I live in an area that has annual marathons and Iron Man competitions. They shut down major thoroughfares so that these athletes can compete and push themselves. I’ve enjoyed going to the events to cheer on people as they run past me. I’ve even been to the finish line at the final hour of the day as the Iron Man athletes finished their race. Aside from the traffic, you can always tell when one of these races are happening. At restaurants and stores, there are tons of people walking around with well deserved medals around their necks that say, “Finisher”. I try to congratulate them when I see them. They worked hard, trained, showed up, competed and ran their race. After all these years, I’ve never seen a medal that says, “Winner”. Only one person gets to wear that one.
In today’s world, we have apps and coaches that can help you finish the race. That’s what most people train for. They want to say they ran the course and finished the race. In Biblical times, they didn’t have those things, nor did they give out awards for finishers. Only one person won the wreath. Only one person was recognized for their efforts. Because of that, people ran in the races in order to win, not just finish. There’s a different type of training involved when you’re running to win versus running to finish. There’s another level of intensity involved when it comes to the mindset of winning. It takes greater discipline and focus when you train to win. That’s the type of life you and I are called to live.
1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize” (GNT). In your Christian life, have you been running in order to finish or to win? Have you just been doing what it takes to get by? We live in a time where we must have the mindset that we’re running to win. We have to discipline our body, mind and spirit in such a manner that we are running to win this race. There’s another gear inside you that you haven’t used yet. As Philippians 3:14 says, we must press on towards the mark for the high calling of God. We are called to run as though we were going to win. It’s time to find that next gear and go!
When I was in high school, I ran track. One of the races I ran was a relay race. We would constantly practice handing off the baton. In the race, you could look back while you were standing still, but when the person handing you the baton said, “Run,” you took off and waited to hear, “Hand!” At that point, you opened your hand behind you and they would smack it on your hand to ensure you got it. The rule was you never looked back. If you looked back, you were likely to slow down, trip or even fault by stepping out of your lane. The person receiving the baton was blind to the exchange and had to trust the one handing it off. Their job was to keep their eyes ahead and run like crazy once they got the baton.
Paul used a similar story in Philippians 3:12-14. He wrote, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (NLT). One of the hardest things for us to do is to forget the past and to look forward. When we’re constantly looking backwards, we can’t give our full attention to what lies ahead. We’re likely to go slower, trip again or step out of our lane.
Proverbs 4:25-27 says, “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.” Where are you looking? Are you being sidetracked by your past? Remember that the things that happened in your past often qualify you for the future work God wants to do through you. If we’re wallowing in pity or shame, it’s hard to focus on handing the baton of freedom to others. God has ordered your steps, but it’s up to you to walk in them. Quit looking backwards and look straight ahead. There are some amazing things yet to be done, but you can’t accomplish them by looking backwards. Learn from your past, find freedom in Christ and run like crazy toward the goals and freedom God sets in front of you.
I enjoy watching sports of all kinds. I love watching them because of the struggle, the competition, the will to be the best and to see the sacrifices people make to push themselves to the limits. One of the sports I love to watch is running. Part of it is because I used to be a runner and the other part is that it is as much mental ability as it is physical ability. There are also many correlations between running and our spiritual life. Paul knew this and drew several of those in his letters to the early church. He knew that our Christian lives demand the same type of discipline.
One of the first things you learn in running is form. Yes, there is a proper way to run and an improper way. You can reduce wind resistance and drag by how you shape your body and move your arms. When you don’t have proper form, you create resistance that slows you down and wears you out. It’s the same when it comes to running our faith race. There is a proper way to do it and a way that slows you down. The New Testament spends a lot of time describing how we should live as believers. The writers knew that it wasn’t the great sins that defeat us, it’s the little ones over time. That’s why Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (NLT)”
Another thing you learn in racing is to keep your head and eyes forward. So many races are lost because the runners are looking side to side to see where everyone else is. That’s a major no no for runners. It slows you down, distracts you from your goal and creates resistance. You have to keep your focus on your breathing and your eyes on the finish line. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:25, “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. (NLT)” We need to lose the distractions in our lives that keep our eyes off of Heaven. Keep your focus on the One who is faithful and true so you can finish your course.
The last thing I’d like to mention is that you have to run your own race. God has a specific course for you. Your race isn’t the same as everyone else’s. Keep your focus on what and how God called you to live not on how He’s called others to live. Don’t compare yourself, your race or how you run to others. You have a different race, but the same goal. Paul knew Timothy was facing this distraction so he wrote to him in I Timothy 6:12, “Run your best in the race of faith, and win eternal life for yourself; for it was to this life that God called you… (GNT)” You run your best race by focusing on what God called you to, not what He called someone else to. So get rid of the weights that hold you down, fix your eyes on the prize and run your race.
This week, I’m doing a series on training for Godliness. Many Christians don’t look at the life they lead as a marathon and therefore don’t train their spirit to handle struggles that come. These lessons will provide you with the tools you need to keep your spirit strengthened for a lifetime. Our core scripture I Timothy 4:8. It says, “Physical Training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come. (NLT)”
The next important step in spiritual discipline is setting goals. Each of us set goals in our daily lives whether it’s for work, retirement, our family or leisure. Why don’t we set spiritual goals? Proverbs 21:5 says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity. (NLT)” We need to plan out our spiritual growth. Where do you want to be in your walk with God one year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now? What would that look like?
It’s going to take hard work to achieve those goals. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen over night. It takes time, planning, dedication and hard work. I also encourage you to write out your goals. Read them out loud every day. Tell yourself where you’re going and keep your eye on the prize. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. (NKJV)” You are not running a sprint race. You’re running a marathon. If you’re going to run, you need to write it down and read it so you can continue to run in the hard times! Having the right goals for the right reasons will help you to be successful. A few months ago I wrote an entire post on setting spiritual goals. You can read it here.
Wearing The Right Gear
In physical training and exercise, the right gear is of utmost importance. Your gear can help you or hinder you. In I Samuel 17:38 – 40 we read where David was about to go out to fight Goliath. Saul wanted David to be dressed for battle so he put his own armor on him. The Message says that “David tried to walk around but he could hardly budge… Then David took his shepherd’s staff, selected five stones from the brook, and he put them in his shepherd’s pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.”
Knowing what gear you need to be spiritually disciplined is key. While Saul’s armor was too big, God’s armor is just right. It was tailor made for you! Ephesians 6 tells us that we are not fighting against flesh and blood so physical armor won’t do any good. We need spiritual armor. It also tells us that we should put on God’s complete armor. Half way dressed for this won’t cut it. You will be in trouble quickly unless you fully suit up.
In a marathon, your shoes are one of your most important pieces. It’s the same in our spiritual race too. Ephesians 6:15 says, “And having shod your feet in preparation to face the enemy with firm-footed stability, the promptness, and the readiness produced by the good news of the Gospel of peace. (AMP)” If you’re going to resolve to be spiritually fit and to grow spiritually, you need to be prepared to face some opposition from the enemy. You need the Word of God to help you keep your footing while you are fighting. Jesus used the Word of God to keep His footing while being tempted and you should too.
Tomorrow, we will look at having the proper nutrition and staying hydrated.