1 Corinthians 9:24-25, “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.”
Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Hebrews 12:1-3, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
The Apostle Paul speaks a lot of the analogy between our Christian walk and that of a “race.” Paul, being not just a Jew, but a Roman as well, and as a soldier would have been very familiar with the Ancient Olympic Games. The Ancient Olympic Games had evolved from a “stadia” or a foot race into many other games and especially the horse and chariot races that Paul would have been familiar with.
The races occurred usually during one of two religious ceremonies to honor and deify the ancient Greek gods. It was a time when truce between armies of the region would be called, and politics for the most part would be put aside. But Paul in most of his Scriptural writings concentrated on the actual “racing” aspect of the games.
The analogy is not lost on this age that we also live in due to the level of fervor surrounding not just the modern Olympic Games, but other sports such as Football, Baseball and Basketball to mention just a few.
It should be no surprise then, that the analogy that the Apostle uses, written under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is still very applicable and fitting today! When I was a younger man, I used to run a lot, it was something I was good at. In my early High School days, it was Cross-Country running. I tried hurdles, but didn’t do good, but found out I had stamina to run distances. The thing about a runner is that there is always a reason to run. Whether it is for a goal such as a ribbon or trophy, for health reasons, or even for sponsored donations to help a worthy cause, as the Apostle Paul wrote it was for the prize at the end of the run, the crown as it were.
It hasn’t changed either in whatever you choose to “run” for. There is always a goal, something to be realized upon your finish. Unlike running though in the natural world where our “prize” is a perishable crown as Paul writes, when we are running a spiritual race, which equates for the most part as a long-distance or marathon race, we are running for something that can’t be taken from us, that can’t rust and break down or be destroyed.
Yet with any type of race, there can be stumbles, obstacles, hurdles as it were to climb over or to overcome. I learned early on that even though these “setbacks” can cost me the win, the ultimate goal of any runner is to finish. Paul makes this clear when writing to the various Churches. It’s the goal of the finish, of crossing that finish line where the real reward lies. We can’t look back upon the times we tripped or had to overcome an obstacle for those things are in the past and will always be a part of our past.
I didn’t have family support when I was running in Cross-Country, I was doing it for myself and to a degree for friendship. I always envied the other kids that were running who had a family member on the finish line, cheering them forward. Yet, inevitably, it had to be what was inside that caused each of us to keep moving forward no matter how winded or weary our muscles felt, that goal line was always in front of us until the very end!
The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the same thing when face discouragement or even troubled times in our Christian walk. As Christians, walking a spiritual walk as compared to just a religious lifestyle, we DO have, as the writer says, a “great cloud of witnesses,” who are cheering us on, who have shown before-times that this “race” CAN be won and we CAN successfully cross that finish line, as did others before us!
Discouragement, disappointment may and most likely WILL come, but by pushing aside the burden of those things, we continue to press forward with the goal in sight! We do this by keeping our spiritual eyes focused on what is ahead, neither looking to the sides at what is going on around us, or what we have already passed behind us!
Lately, I have had to re-evaluate MY running to see where my “sight” has been focused. This is what a runner does after every race. He looks back and analyzes what slowed him down or what caused him to stumble. Now, granted, unlike the natural runner who can do race after race, after race, we have one go at this marathon and we HAVE to run it with endurance, as the writer of Hebrews encourages. But, we are able to analyze, by the power of the Holy Spirit within, what is driving or motivating us, what is causing us to slow or to stumble, at all times while STILL in the race!
The only time a Christian “could” lose the race, would be if we were to give up completely. Now, I won’t get into it here, but the Bible does tell us that in the Last Days, there will be a great falling away or Apostasy. Some don’t believe in this Apostasy, or it doesn’t apply to Christians, yet the Bible speaks of it and just like Repentance is turning away from the darkness to the Light of Christ, Apostasy in the sense mentioned is turning away from the Light of Christ back to darkness.
My point is this, the choice to FINISH the race is always in your hands given the analogy of the writer of Hebrews and the Apostle Paul! This is why you lay aside discouragement, disappointment and even the sin that the Hebrews writer says can “easily ensnare” or slow us down!
We do this by first and foremost looking to Christ Jesus who is the Author AND Finisher of our faith AND by considering what He went through at the hands of sinners so that we might obtain the “prize” waiting at the goal-line! Christ Jesus is our sponsor AND trainer through the power of His Holy Spirit! When we consider what He has “put up” for each of us to be able to run, and when we can consider what He went through and we take to heart His teaching, then we have the ability and are equipped to cross that finish line!
We must never assume, no matter how far we have run, or how LONG we have been running that we have arrived, for to assume that we have arrived at the goal before the finish line is to stop in our tracks just shy of the goal! We haven’t, none of us, achieved a perfect course UNTIL we break that ribbon at the finish line and only then have we achieved the goal set before us.
I guess the real moral written here, is to run and to never give up. No matter how weary, we have a constant source of energizing Power available to us in the Holy Spirit. No matter how many times we stumble, we have a Redeemer and Savior that has already run this course against impossible odds and has beat the odds! This was ALWAYS His Father’s plan for us through His Son!
But we HAVE to enter the race and once entered begin running! Here’s a secret to keeping our eyes on the prize; unlike in the natural where the prize is shown as a motivation to those running and seen by all, in the spiritual, we have been told and retold and reminded again and again what that prize will be and the worth of that prize. We don’t actually see it, we have to “visualize” it in the spirit through faith. We have to go from believing what that prize is, in the beginning, to actually KNOWING what that prize is, BECAUSE we are getting closer to the finish line and our vision gets clearer and more focused the closer we get!
The closer you become to your trainer, Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the more you learn and “relate” to the Father and the more you recognize the prize He is offering you, BUT, you have to START running towards that goal!
What we as individuals need to do, is not just to run this race, but while running, we need to encourage one another to keep running. Just like that “great cloud of witnesses” we need to cheer one another on, remind each other that this race HAS been run by others and that the finish line is within each of our grasps.
The day that our feet step over that goal-line, will be for each of us individually the greatest day in our lives and our lives will truly begin eternally right there!!! Unlike when I was younger and envious of the other runners that had a parent cheering them on at the finish line, we are each going to experience our Lord and Savior with outstretched arms, welcoming our final footsteps into our new life! What a PRIZE that will be!!
Hebrews 3:6, “but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.”
14 “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, . . .”