If you’ve ever ran in a marathon, you know that it wasn’t some last minute decision. Weeks or maybe even months before the race, you probably trained your muscles in some way to prepare for the big run. Well, there are several scriptures that compare our life to a race. But, what are we doing to train for the biggest race of our lives?
First, let’s read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 to get a clearer picture of the metaphor:
24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
In verse 24, Paul exclaims that we should run to win. If we are running to win, we should be giving our all to the race. For us, this should mean training with great determination, reducing distractions around us, and constantly doing everything in our power to progress. Although there are races that we may participate in for fun, this race is not one of them. Don’t do the bare minimum as a Christian to get a participation trophy in the end. As Paul says, “only one person gets the prize.” If our life is a race we want to win, we must always keep our eyes on the first place prize.
Imagine the last time you worked very hard to win a prize. Whether it was winning a match in a game or writing an essay to earn a scholarship, you probably invested a lot of effort and determination to reach your end goal. Yet, all of these things you worked so hard to earn are temporary. Our accomplishments on Earth are fleeting in every aspect. The sense of accomplishment, the value of the prize, and the glory we feel when we win never last very long. As time passes, our sense of achievement diminishes and we crave for more.
In contrast, as Christians, we are running to win the greatest and most permanent prize ever to be offered– the prize of eternal life. How much harder should we work to acquire it, especially knowing that its value will never fade away? How much more should we care about our race if we know it determines our path to life or death?
In verse 26, Paul talks about running with purpose in every step and not merely “shadowboxing”. It’s very easy to become a tradition-led Christian. In other words, it’s easy to be a Christian who goes to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and prays before meals just to follow the guidelines for being a “good Christian.” While those are practices that should be implemented in our lives, we never want to do them for the sake of keeping custom. Instead, everything we do to strengthen our spiritual lives should be done with purpose. Before you go to church or before you pray, meditate on your motivation. Consider what you want to receive from doing those things and expect results accordingly. Strangely enough, studies have shown that muscles develop better when you’re in focus as you workout. It’s definitely the same for our spiritual workouts. Our spiritual muscles will grow quicker and stronger if we give purpose to everything we do. Don’t just go to church to get your attendance points; go to strengthen your spirit and discipline your flesh and seek new revelations. Go to run with purpose.
Finally, in verse 27, Paul claims that he “disciplines [his] body like an athlete.” Likewise, we need to discipline ourselves to prepare our body for our long marathon of life. Similar to actual athletes, our body needs training before it can endure the strains of long duration activities like marathons. As Christians, there are numerous ways to train our bodies for our race. Reading the Bible, attending church, praying, praising, obeying the Word are just a few ways we can strengthen our Spiritual muscles. Yet, there is more to it than just that. If you look at any highly successful athletes, you will notice the following:
- Athletes train consistently. No exceptions.
Reading the Bible and praying should not be limited to church days only. Athletes train everyday regardless of bad external conditions. Don’t allow a small cough or a busy day keep you from Spiritual exercise. If you allow life’s obstacles to keep you from reading the Bible, how will you build up the endurance to run life’s long race?
- Athletes mix it up.
I’ve never heard of an athlete that only trains their legs. Or an athlete that only trains by doing bicep curls. Instead, athletes train their entire body using a wide variety of workout routines. Likewise, Christians need to build up their Spiritual muscles by engaging in a variety of spiritually uplifting activities. Just because you’re dedicated in going to church doesn’t mean you can neglect your evangelism skills. Just as athletes can constantly train and improve themselves, we can always become a more godly man/woman of God.
- Athletes don’t take breaks.
If you’ve ever tried to run after a long period of not running, you know how difficult it can be. Our body’s muscles easily rust unless we constantly work them out. For that, athletes never take breaks. They know that a few days of neglecting exercise will make it extremely difficult for them to perform their best during competitions. As Spiritual bodybuilders, we shouldn’t take breaks either. A few days of neglecting God can lead to more damage than you could ever imagine. We can lose our Spiritual momentum, and in some cases, it becomes harder to get back into our former habits. Even if we decide to shorten our “training time”, it is better to do a little everyday than a lot only on Sunday. Working out our Spiritual muscles every day not only ensures that we keep our Spirit in shape for the race we’re running, but it also makes it much harder for the Devil to infiltrate our lives. The Devil is more likely to attack someone who is not shielded with fresh memories of the Word, and he will most definitely take advantage of those who have weaker Spiritual muscles.
In summary, run your spiritual race with purpose, dedication, and the intention of winning. Your spiritual race is the most meaningful race you will ever run in your life; don’t allow temporary idols of the world to distract you from the everlasting prize of eternal life, because “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”¹
1: Matthew 24:13