Striving Towards the Prize
Don't grow weary. Don't quit. Don't give up. Don't stop pushing towards the goal, the prize, the finish. Keep fighting. Run the race with endurance. And on it goes...
This is God's encouragement for his people, time and again. He comes back to it so often because he knows the road he has called us to walk is a difficult one. This begs the question. Why? After all, we are talking about the sovereign Creator and Lord of the entire universe here. I mean couldn't he just cut us some slack? What's the deal?
Maybe God is just a subscriber to the popular notion that anything worth doing is going to be difficult. Funny enough though, while we champion this belief with our coffee mugs and motivational posters, we expend massive amounts of time and energy developing ways to make our lives easier. Truth be told, no one really wants things to be difficult. "If it was easy, everyone would do it" (there's another famous adage for you).
Interestingly enough, many of the encouragements in the scriptures to press onwards are placed in the context of sports analogies. I think that is interesting and significant for a number of reasons. First, I think we can all agree that reach the upper echelons of any sport requires a lot of really hard work. Don't get me wrong, it requires a great deal of pure talent as well, but everyone who competes at the highest levels is talented. But what sets those athletes who achieve greatness apart from all of the rest is an unquenchable desire to win.
Nine times out of ten, a great athlete never leaves their sport at the pinnacle of their success. We may remember their greatness, but most of the time, the end of their career is a sad slide. No one can do it forever, and eventually father time catches up with all of us. Why is this the story for so many? It's that unquenchable desire. It just won't let them quit.
But what does this have to do with the Bible and our lives as Christians? I think the reason that the scriptures so often encourage us to "fight for the prize" by painting the picture of an athlete is to remind us that to be the best you can be at whatever you are trying to do requires a lot of work. For athletes (as well as many others like artisans), practice makes perfect. Regardless of the level of talent one possesses, you can't simply wake up one day and be great. It requires a great deal of effort and hard work.
For the Christian, we have been drafted to be on the team. But this is just the first step towards achieving "greatness" in our faith. Sure, we can be content to be on the team. We can be benchwarmers. But if we want to get into the game, we have to get busy perfecting our craft.
And how do we do that? Well, it takes a lot of practice. The author of Hebrews tells us that we need to begin by casting off those things that are holding us back...like our sin. Next, we should look to Jesus. Behind every great athlete is a coach who works to make them better.
Now, don't get me wrong, Jesus is much more than just a morality coach. But, like a good coach in sports, he has much to offer us. Not only is he our teacher, our example, and our leader...but he also has our best interests at heart. In fact, he so desperately wants to see us thrive that he has taken upon himself the burden of all of our weakness. He has overcome all of that on our behalf so that we can, in and through him, be made perfect.
Following Jesus isn't easy...it's not meant to be. But by striving for Christlikeness is the great honor of every Christian. We are called to it and we are encouraged time and again to keep striving after it. It is the greatest prize we can receive in this life and in the eternal one to come.
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Part 32 - The Race of Faith
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How do we lay aside sin?
2. What's the key to enduring faith?
3. How is your race going?
Next week's lesson: Hebrews 12:4-13