I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Houston, waiting for the next round of events to start back up in a track tournament in which my daughter is participating. I left at the crack of dawn to get here in time to see her do the triple jump, and arrived about 15 minutes after she finished. She wasn’t exactly say, because, according to her, she didn’t do too well. High school track is an interesting thing. There are so many different types of kids participating in so many different kinds of events. There are field events like the triple jump, high jump, discuss and pole vault. Then there are the track events that include the hurdles, sprints, and distance races. But the one thing all these events and the kids participating in them have in common is the sad reality that only one person can win. Sure, you can occasionally have a tie, but that’s rare and, like the old saying goes, “like kissing your sister.” Nobody wants to tie. Everybody wants to win. If not, there wouldn’t be a lot of reason to compete. Everybody dreams of crossing the finish line first, not last. Nobody sets out to lose. No, everybody wants to win.
The apostle Paul was familiar with running. I doubt very seriously that he was ever a competitor in any kind of a running race, but he knew enough about it to write, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT). Back at the track meet, there are hundreds of kids wearing Spandex and running shoes, and they come in all shapes and sizes. My daughter will be competing in the 300 meter hurdles, an event that requires speed, coordination and incredible stamina. She will be competing against young ladies, some of whom might be faster and some who I hope will be slower. But regardless of who she lines up with in her heat, she will need to run to win. Her outlook will need to be determined, confident and hopeful. Timidity and self-doubt are not good racing partners. They hold you back and keep you from doing all that you’re fully capable of doing. The same is true when it comes to our spiritual lives. Which is why Paul used this metaphor. He wanted to encourage believers to run with determination, to run with purpose and a mindset based on success, not failure. Where this analogy breaks down is that when it comes to our spiritual life, we are not competing with one another. It is not a race in which there are winners and losers. But we are to “run” with a mindset that reflects our determination and desire to run well. We need to treat our spiritual lives as the “real thing,” not just practice. Paul goes on to say, “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” (1 Corinthians 9:25 NLT). We do have an end in mind. There is a finish to this race. But for all those who run as members of Christ’s team, we each win in the end. Which is why claimed, “So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing” (1 Corinthians 9:26 NLT). He wasn’t just playing around. He wasn’t just running for exercise, but to compete and win. He ran with a goal in mind. Everything he did had purpose and was backed by a passion for excellence and a desire to please the one for whom he ran.
I don’t know if my daughter will win the 300 meter hurdles or if her relay team will win the 4×800. But I know she will run to win. It’s the way she’s wired. She gets it from me. But if the truth be known, she’s a much more gracious loser if she should fail to cross the finished line first. There will be those in heaven who may have accomplished more than I did. They may have suffered more frequently, shared the Gospel more passionately, and reflected Christ more regularly. But I am running my leg of the race with determination and the expectation that one day I will hear my Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant! Enter into My rest and relax. You’re a winner in My eyes, because you run for the Savior.”