I love to run.
I love the feeling of waking first thing in the morning, and filling my lungs with cool morning air.
I love the way my body feels when I have finished running, and I am invigorated.
And I love my Nike Free shoes.
According to Nike, the idea behind the lightweight Nike Free is straightforward: Let your body perform as it wants to perform to develop significant performance benefits. A simple idea translating into maximum fitness.
Scripture references athletics, often.
The New Testament believers were steeped in an atmosphere in which athletic games and contests were commonplace. Sports were extremely important to both Greek and Roman cultures, shaping the way leisure time was spent.
Athletes were accustomed to conditioning themselves for performing optimally. So it is no surprise that Paul uses athletic terminology to appeal to the New Testament believers, as he urges them to pursue spiritual growth.
Did you know that in order to run well, it is also necessary to strength-train?
In preparation for running a half-marathon, my sisters (they have both completed half’s!) lifted weights, performed hundreds of crunches and spent months training their bodies in preparation. It is not possible to leave the house and simply run a half-marathon – work needs to be done beforehand.
Paul alludes to the need for spiritual conditioning:
I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others,
I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
In order to run the Christian race, strict conditioning must be accomplished. All parts of the body must be poised to cross the finish line.
We have all read inspiring accounts of women who have strictly dieted and then performed what was before impossible – completing a road race. In order to gain the finish line however, they first had to lose – weight.
Paul urges the church at Corinth to have a similar approach to growth in the Lord:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles and let us RUN the race marked out for us.
Identifying sin. Confronting sin. Confessing sin. And throwing off sin.
In order to gain the next step in spiritual growth, we need to leave behind what is slowing us down.
My family showed up to watch my sister run her Chattanooga half-marathon. We wanted to cheer and yell her name whenever we saw her round a corner. And did she run!, placing in her age category. But what differentiated Grace from some of the other runners, was her approach: Grace wanted to win. All around were runners who had slowed down, and were chatting with one another and simply enjoying the beauty of the day at a casual pace. Not Grace. She had Finish Line written all over her face.
Contests of any sort streamline those who win, from those who do not.
Paul references this truth in 1 Corinthians 9:24:
Did you know that in any contest, only one person receives the prize.
Run in such a way as to win the prize!
The Christian race is encapsulated in the idea of running, always with the win in mind. We cannot give up along the way to chit-chat or nurse a spiritual cramp. The finish line is ahead, and it will only be crossed with hard training and strict focus.
So run your race today, with your eye on the prize.