Today, we continue in our series Run the Race. Last week, we explored how epic the the race of life is, and the importance of running the race the all the way to completion.
Running has been a part of my life since I was in fifth grade. In fifth grade, I had a coach by the name of Randy Anderson who introduced me to the Northridge Pacers Track Club.
As long as I can remember, I loved the oval track, and fell in love with the pursuit of the four minute mile by Roger Bannister.
While at a school track meet in the fifth grade, I was running the 600 yard race (1 1/2 laps). I had my cool spikes on, and I was determined to leave my mark on the track.
Well…the good news was I left my mark on the track alright, but not the way I thought I would. I had a great start to the race, in fact it was so good, I was in the lead. Somewhere around the 400 yard mark there was a rush of air that went by me as I faded from first to last place.
Any runner (who is not a sprinter) will tell you – pace is everything. The race is normally not won in the first 400 meters, but it certainly could be won in the last 400 meters.
That day as I saw my hopes and dreams of track stardom fade from first to last, I vowed to come back next year and when the 600 yard race, but also the 400 yard race.
In my entire career, I never broke the four minute mile (got close to a five minute mile), barely broke 60 seconds in the 400 meters, and barely broke 20 minutes in a 3 mile race.
For me, running was meant to be enjoyed and I had lost the competitive spark along the way. Now that I am in my forties, I seem to have found a bit of the competitive spark again, but it’s in smaller competitions, and just for fun – me against the clock or me against the mileage counter.
Why are these stories important?
Because Paul equates running to our Christian faith, and the journey we undertake.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24,
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!
Winning is important – whether in a race or in life.
In a race, there must be a winner otherwise we have no way of awarding the proper medals. The Olympics would look a lot different if everyone got a gold medal, why would athletes train if everyone got the same medal? There would be no need to Olympic Trials.
The Christian life is a race – we must win the race for which we are called heavenward. It’s not about how many souls you lead to Christ, but rather that we are leading others towards a faith in Christ.
Some believers are planters – they plant seeds with non-believers, engaging them in their everyday life, help answer questions about life or spiritual matters.
Other believers are sowers – they pick up where the planter left off. They continue the engagement with non-believers, answer questions, pose questions, and set the stage for the harvester.
And…other believers are harvesters – they pick up where the sower left off, they are able to get to the heart of the need in the individual and point them to their need for Christ, and then they lead them through a life-changing prayer.
At any one time in our race of life, every believer could play one of these roles. For me, I usually find myself in either the planter or sower role.
A couple of years ago, a friend and I went to lunch. I was intrigued by his background – he was an ex-Jehovah Witness. I was not real familiar with their belief system, and I wanted to know more. Over a meal, I peppered him with questions, and he shared openly about his background.
A few weeks after that, we found ourselves once again at another meal table. As we broke bread together, we engaged on a deeper level digging in with some spiritual questions that led to some thought-provoking questions that only the Holy Spirit could have guided me to ask.
After some time, he asked if I was going to invite him to church, so I invited him and his family. His kids loved it and they loved it. While connecting him with a pastor, one Sunday morning in a pre-marital counseling session – he and his future bride accepted Christ.
I don’t share this story to boast, in fact, there are a lot of things to laugh about as we look back on his story that flies in the face of the “right” way to lead someone to Christ.
I share this story because I was a planter and a sower in this story. My pastor was the harvester. Ultimately, God is the one who calls people to His name, and He uses us as His messengers.
Life is a race – some join the kingdom of Heaven, and some do not. I have far more stories of friends that have “finished their race” never meeting Jesus.
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27:
All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
Paul changed the face of the Church for all eternity. He led people to Christ, started new churches, encouraged believers, and mentored them so they could go out and disciple others – all for the glory of God to see His Kingdom expand.
The truth is we will probably be surprised to see who is in Heaven when we get there. Our Christian life – this race we find ourselves running – requires discipline.
If you want to be an athlete or think like an athlete, you have to train. You can’t just decide to do a half-marathon, and not train – believe me, been there done that – it doesn’t end well.
Remember when I vowed to myself to come back the next year and win the 400 & 600-yard races?
Well…that’s what I did. I trained for it, not just physically, but mentally as well. I saw myself winning those races.
When I stepped on that dirt track and heard the crush of the dirt under my spikes, I had already seen the end result – I just needed to go out there and do it.
And I did it!
I would love to say I had a stellar career, got a college scholarship, made the Olympic Team, and got a medal, but that was not the path for me. I did, however, take everything I learned from these experiences and put them into my coaching career.
Even today, as a leader of a team, I still apply some of these principles just in a different way.
The race of life is not over until the Lord calls you home. Run the race of life to win!
This week, ask God to bring to mind times when you were a planter, sower, or harvester.
Write down the times when you were in each of these roles. When the race of life gets hard, pull out that journal entry or piece of paper and rest in the assurance that God is using you to make a difference for His Kingdom.
Lord, thank you for Paul’s words to run the race to win. This week, remind each of us of the roles we have played in helping to expand Your kingdom. When the race gets hard, give us the strength to persevere, and help us to run the race to win! Amen!
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