“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.” — 1 Cor 9:27
A couple of friends and I have been getting into running for a little while now. I ran my first complete 5K on Wednesday July 13th at around 11pm. It wasn’t great in terms of time (33m 36.92s) but I found it thoroughly refreshing and quite enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment at the end. This was all preparation for a public run to be held that same weekend by one of the more well-known companies in the island, Grace Kennedy Ltd. The run was to take place in the downtown area which, thank heavens, was pretty flat throughout so it wasn’t much trouble at all. The view on the Ocean Boulevard was pretty nice and I didn’t have to push in terms of pace—my aim was just to finish. That’s was my main focus, just finishing, and I’ll explain why in a second.
As I ran that race in my trusty old Pumas, I had ample time for thought. I got to thinking, in fact, about that verse I’ve quoted above, which is an excerpt from one of Paul’s letters to the Church of Corinth. In my view, it drew quite a curious parallel to what I felt about running as an actual athletic activity. I could definitely relate to the fact that “strict training” was required and also the need to make one’s body a “slave”. But the crux of the matter for me was the mention of the prize. Whenever I see that word, my first question is “why”? I mean, what’s the point? Isn’t it enough to just run and be done with it?
To answer this I guess I need to go into a bit of history. As much as I wouldn’t like to admit it, I’m actually what’s known as a “floater”. It’s a strange word, but very apt. It means I do just enough to get by without needing necessarily to fully commit. What does this mean? Basically that I’m a great starter — but a poor finisher when it comes down to it. So at the end, because I’ve fallen into the trend of finishing poorly, I always feel as though I shouldn’t get too attached to seeing things through, since the ending might suck. It’s a part of me that I’ve been working on dealing with ever since I left high school. And it still plagues me even now, though I’m a bit better thank God. I guess I understand what Paul was talking about when he mentioned the “thorn” in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
So then as I ran, and I thought…and thought a little more, I came to the realisation that I could essentially apply what I learnt from running to my spiritual race. I think I like running primarily because it represents my inner battle with “floating”, something which God knows (quite literally) I’ve had to deal with for a long time. By the 5th lap (2.5km) when my calves and ankles begin to ache I always end up with that little voice telling me to stop or I might hurt myself. “Stop and rest,” it says. “You’re not strong enough yet, try again later in the week.” That voice, along with my own fear of not being good enough, was the reason why I didn’t complete track training in high school. It always felt like too much. And lo and behold, 13 years later, it’s still here. The more things change, the more they remain the same. But I don’t want to be like this forever. I want to run and finish, to start and to end, to become complete because that’s what my Lord demands of me. Whatever the prize may be it doesn’t matter, but I must finish. For what prize is there for those who do not finish the race?
Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it as if working for the Lord, and not for men”. That is ever my mantra. My prize is hearing God say “Well Done.” But winning that prize isn’t about overcoming worn calves and shin-splints. Nope, that race takes place on a whole ‘nother playing field. It’s about overcoming self-consciousness, fear, guilt and shame. These are the things that will take the place of that little voice. They’ll turn you back from accomplishing the tasks that the Lord has set for you. Did He not promise you life and life more abundantly? Did He not give you a spirit of power and of sound mind? Then believe! Let your faith be your feet. Run! You won’t get a nice plaque or gold trophy. But if you’ve read His Word you’ll know that this is nothing compared to what He has in store for you. C.S. Lewis once said that considering the magnificence of what we are promised, it would appear that our desires are actually perhaps too weak. So don’t settle for less than your best and even if you feel your strength flagging, remember that God’s strength is perfect in your weakness. Run! Run towards the prize!
Yours in Christ,