Every couple years, though, when the winter or summer Olympics occur, we get sucked in to this amazing world showcase of youthful athleticism. Who can resist the grace and beauty of the figure skaters, the strength and endurance of decathlon racers, or the mind-boggling courage and skill of the snow boarders? Suddenly we become “expert” armchair judges of quadruple salchow jumps and triple backflips. From the opening ceremonies to the closing ones, we are fascinated by the pageantry, competition and, frequently, the drama that is played out right here in our living room. Ever the patriots, we are moved by and take pride in Team USA, as if we had a personal stake in each of young American athlete’s well-being and success.
I have never been an athlete. At this age, I will never be one. I probably would keel over if I had to run a block! I remember as a young girl, though, watching the figure skaters and dreaming of being able to glide on ice as beautifully as they. Now I see my granddaughters having the same dreams. Before they left for Ecuador the last time, Sara and Gabi asked me to make posters for them on my computer of figure skaters and gymnasts to hang in their room. A few, like the young athletes in Vancouver, have those dreams and act upon them. The rest of us merely dream.
The apostle Paul often used the picture of running a race as a symbol of our Christian life. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” He goes on to say in I Corinthians 9:24-27 that it takes discipline and self-control to run the race well and achieve the prize. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
I know I do not have the discipline or strength that is needed to run a physical race. I have several family members who are runners, though, and I admire them not only for their discipline, but also for the perseverance they have shown as they have battled injuries and even age and still continue to run. My cousin Jon runs marathons regularly. It is his goal to run a marathon in every state of the Union, and I know he is getting close to achieving that goal. Good for him!
I am in for the marathon, however, in this race that we call life! When we read these passages that speak to what we must do in our spiritual life to finish the course we see several things that will help us to persevere.
First, we are to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us.” Sin weighs us down and stands between us and our goal. Although we, as believers, are ultimately saved from our sins, we still, as long as we live in this mortal body, will struggle with that old sin nature. That is why we need to daily confess our sins to Him and keep our lines of communication and fellowship with the Lord clear. What good is a coach if there is no communication between him and the athlete? How can we run a good race when we are weighted down?
Then we are to “run with patience.” I am sure my cousin Jon would tell us that it takes a great deal of patience to persevere through all the training and the long miles of the marathon itself. I doubt I would have the patience even if I could hang in there physically! I just want to get there! Life’s race, though, is full of obstacles and detours, and only God Himself knows “the race that is set before us.” We don’t have a choice in the course – we must persevere through it nevertheless.
Paul talks about the athlete keeping his body under subjection in order to obtain the prize. So too must we be disciplined in our spiritual lives -- obedient to the Lord in all things and following His will for us. That includes those very basic areas where it is so often difficult for us to be disciplined –reading His word daily, having a consistent and fervent prayer life; fellowshipping with other believers regularly and so on. If I cannot be disciplined in those simple things, how can I hope to run to my utmost ability?
II Timothy 4:7-8 says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” At the end of the race is the prize! It is not Olympic gold but something far greater – a crown of righteousness from the hand of our Lord Himself. To receive my reward from Him for a race well-run, and to hear His words “Well, done, thou good and faithful servant!”— now that is a prize worth running for!