‘Running the race’ (for Christ) in the year 2011 is extremely challenging to say the least. We are living in very discouraging and uncertain times. Our resources seem scarce and hopeless. People have lost sense of where they are running to, what they are running after, and why they are even running in the first place. On the surface our “coaches” have either vanished, given up on us, run after other things, or lost sight of the ultimate goal or prize. Many are unable to see that the earthly coaches in running this great race can’t compare to the coach that the bible tells us to train with. The methods that the earthly coaches (and the world) use to motivate us are based on self-serving and self-reliant means and that is why people lose heart, drop out of the race, or run after other things. And then there are the obstacles that the devil throws in our way to take us off course and make us want to give up and quit. Again, the bible offers us tools and the proper sources of motivation to train and challenge our hearts, minds, and souls to win. Let us compare our walk on this earth and back to our heavenly father with the analogy of an athlete who is training and competing in a race.
First one needs to make sure that he or she is running in the right race to begin with. We often get so caught up in ourselves, our families, our jobs, the materialism of the world, and our needs and desires that we begin running after other things, the wrong things. These things may seem right to us and the world, but are actually quite futile and useless in helping us win the “great race” and spiritual walk back to God. These things I speak of actually prevent people from becoming self-actualized and operating to their fullest potential, realizing that they are in fact children of God and heirs to an eternal kingdom. I watch many people define themselves, success, victory, and others in terms of meaningless standards and expectations only to realize later in life that they completely missed the mark and were wrong. I propose that the world and those people have been tricked and misguided. They are uninformed. If they chose to define success by material wealth and possessions I believe they are not only wrong, but are running a dead end race that will ultimately leave them unfulfilled, dissatisfied, discouraged and disgusted.They will lose against the other competitors. Upon discovering that they actually lost the race, because they based it on their and the world’s criteria, they are left with guilt, regret and a sense of loss, confusion and hopelessness.
The pople I just spoke of are brought up in the bible in Revelations 3:17-18, where it is written, “‘Yousay to yourself, ‘I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want,’ never realizing that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too. I warn you, buy from me gold that has been tested in the fire to make you really rich, and white robes to clothe you and cover your shameful nakedness, and eye ointment to put on your eyes so that you are able to see.”
The world, materialism, and people sometimes are the obstacles to our winning the race. Also, drugs, alcohol, our own desires, lusts, fame, money and self-centeredness make us slaves to sin and ourselves. And we can’t run the good race of faith if we are focused on our own prizes and goals. Remember that Romans, 6:16 says, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” and then in Colossians 2:18 we are warned to “not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. “We are slighting ourselves when we allow others and circumstances to divert our focus and attention. If we do not train with a committed mind and heart we will be disqualified or lose the race.”
Please, those of you reading this right now, take the suggestion of Hebrews 12:1-2 and consider running Christ’s race: “Surrounded then as we are by these serried ranks of witnesses, let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus–the source and goal of our faith.”
Jesus has set before us an amazingly wonderful race with an eternal prize that leads to true peace and happiness. And I suppose many of us do not run His (Christ’s) race because any athlete can tell you that it takes great time, effort, determination, courage, training, and mental, physical and spiritual work to win that race. It requires that strict discipline, consistency, working through pain and obstacles and absolute focus to the ultimate goal and victory. You must constantly keep your eyes on the prize. I often think that many people lose this “spiritual race” not only because of what they are chasing and running after, but they lose sight of what they were even running to to begin with. What is the ultimate goal of winning the race for you personally? Take the proverb (14:12) that says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” In our own spiritual blindness we lie to ourselves and justify our motives and reasons for choosing to live as we do to suit our own needs, wants and desires.
If our goal and motivation is of an earthly origin you can be sure that you will most definitely lose the race. That is why in Philippians 3:19 it says, “Their destiny is destruction… and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” When we are running a race with the goal of power, wealth, fame, etc. and do so to independently fulfill our needs, we are not following God’s commandment to rely totally on him, and him alone to supply all of our necessities. The goal for God’s race is to learn to be patient and wait upon the Lord, not us, to deliver our needs. The source of motivation must not be wealth, fame, success, and riches of the world and the earth’s standards, but rather, Holy Spirit led motivation from within our souls and minds.
Luke 9:23-25 tells us that Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” So I ask you now, why are you running this race and what are your goal? What should be your goal? And yes, our earthly and human ways lead us astray and make us think that we want what the world has to offer. That is the struggle of this race. Keeping your eyes on the prize. And being in constant and strict training to compete and win in a race when our whole being is resisting and going after the wrong goals and means to achieve them.
When the world dangles all of these earthly riches and desires in front of us, like a carrot, it creates frustration in the form of negative energy. We then create a goal to chase after these things only to be left unsatisfied and unfulfilled. This then becomes a vicious cycle that never ends and leads us spiraling downward and completely missing the mark and losing the race. If we train to win the race by daily bible study and reading, our source of motivation becomes very clear and easy to understand. Saint John tells us in chapter 4:13-14 that Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to everlasting life.” Even in the Old Testament in Isaiah 58:11 we are told that, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land, and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” True happiness and peace comes from within us. While running the race in a Christian and spiritual way we realize this. We are satisfied and peaceful and content when we are motivated from the power and drive of the Holy Spirit within us.
That it is why it is crucially important to follow the advice in 1 Cor 9:24-25 when it says, “In a race all the runners take part in it, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline; he does so in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever”. I can not begin to stress enough that we need to focus on the goal of running for Christ and not ourselves. This life is so temporary and fleeting compared to the prize of winning eternity with Christ. Read 1 Tim 4:7-10 “Keep yourself in training for a godly life. Physical exercise has some value in it, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for now and for the future. This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed. That is why we struggle and work hard”
But not everyone wins the race. We are so caught up in the here and now that we can’t foresee the need to go into training, to discipline ourselves, to run a worthy race in order to win the prize. And no it is not easy. And no, not everyone wins. If I may offer encouragement Colossians 3 urges us to run the Christian race, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Romans 15 gives us further hope and encouragement to run the race: “And indeed everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope; from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God.”
I have only begun to understand this Christian race that we call “life”. I am far from an expert. I care very much for human kind and speaking the truth. I want to offer to my fellow brothers and sisters a better way to approach the race than what the world tricks us into believing brings happiness and fulfillment. That way is Jesus. Phil 3:12-14 refers to every Christian’s struggle of running the race: “Not that I have become perfect yet; I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upward to receive in Christ Jesus.”
My personal motivation comes from my love for God and to be able to say to Him one day, “As for me, the hour has come for me to be sacrificed; the time is here for me to leave this life. I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, I have kept the faith. And now the prize of victory is waiting for me, the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the Day–and not only to me, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear” (2 Timothy).
When some people train, exercise and become athletes they actually get a thrill or a high from the activity and training itself. This holds true for Christians who seriously train and run the Christian race of Faith. The Holy Spirit motivates them to the point where they experience a glimpse of heaven that awaits them. Passages such as “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 24) and “And though you have never seen him, yet you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him–the salvation of your own souls.” (1 Peter 1:8) become so inspiring and motivating for you that you become enlightened with a peace and joy that the world can not give.
I’d like to close this writing with a passage from Ephesians 1 (18-20) that stresses my hope for each and every one of you reading this right now: “And this is my prayer… that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you–the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to Christians–and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine energy which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead”