I heard an interesting sermon last night on this topic and thought I’d share some of the thoughts I got out of it, because I hadn’t really heard this taught in this way before. For context, we are at a camp this weekend preparing our quizzers for Bible quizzing over 1 and 2 Corinthians. The speaker chose the reference 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 about the need for self-discipline and applied it to not just our daily lives, but our spiritual lives.
The passage says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (NIV)
The speaker made a number of points about the importance of preparation, anticipating, having goals, etc…the types of things we’ve written about here before, but he also talked about the “fallacy of finishing”. There is another passage in the New Testament where Paul remarks that he has finished the race, which many people interpret (myself included) that it is important to finish…to complete…to persevere until the end. All of this is true, but we tend to think of it as persevering to the end…eventually. We leave out the concept of the “race”. Races have limits on time, much as we have a limited lifespan. The importance of what Paul said is two-fold in that it is important to finish AND it is important to run it as if it is a race.
While the meaning was there all the time, this was a new concept for me to think about. I had certainly accepted it as truth in sporting competitions and in due dates and assignments growing up, but I had never really applied it to the other areas of my life. It is important to not just set goals with the mindset that eventually you’ll get there, because at some point you’ll be faced with the choice as to whether it is a goal or a dream. Let me give you an example. I have always loved playing chess. The game itself fascinates me and the concept that there are essentially an infinite number of games possible intrigues me and makes me want to study it deeper. Early on I decided that I wanted to study the game and become a grandmaster, so I bought books, joined clubs, and basically improved to a club-level player…not great, but okay. In the back of my mind, I still was pursuing the goal of becoming a grandmaster, but I had no end date in my mind and so, as life would get busier, I would put chess aside for awhile and come back to it later. The problem wasn’t that I stopped running towards my goal, but that I had no urgency to complete the goal, so I didn’t exert the effort required to actually get there. Now, looking back, I see that I missed my window for finishing that race. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t eventually become a chess grandmaster, but the level of effort required to get there now is greater than I wish to expend to achieve it.
I think this principle is true in every facet of our lives. We need to complete the race, but we need to remember that it is a race and have an urgency about completing the important things in our lives…things like building strong families and relationships, building a strong faith, being an example regardless of where we are at, being a better person tomorrow than we were today… Perseverance lets us finish, but urgency lets us achieve, and not, as Paul put it, “be disqualified for the prize.” It is hard to remember when faced with the day to day challenges, whether they be working in jobs we may not enjoy, trying to figure out how to stretch an already strained budget, dealing with that one person who just knows exactly the right way to set you off, etc.; but it is an important point to think about and grab hold of. Run the race, but run it so as to win, not just eventually finish. Have a great week!