Monday, May 7, 2012

The Eye of the Tiger

Being that softball season begins tonight, I thought I would write about spiritual athletics.  As silly as a term that is, there is some truth to it.  We are called to live our lives as an athlete competing for a prize.  When I think of an athlete training, I can not help but to think of the Rocky movies.  There was always that part of the movie when he was focused and training for the big fight.  We may not have to get up at the crack of dawn, eat raw eggs, and beat raw meat until our hands are numb, but we do have to train. 
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain [it]. And everyone who competes [for the prize] is temperate in all things. Now they [do it] to obtain a perishable crown, but we [for] an imperishable [crown]. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as [one who] beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring [it] into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.  1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV
Paul first compares the Christian life and ministry to an athletic contest, specifically a race.  I have never run a marathon.  I do not know if I ever will.  When marathons are run, there are the serious competition runners who run to win.  In a marathon there is only one winner and these serious running train and run hard and smart to be the first of many who crosses the finish line.  Then there are those who run and hope to improve on previous times.  They know they are not going to win, but they have run marathons before and they are competing against themselves and their old times.  Then there are those who run just to finish.  They may be running for the first time or they may have run and not finished in the past.  Either way, their goal is to make it to the finish, no matter how long it takes.  Then there are others who only hope to get further than previous years.  Someday they will finish, but they are not there yet.  Finally, there are runners like me who do not even try.  We know we are not runners. 

What we are called to do as Christians is to be in that first category.  We are not to sit on the sidelines not running at all, we are not running just to see how far we can get, we are not running just to make it to the finish, and we are not running to improve ourselves.  We are called to run to win.  We are called to be that first person over the line and crowned champion.  We may not have the physical conditioning necessary to win a marathon, but God has given us the means to the spiritual conditioning to win life's marathon.  In our own strength, we have no hope of even getting on the track, but we are not called to run this race in our own strength.  Through God, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, we have the means to be champions.  We can win this race and we should run is such a way as to win.  That is our calling. 

Paul also says that he does not run with uncertainly as one who beats the air.  When someone is training for a competition, that person trains to win.  You do not train to lose and you do not compete believing you can not win.  If you believe that you can not win, you will not win.  We must start to believe that we can live the lives we are called to.  We must believe that we can live holy and set apart unto God.  We must believe that we can live righteously.  We must believe that we are the light and salt of the earth.  We must believe that, through Christ, we can overcome any temptation that comes our way.  I am not saying that we will never stumble, but I will tell you that as long as you believe that you can be overcome by temptations, you will be overcome by temptations.  I am also not saying to be arrogant that we have the strength to live this way, but we must always recognize that it is only through God that we can do anything.  I am also not saying that we should remain in denial about our failures, but we should acknowledge them and learn from them and press on to not make them again.  An athlete spends much time going over what mistakes they might have made and they go through much training to keep from making them again. 

Paul also says that he disciplines his body.  That is a very important part of training.  An athlete is disciplined.  I reference you back to Rocky.  He had a disciplined diet.  He had a disciplined schedule.  He was focused and he was intent on winning.  That is like any other athlete today.  It is those athletes who let the cares of desires of this world get in his way that he begins to lose his edge.   If we let the cares of this world creep into our lives, they will shake our focus and negatively impact our training.  When we let the desires of this world creep in, we jeopardize all of our training.  Sin to a Christian is like junk food and sloth to an athlete.  It will only hurt us.  It will only serve to keep us from winning the race.

Any Paul does all this so that when he preaches to others, he will not be disqualified.  This is not to say that he is in fear of losing his salvation, but there is always the concern of losing our witness.  We can not live like the world lives and preach about a new life in Christ.  We can not preach the righteousness of Christ when our lives our overcome by the unrighteousness of the world.  We can not preach the grace of Christ and we are bitter, angry, and unforgiving to others.  We must discipline ourselves lest we lose our witness.  How many leading pastors and teachers have been shamed because they allowed sin to overtake their lives?  We must discipline ourselves so that does not happen to us. 

So, no matter where you are in your race, it is never too late to start to run.  Very few people remember the beginning of a marathon, but everyone remembers the end.  Everyone remembers that plastic ribbon breaking as the first person runs through with arms raised in victory.  It is never too late to run.  It is never too late to run to win.  Put down those distractions, discipline your lives, and run.  Run not to break some plastic ribbon or receive a metal that will burn with the rest of the world, but run to win the imperishable crown awarded by our Lord when we cross the finish line.  Forget about what running you have done so far, but start running now.  It is not now you begin the race, but how you end it.  Will you cross the line with arms held high awaiting the Lord's crown or will you stumble over glad that you made it at all? 
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.  1 Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV

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