1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (ESV)
How to Run a Race
Back in high school I was on the cross-country team. For three and a half years during cross country season our team would practice regularly, doing "runs" across various terrains to get used to running in the competitive races.
Our days back then could be exhausting. As soon as the school day ended, track practice began. Our routine included stretching, a warm-up run, then a practice run which often meant a 6.5 mile round-trip from the school. Some days my body was aching and screaming even before I began my one-mile walk home from school.
Some days it would have been tempting to forget the reason behind the training, but that is where being on a team helped. When one of us would experience down times on the team or in life, having support from team members--as well as from others at school or my family, made such a big difference.
All the while, I was learning. I learned that it takes everybody for a team to work: each individual and the team as a whole must to be persistent and stick with the training and preparation for what lies ahead. Encouraging others along, especially when the going gets tough, could make all the difference in how things turned out.
Although I usually ran on the Junior Varsity and did not place in the big races, I was still part of the team as a whole. I did my part and in the end earned “letters” in cross-country and JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Program, which also called for great amounts of physical training and fitness.) Letters are patches awarded at the end of the season; they can be sewn onto a school jacket. Not everyone who participates gets a letter. Earning a letter signifies accomplishment, of having been faithful in sticking with the team along the way and being in the top number meeting the requirements.
Earning the letters was important to me then and now. Even more importantly, however, has been the learning from those experiences that has stuck with me since and influenced my life and my walk in faith as a Christian. Maybe you have some similar experiences that keep on helping you in your Christian faith.
Some big lessons I learned were: 1) the value of sacrificing what I need to sacrifice in order to keep strong enough to persist in what is worthwhile in life. 2) the need to work with others along the way in reaching goals that are higher than any one person. 3) the need to push myself to run new "terrains," to try new things, so I can be best prepared to navigate well through whatever unknowns that lie ahead.
Years later, I still train physically, even after quite a few health challenges. I am still on a walking program and take it mile by mile. Some days I do not walk because of the weather or my health. That is okay. But it is important to me to keep going, to set goals for myself physically, and to find people who encourage me in reaching my goals. In the same way,I try to be the encourager for others, too.
The Christian life is not meant to be accomplished all at once. We train and grow in steps that continue throughout each of our life. As with physical training, that support system is important in following Christ. We are called to be church together, to help and encourage one another in each individual's continuing challenges in life and in faith. We are all different and can all learn from others' experiences, all while supporting each other. And in all we do, we can encourage each other to keep our eyes ahead, on the race that Christ is calling each of us to run. Wherever you are, don't be discouraged, you can do it! Just keep at it and never quit.
Dear God, thank you for calling us into this life of faith that puts us with those around us in training, practicing, working hard, and sacrificing each and every day so that we may accomplish your will. Help us to run this race of life faithfully and persistently toward the goals that you have set before us, growing each day in our understanding of the disciples that Jesus Christ calls us to be. These things we ask in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
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