“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
– 1 Cor. 9.24-27
There are so many analogies of running a race in the New Testament, painting an imagery of life. Heb 12.1-2 is one of my favorites, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” The idea of purposefully laying aside not only sin but the daily things that squander our time – things that are not necessarily bad in-and-of themselves, but things that take our eyes off of Jesus.
But this 1 Cor passage strikes me differently. The reason is because I ran Cross Country in High School. In Indiana the girls only ran a 4k race. Only. Each team had 7 runners, the fastest 5 scoring for their team. So imagine an invitational. Even if only five schools were represented, there were 35 girls running. I was never the fastest on my team. At best I ran 2nd, often 3rd. So on average, that put me placing approximately 15th overall for a 5-school invitational. The only blue ribbon I ever received was if our team won. My coach always encouraged us: “the pack” he called us. We had a couple of really fast girls but the strength of the team he said was in the pack and if we could all move forward as a group we would shave points off the overall score. I bought his encouragement because I knew I would never run as fast as one of my good friends who could knock it out in 15 minutes. So I just ran “my best race” and settled for being mediocre.
But this passage doesn’t say to settle for your best race. This passage says to run in such a way so as to win! And the way to do that is to exercise self-control in all things. Olympic athletes – even most collegiate athletes – think about everything that they eat and drink. They regulate sleeping time, plan work outs, disciplining themselves mentally and physically. A term I have read in multiple books is “planned neglect”. You will never excel in something if you try to do everything – therefore you must plan to neglect those things that distract you from your goal. Do I plan to neglect Facebook or The Walking Dead, or anything else that will distract me from knowing God more? Am I sacrificing, disciplining, scheduling, anticipating every aspect of life so as to excel in knowing God? To win?