In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul uses an illustration of a runner to make his point. The Corinthians were very familiar with the Isthmian Game that were held every two years about ten miles outside of Corinth. Winners of the games enjoyed life long exemption from paying taxes, exemption from military service and possibly the distinction of having a statue of themselves erected in their honor. But the most coveted prize was the one thing that set them apart from their peers and that was the Isthmian Crown, a simple wreath woven from wild celery. I, like millions of others, enjoyed watching the Olympics last week and was moved by the stories that accompanied the athletes. Stories of the sacrifice made by themselves and their families so they might obtain the best coaching. Stories of overcoming physical obstacles all in an effort to become the very best. Paul encourages his readers to a similar paradigm, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
While watching the Olympics, before every race you could hear the commands of the starter. “Mark … set,” and then the crack of the starters gun. No one can win if there’re not running. While we all hope to hear the words “Well done,” when we finish our race we can’t afford to forget that well done follows a season of well doing. We can’t serve to the level of our calling if we stay in the starting blocks.
In running a race we must continue until we cross the finish line. When I was a starving college student I took a job helping a man build a house. He had not made the progress he had hoped for and was in a hurry to get it enclosed before winter. We reached site a little after sunrise, didn’t take any breaks, and didn’t even stop for lunch. We continued to work well after sundown until we just simply couldn’t see well enough to keep going. As we drove back to town I couldn’t keep from thinking how cold, hungry and tired I was. I was seriously thinking about telling him I wouldn’t be coming back but he was so excited about the amount of progress we had made. He kept going on and on about how they were going to finish each of the kid’s rooms and how excited his wife was to be getting her dream kitchen. The contrast between his excitement and my fatigue was stark. Eventually I realized that I had spent a miserable day in the cold pounding nails while he had spent his day seeing his dream becoming a reality.
Staying focused on the bigger picture effects our overall perception. Steven Covey said it well when he said “Begin with the end in mind.” If we have defined our goal we can concentrate our efforts towards achieving our objective.
As with anything worth striving for we must remember to be disciplined. After leading the University of Indiana Hoosiers to the 1976 NCAA Title, Coach Bobby Knight was quoted to have said, “The will to succeed is important but what is more important is the will to prepare.” Discipline in preparation will always bring rewards. We also need to discipline our minds by training ourselves how to think. We discipline our bodies by keeping our flesh under subjection. We should control our appetites rather than letting our appetites have control. And lastly we must master the discipline of our character. Many that have started well have disqualified themselves when they focused on short term objective rather than the long term (eternal) goal.
Remain consistent; keep pressing towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenwards in Christ Jesus.