1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NRSV, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.”
I would appreciate it, if those of you who know me would stop giggling that this is the verse to end the week with. I say this, mostly, because I am the girl that you want to have with you when you are happy or sad. I simply say, “Let’s have dessert, Congratulations!”, or, “Let’s have dessert. Here is a Kleenex.” What else is there to say?
The only thing that I have tried to enslave, recently, has been my time. I have been on a ‘get your life in order’ kick. No matter, I would not even call my interest in order a “punish my body and enslave it” kind of exercise.
And here is the point that I hit every day when I read scripture…I am not that kind of girl, but if I play my cards right, I could be.
Since I do know some of you, I know that you approach this verse with the same caution as I do. Should I start naming names, or should I use code like, Thai food queen? Take heart, ladies, we are in this together.
I am starting with an easy message, as I plan to dig further into this pit. I used to be awfully competitive. I love to exercise, although it looks completely different after my surgery. I can’t say that I have ever been the best runner, but I know what it is like to compete.
So, if I am to run in such a way that I will win, I have to get diligent because there are some fast runners out there. Some things that I know from training before:
If you don’t eat right, you have no fuel.
If you think, “I can’t”, you won’t.
Never dwell on how many reps or sets are left.
Remember that there are bouts of brief rest that will make you feel better.
Think about how you will feel after you are finished…aside from really tired.
These are all tips to just be in the race. If Paul had said that we just have to run, we would be off the hook. That would mean to try our best, which can be a sliding scale subject to the day in which we find ourselves. That is not what he is talking about here.
To win, it has to be our passion, our focus. We have to press on, even when we feel the muscle fatigue and our brains tell us that one more block is not possible. We are going for a medal here…an imperishable one.
Here is something funny. If I said, “If you get in training to WIN this race, I will give you a million dollars”, you would buy a new pair of running shoes today, wouldn’t you?
If I said, “If you get into training, your prize for this life is spending eternity with the Father”, there is kind of an ‘I have the rest of my life’ mentality. Our diligence is slowed and even stopped because we don’t have the same urgency with eternity…hmmm?
This is assuming that there are things that we could all do today for the kingdom that we are not currently doing. If this does not apply to you, please let us know how you did it.
I do know that the time is short. Things happen and we are promised nothing, less this prize. I don’t want to run aimlessly or beat the air. I do want to run this race as though I am winning.
Let me give you an example of a small victory in this quest for athletic self-control. I had a moment last night where I was feeling a little resentful. I knew that I had the potential to ‘forget myself’. So, I called to the Spirit to take over my thoughts.
I then got frustrated because during the rest of the night, I could not rebound. I couldn’t get my smile back. I remained a little distant and that bothered me.
When I read these verses, this morning, I realized that some of this race is happening inside our head. It is not only out in the world that we have to be diligent. It is in our thought life. This is some of the hardest stuff with which we deal.
So, when I thought over the events of last night, I finally realized that I had kept my mouth shut (this is no small feat). No matter what I felt like saying, I didn’t.
The Spirit did its job. It is so rare that I shut my mouth. Peace was at stake and I cried out. That is not an ‘I can’t’ mentality. That is thinking ahead to the prize. That was resting in the one who could act differently than I felt. Was I conscious of any of this? No.
Instead, I thought about my lack of smiling. Smiling is not resolution. Acting like nothing is happening is not resolution. Calling out is resolution, and it leads to peace.
The race gets easier. We get muscle memory. We know that when things get questionable, the Spirit will take over for us. How awesome is that! Half of our training is learning the skills to get us to the prize.
I say this to encourage you. When you think of punishing and enslaving your body, sometimes it is harder to shut your mouth at home than it is to share the gospel. Both are in the race. We have help…so we have to learn to ask for it. It will go far in our training for the imperishable prize.
Are we ready to race?
Father, thank you for the courage to keep running this race. Thank you for giving us ways to get to the prize which are beyond us. Instill in us the desire to keep going in spite of our flesh.