The Amazing Race: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 9
How many of you have ever dreamed of being on the show, “The Amazing Race?” Even for those of us who have an extreme dislike for running, it still seems pretty cool to be able to compete in that race. The challenge of solving clues, the ability to travel the globe, and the thrill of the competition are all very captivating, aren’t they? There are times that I watch it and just want to jump into the TV screen and join the race. But other times, what they are doing seems so grueling that I’m glad to be a spectator, sitting in the warm comfort of my living room with my feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn in my lap. I guess that’s how most races are; they are both exhilarating and excruciating at the same time…especially when it comes to how they end.
Well, did you know that whether you like it or not, you are already in the amazing race? It is the most amazing race that has ever or will ever be run. No, I’m not talking about the TV show. I’m talking about the amazing race of the Christian life. Perhaps one of the best places to see what this race is all about is in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Here, Paul compares the Christian life to an athletic competition. His audience would have understood this well, for athletics were very popular in Corinth. In fact, the city played host to what was called the Isthmian games, which were very similar to the Olympics. In the games, two of the events were running and boxing, from which Paul derives his metaphors. His goal is to urge the Corinthians to focus on winning in their Christian lives. He challenges them: “Run in such a way as to get the prize” (vs. 24). In other words, be determined to win. In the race of the Christian life, don’t just run along “aimlessly” (vs. 26) with no purpose, no goal in mind. But run for one reason and one reason only: to win. Paul also uses the boxing metaphor to bring this home in verse 26: “I do not fight like a man beating the air.” A man who “beats the air” in boxing is not hitting anything, is he? He is not achieving the goal he has set out to do: knock out the other opponent. Competing like this will certainly not lead to winning. Paul exhorts the Christians to have the same level of determination in their Christian lives as those athletes do who are passionately in pursuit of one goal: winning.
If we had this level of determination in our Christian lives on a daily basis, how different most of our lives would look! Sadly, many of us don’t live the Christian life to win. We may work towards winning if we are on a sports team. We may work towards winning in our jobs. But how many of us really and truly work towards winning in our spiritual lives? Are we determined to do whatever it takes and to give everything we have to our walks with God and service in His Kingdom? Do we have that kind of determination when it comes to the Word, prayer, worship, fellowship, tithing, serving, loving others, sharing our faith and the other things God calls us to?
Not only does Paul call us to be determined to win in our Christian walks, but he also calls us to be disciplined in them: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (vs. 25). He also says, “I beat my body and make it my slave…” (vs. 27). Any of us who have ever trained for an athletic competition knows what this is like. It is tough. It is hard work. It takes a great deal of self-control. It takes determination. It takes discipline.
Discipline—it is almost like a four letter word. Whenever we hear it, we cringe. Mostly because of one main thing: almost all of us struggle with it. Whether it comes to diet, exercise, finances, or other areas of our life, it is always a challenge to stay disciplined. But a life lived with fruitfulness and success demands discipline. And the Christian life is no different. Just as you can’t achieve success in any other realm without discipline, you can’t achieve success in your Christian race without discipline as well.
I wish discipline could be bought. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could go to the store and say, “Hey, I’ll take one bottle of discipline, please?” The hard thing about discipline is that it is something you need to come up with on your own (although certainly, God can help us with this.) The other hard thing about discipline is that if you don’t have it, you also don’t have a lot of other things in your life. Discipline affects everything.
So, when it comes to the Christian life, how can we be more disciplined for the things that are important? How do we go into “strict training” like Paul talks about? Well, first of all, we need to determine what the training is. What areas do we need to be disciplined in? Every type of training program always has a list of goals. So, if we had a personal trainer in the Christian life, what goals would they list out for us? Here are some of the main goals that, in my experience, characterize the lives of believers who run their race to win:
1. Know the Word. Read it. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Put it on sticky notes at the office or on the fridge at home if you have to. Learn basic Biblical theology about things like the personof God and salvation. Do a Bible study. Take a Bible class. Read a book that digs deeply into the Word. Stretch your mind with its knowledge. Let it penetrate your heart with its truth. Study diligently.
2. Pray as if everything in your life depends on it. Even the most intelligent Christian scholars still scratch their heads on how prayer works in harmony with God’s sovereignty. But we do know the Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing.” So, pray. Make a list. Keep a prayer journal. Start and end your day with prayer. Pray before meals. Pray with your kids. Ask people around you what they’d like prayer for (yes, even if they aren’t Christians). Pray continually.
3. Worship. Go to church service on Sunday morning. Listen to worship music. Sing. Thank and praise God for who he is. Make this a regular part of your life. Worship passionately.
4. Fellowship. Get involved in a local church, even more than just going on Sunday. Get plugged in. Seek out relationships. Join a small group. Get together with other Christians on a regular basis. Fellowship regularly.
5. Tithe. Determine what amount you want to give God each week and commit to give it. Write the check before you write others. Be consistent. Tithe generously.
6. Serve. Find out your spiritual gifts and passions and put them to use. Get involved in a ministry. Help a local charity. Volunteer. Do something random for someone in your neighborhood or church. Serve sacrificially.
7. Love others. Think of practical ways to show love to people. Feed the poor. Help the needy. Spend time with the lonely. Encourage the discouraged. Make a meal. Take someone cookies. Send a card. Surprise someone with a present. Love deeply.
8. Share your faith. Share your testimony with someone. Start spiritual conversations. Give a friend something to read about Jesus. Invite people to church. Build bridges to non-Christians. Share your faith fervently.
Okay, there’s a list for us to start with. Now what? How do we get from reading these ideas to actually implementing them in our lives? Well, that’s where discipline comes in. The first thing we need to do in any of these areas is set some goals. Be specific. How much of the Bible do you want to read this week? Which verses do you want to memorize? How many minutes do you want to spend in prayer? As in all areas of life, if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen. Also don’t forget to plan when you are going to do these things. Setting the time aside is just as important as writing out your goals. Then, get accountability. Find someone who will ask you on a consistent basis how you are doing with your goals, asking some tough questions like, “What did you read this week in the Bible? “Did you get to share your faith with your co-worker?” “How is that sin struggle?” And last, but not at all least, pray. Ask God to help you have the discipline for the steps you need to take.
Determination and discipline: the two keys to winning any competition. And the Christian life is no different. We are in a race! Not against each other, but against the forces that fight against us. And our God has called us to run it with passion, fervency, sacrifice, discipline, and a determination to win! We shouldn’t be sauntering through life; we should be racing to win! And when we cross the finish line, we will be rewarded with an awesome prize that will last eternally. It will be “a crown that will last forever” (vs. 25). So, let’s run this race with passionate determination and committed discipline. Let’s give ourselves wholeheartedly to this great race. So that one day, we can stand before God when our amazing race is over and he will declare us a winner.