentrate solely on the things of Heaven. Running the race well requires steadfast focus and commitment.
In any race, you see three groups of people: the small pack at the front, the few stragglers at the end, and the mass of people huddled together somewhere in the middle. Where do you see yourself in the race? Where do you want to be? Our place in the race is largely determined by the choices we make and the disciplines we choose to instill in our lives. We will only run as far as our dedication will take us. Keep your eyes on the goal and discipline yourself to run well.
We are running the race hoping to hear Jesus say to us at the end, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). That is the goal and the victor’s crown. Some will sprint across the finish line with their head up and eyes eagerly seeking Jesus. Others of us will limp slowly across the line, battered by this life but victorious in the fact we ran with endurance, fought the good fight, and indeed finished the race (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Jesus welcomes both victors the same. No matter how easy or difficult the journey, the reward is eternity in the presence of our savior and King.
Don’t give up or let the obstacles discourage you. Running the race is a long and difficult battle, but Jesus waits for you at the finish line. Keep your eyes on Him. Focus on His mission and deny yourself the pleasures of this world. No one wins the race by compromising or cutting corners. Only those who are diligent and faithful to the goal will succeed. Our goal is to please the Father, to love His Son, and to be faithful to His Spirit of holiness. Take heart and run hard. The finish line is near.